Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hans Kung Speaks Again, And This Time He's Calling For A 'Revolution From Below"

Looks to me that Hans Kung has run out of patience and hope for his frenemy Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict's personal adversary, Fr Hans Kung, is calling for a revolution from below within Catholicism in order to force radical reform within the Vatican.  Kung might be 84, but he doesn't seem to have lost much of his internal fire. The following interview is from the Guardian UK. I have edited it for length and to feature certain topics.  It is interesting in it's entirety and worth reading for background on Fr Kung's latest projects.

Catholic theologian preaches revolution to end church's 'authoritarian' rule

Kate Connelly - Guardian UK - 10/5/2012
One of the world's most prominent Catholic theologians has called for a revolution from below to unseat the pope and force radical reform at the Vatican.
Hans Küng is appealing to priests and churchgoers to confront the Catholic hierarchy, which he says is corrupt, lacking credibility and apathetic to the real concerns of the church's members.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Küng, who had close contact with the pope when the two worked together as young theologians, described the church as an "authoritarian system" with parallels to Germany's Nazi dictatorship.
"The unconditional obedience demanded of bishops who swear their allegiance to the pope when they make their holy oath is almost as extreme as that of the German generals who were forced to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler," he said. (In both cases these oaths were not to the Church or the German State, but to the men who held/hold total dictatorial power. This kind of oath is a form of idolatory.)

The Vatican made a point of crushing any form of clerical dissent, he added. "The rules for choosing bishops are so rigid that as soon as candidates emerge who, say, stand up for the pill, or for the ordination of women, they are struck off the list." The result was a church of "yes men", almost all of whom unquestioningly toed the line.

"The only way for reform is from the bottom up," said Küng, 84, who is a priest. "The priests and others in positions of responsibility need to stop being so subservient, to organise themselves and say that there are certain things that they simply will not put up with anymore."

Küng, the author of around 30 books on Catholic theology, Christianity and ethics, which have sold millions worldwide, said that inspiration for global change was to be found in his native Switzerland and in Austria, where hundreds of Catholic priests have formed movements advocating policies that openly defy current Vatican practices. The revolts have been described as unprecedented by Vatican observers, who say they are likely to cause deep schisms in the church. (If schism should occur, it would be in reaction to Vatican policies, which would suggest the Vatican initiated the schism.)

"I've always said that if one priest in a diocese is roused, that counts for nothing. Five will create a stir. Fifty are pretty much invincible. In Austria the figure is well over 300, possibly up to 400 priests; in Switzerland it's about 150 who have stood up and it will increase."

He said recent attempts by the archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, to try to stamp out the uprising by threatening to punish those involved in the Austrian "priests' initiative" had backfired owing to the strength of feeling. "He soon stopped when he realised that so many ordinary people are supportive of them and he was in danger of turning them all against him," Küng said.

The initiatives support such seemingly modest demands as letting divorced and remarried people receive communion, allowing non-ordained people to lead services and allowing women to take on important positions in the hierarchy. However, as they go against conventional Catholic teaching, the demands have been flatly rejected by the Vatican....

....Küng refers to the "heap of legends" that abound about himself and Ratzinger from their "Tübingen days", not least the apocryphal accounts of how he gave lifts in his "red sports car" to the bicycle-riding Ratzinger.
"I often gave him a lift, particularly up the steep hills of Tübingen, yes, but too much has been made of this," he said. "I didn't drive a sports car, rather an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Ratzinger admitted himself that he had no interest in technology and had no driving licence. But it's often been turned into some kind of pseudo-profound metaphor idealising the 'cyclist' and demonising the 'Alfa Romeo driver'." (This story has become something of talking point on conservative sites.  Kung the flamboyant Vatican II egoist and Benedict the struggling young pious professor.)

Indeed the "modest'' and prudent "bicycle-rider'' image that pope-to-be, now 85, fostered for years has all but evaporated since his 2005 inauguration, according to Küng.
"He has developed a peculiar pomposity that doesn't fit the man I and others knew, who once walked around in a Basque-style cap and was relatively modest. Now he's frequently to be seen wrapped in golden splendour and swank. By his own volition he wears the crown of a 19th-century pope, and has even had the garments of the Medici pope Leo X remade for him." (This is absolutely true, and at no small cost.  Even I find this factoid a little unsettling.)

That "pomposity", he said, manifested itself most fully in the regular audiences who gather on St Peter's Square in Rome. "What happens has Potemkin village dimensions," he said. "Fanatical people go there to celebrate the pope, and tell him how wonderful he is, while meanwhile at home their own parishes are in a lamentable state, with a lack of priests, a far higher number than ever before of people who are leaving than are being baptised and now Vatileaks, which indicates just what a poor state the Vatican administration is in," he said, referring to the scandal over leaked documents uncovering power struggles within the Vatican which has seen the pope's former butler appear in court. The trial ends on Saturday. (The Pope's butler got 18 months.)......

......."The Vatican is no different from the Kremlin," Küng said. "Just as Putin as a secret service agent became the head of Russia, so Ratzinger, as head of the Catholic church's secret services, became head of the Vatican. He has never apologised for the fact that many cases of abuse were sealed under the secretum pontificium (papal secrecy), or acknowledged that this is a disaster for the Catholic church." Küng described a process of "Putinisation" that has taken place at the Vatican. (This is a point I have made myself, except I think the 'Putinisation' started under JPII.)

Yet despite their differences, the two have remained in contact. Küng visited the pope at his summer retreat, Castel Gandolfo, in 2005, during which the two held an intensive four-hour discussion.
"It felt like we were on an equal footing – after all, we'd been colleagues for years. We walked through the park and there were times I thought he might turn the corner on certain issues, but it never happened. Since then we've still kept exchanging letters, but we've not met."......


The relationship between Pope Benedict and Fr Kung is one for the ages.  They have become almost archetypal images for the 'reform of the reform' and 'spirit of Vatican II' Catholics. One is portrayed as something of an agent of chaos and the other as the epitome of Catholic order and stability.  As the story goes, one is an extroverted egoist, and one a reclusive academic. But I also think their relationship has a lot of academic competitiveness on the part of both men and I find the theology of both unnecessarily dense and convoluted. It's almost as if their theologic treatises and tomes were secretly written for and to each other. 

In my book they are worthy adversaries who are now engaged with each other for the future of the Church.  Pope Benedict most certainly defends his view from the far more powerful position which has forced Kung to engage from the margins. Pope Benedict chose to engage from inside the power circle. Kung, who was banished to the margins by JPII, has no choice but to engage from way outside that circle.  Pope Benedict is calling for Catholics to increase their identity with the center. Kung is calling for revolution from the outer edges.  

I don't think the center can hold.  Pope Benedict is not JPII.  The Vatican center is far too compromised.  It acts too much from fear.  I don't see any Joan of Arc on the horizon who will save Pope Benedict and his court from the destabilizing influence of the evolution of secular thought.  

Cardinal Schonborn seems to have realized that rather than holding the more powerful hand, he's actually playing the weaker hand.  In Austria the Vatican bluff was called and Cardinal Schonborn has retreated into silence. This should be an ominous sign for the Vatican.  There is real anger on the margins, in the outer circles.  The last two papacies have shrunk the inner circle and deprived it of the vitality and creativity the center needed to hold the Church together. Pope Benedict can't keep it viable with loyalty oaths, secrecy, and distilled dictatorial power.

Eventually the Vatican will be forced to realize it's traditional bicycle can't pull the hills of the 21st century.  It will ask for a ride from the very car it refuses to learn to drive.



  1. A very democratic form of rebellion could be to simply stop giving money to the Church, until such time as Church leadership becomes more accountable.

    We can always give the money to the United Way or some other credible social service organization, and thus continue to express the Catholic faith with our pocketbooks.

    However, it must be said that some Catholics love the current Church leadership, just as they are. My guess is that Church leaders would rather rule over a Church half the current size, the applauding half, than submit to reform.

    If we assume the Church leaders are sincere in their belief that their way is the "one and only true way" then such a choice would be consistent with their stated positions.

    I always find it helpful to recall that Jesus himself was not Catholic.

    Thus, even if every dissenter were to be excommunicated and locked out of Catholic Church property, this in no way would prevent us from continuing our faith journey.

    All the drama in the Church is politically interesting of course, but the bottom line is, when it comes down to what really matters, what happens or doesn't happen in Rome is largely irrelevant.

    If the Pope has become fond of fancy clothes, oh well, that's his problem, not ours.

    1. "I always find it helpful to recall that Jesus himself was not Catholic." I do too.

      In some respects, Kung's observation about Benedict was beneath his basic argument--well, other than the part about the Medici chasuble. I still am not getting why Benedict missed the statement that choice would make.

  2. The leaders of the Catholic Church have turned the Church into a political gestapo against gays, women, theologians, anyone on the left in the political realm, the poor, the dreamers, the artist, the musicians, the thinkers, the compassionate, those for social justice. The beauty that might have been has crumbled under the weight of centuries of enabling ignorance & lies to permeate and dumb down Faith itself.

    I see the result of this dumbing down of the message of Jesus and turning that message into a lie. The RCC doors are on lock down against anyone who follows their conscience and Faith.

    The relationship between Fr. Kung and Pope Ratzinger that you bring out here, Colleen, is notable. One has power and the other has been disabled, thrown out. It has set the tone for the entire Church of Ratzinger that no longer resembles a Christian institution. Ratzinger's Church is a disgrace. It can only fall.

    One of the reasons for leaving the Church are that bullies are taking it over. Why should people stay where they are not wanted or loved in any way. The Pope cannot love and is breeding so much contempt within the spirit of the Church.

    I'm glad that Fr. Kung tried to do something artistically. There has to be some food there for the creative ones to be inspired by.


    1. I agree Fran. His foundation is on the same wavelength as Karen Armstrong's, and the more of us who get on that wavelength the better.

  3. I read the Guardian article the day it came out. The traddies ridicule Hans Küng, but he's absolutely right. Unfortunately, when you Google Hans Küng's name, the first sites you find are harshly critical of him. I've been looking to see if Küng's latest book "Can the Church Survive" will be published in English. I've seen that a French translation will come out soon, but nothing in English yet.

    1. I don't think the traddies are seeing much beyond their own closed Church doors.

    2. Closed-minded bigotry there, Colkoch? That's not very liberal or accepting of you.

    3. It might be a little close minded, but I have maybe read too many comments from self proclaimed true Catholics suggesting progressives leave the Church and not let the door hit them in their behinds to think there isn't a bit of truth in my observation.

    4. What amazes me - on both sides, frequently, is the degree of anger and name calling that starts when a controversial opinion appears in the Church, be it "right-wing", "liberal", "traditional", "progressive". It isn't necessary. The vitriol that is thrown at Father Kung on some of these web sites I find very sad, and I wish it were possible to direct the throwers to the Acts of the Apostles where they might find a better answer.

      Acts 5 33-39 Peter and the apostles before the Sanhedrin

      "When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

    5. Olivia, people are not perfect and will get angry especially when they are thrashed about verbally ALL OF THE TIME. I have personally had to take myself off of ALL so-called "catholic" websites for a period of time, and may do so again, because there is a viscousness that I truly cannot stand, a situation in which some feel they are so superior, be they "right-wing", "liberal", "traditional", "progressive" "christian-buddhists" whatevers. They're not even being christians as far as I am concerned. And they do get me angry, I can not dispute that.

      The people who are not doing the listening are mostly the fundamentalist. But some of the others are teaching things in such a way as to disgrace Jesus. Its warped in its so-called attempt to love others as they love their own views of themselves and what they want to force people to believe, or else they too, like the fundamentalist, will have their inquisition & hostilities, shunning of persons. It is pathetic! The Liberals or progressives in some cases make stupid comments that nobody benefits from. It is a sickening situation. It is intolerable and I'm not putting up with it anymore.


  4. Vote for me for Pope! I'd look great in the glorious robes! :-) Here's my platform for healing the Church.

    1) First, sincere Catholics who wish to heal the Church may consider that the most likely outcome of any debate on any subject is to harden positions and raise the emotional temperature, and not bring people together. The principle here is...

    Ideology divides, love unites.

    If this is true, and is seen to be true, then all discussion of the traditional Catholic vs. progressive Catholic divide should melt away.

    That debate is great fun, very entertaining, and very Catholic, but it's not going anywhere that any of us really want to go.

    So what do we talk about then?

    2) Catholic Charities is the #2 social service provider in the United States. We could talk about making it the #1 social service provider with the same enthusiasm we now invest in yelling at each other across the ideological divide.

    Three important groups all support the excellent work being done by Catholic Charities.

    1) Traditional Catholics
    2) Progressive Catholics
    3) Non-Catholics

    As your next Pope I will spend 95% of my time talking about Catholic Charities, one of the most impressive achievements of the Church, a fantastic example of love at work, and an action agenda which can unite all Catholics.

    As payment I ask only for a huge multi-colored hat with many feathers sticking out of the top, and an energy efficient electric powered Pope Mobile.

    1. Phil, you are right, this is one of the few points of agreement. It would be a great start if we all recognized we all get the importance of doing unto others as we do for ourselves. Maybe someday we would then see each other as 'others' worth carrying about enough to at least shut up and listen--at least on a one to one basis.

  5. Thank you for an enlightening article. I recently opined that Ratzinger and Machiavelli learned deeply from their respective milieux.Basically after having worked on the professional staff of a Catholic treatment centre, I see Ratzinger as a person with an immature ie: undifferentiated sexuality that is probably ego dystonic homosexuality at it's core. Hence his luxuriating in the 'support' of the handsome Msgr. George Ganswein. Quite a dynamic duo albeit sans their 'butler'.Yes indeed, Ratzinger has managed the putsch so far...but he's 85 and the center will not hold.

    1. Hans Kung would be the Joker in your dynamic duo scenario. :)