Editor’s Note: John Hushon and Anthony Padovano, members of the National American Catholic Council (ACC) Planning Committee, recently traveled to Germany to conduct a video interview with Hans Küng (pictured at right).
Swiss priest, theologian, educator, author, global ethicist and ecumenist, Küng was an expert advisor at Vatican II and has been a outspoken champion of the reforms instituted by that Council. He is also Professor Emeritus at the University of Tübingen and President of the Global Ethic Foundation.
Following is Hushon and Padovano’s report on the filming of their July 16 interview with Küng – an interview that will be available on DVD at the June 10-12, 2011 meeting of the American Catholic Council in Detroit. As is noted below, Küng himself may be present at this gathering.
After a long taxi ride, we arrived at the home office of Hans Küng, in Tübingen, Germany, late on the morning of July 16. It was clear from the beginning that Dr. Küng was “protected” by a number of individuals who respected him as an individual and who understood his importance in the development of global religion and ethics.
The house was “Southern German,” that is to say, Swiss, with a compactness, a sense of style, and a grace which only the Swiss can do. It was a modern chalet of three white-stuccoed, tiled roofed stories climbing up a mountainside, set above an empty garage. A secluded garden, dotted with modern sculptures (mostly tributes to Dr. Küng) surrounded planters brimming with summer color. The air was hot, but dry following several days of “global warming” high temperatures in most of Europe. The entire household was getting ready for an Alpine summer holiday. The office of his Foundation is located on the first floor of the chalet. His personal office and living quarters are on the second floor. The third is reserved for another resident and his housekeeper/cook.
We were greeted at the office on the lowest level, although it was clear that the extensive library of religion and theology works ran through the entire residence in corridors, stairwells, and rooms. Wearing a casual Polynesian shirt, Hans Kung was small in stature and relaxed. He had been working on yet another translation of one of his dozens of theological works. His twinkling eyes betrayed both intellect and challenge.
The film crew, which had arrived with us, quickly setup in an al fresco “studio” which Dr. Küng had designed to showcase an impressive collection of South Pacific artifacts presented to him upon the occasion of a series of lectures in Tonga. He set us at ease, confident that his message was global and that his views transcend the temporary actions of the Roman Church. We settled in for the interview. Dr. Küng insisted upon our calling him Hans and disdains the title “Father” as a 19th century “Irishish-ism.”
Anthony Padovano proceeded with the interview. Questions followed a “script” prepared initially by Anthony with comments by various ACC planners. After about an hour of questioning, we agreed to adjourn for lunch in a dining room adjoining the interview space. In a relaxed atmosphere, Dr. Küng expressed his views about the future of the Church. As he sees it, the institution we know will die soon, to be replaced by communities following the gospel of Jesus, with informal liturgies and a sacramentality related to life in community. He is very devoted to developing relationships between Christianity and non-Christian religions, the attempt to discover a global ethical commonality, and ultimately, a global understanding of God. What he sees emerging is a spirituality related to the human condition and stages of life, to replace institutionalized rigidity.
At times, he seemed wistful that the Roman Church had not seized the light of Vatican II. He was remorseful that the Church had “once again” failed to recognize that the Incarnation of Jesus required both a recognition of the world and a reasonable accommodation with that world, and an awareness of the various paths of humanity to understanding life and ultimately, the understanding of the eternal ineffable God that is common to all religions. He believes that the Church has strayed far from the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and that its struggle with modernity (as its struggle with the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century) has endangered its relevance. He is not fearful of criticizing the Church and particularly his old friend and colleague, Benedict XVI, whom he hired at the University of Tübingen many years ago. It was apparent that he is saddened by the personal treatment he has received from the Church.
After a long and delicious lunch, we realized that we needed to part, if only to provide his staff with a timely departure for the summer holidays. We recessed to the library under the stairs where there are dozens of his books in dozens of languages. He asked, “What can I give you?” and proceeded to autograph several for us, and agreeing to do many more for the ACC conference in Detroit. He confided to us that the English version of his latest thinking on spirituality, related to the stages of human life, would be available early in 2011.
We asked several times if he would deliver his filmed remarks in person and each time he evaded commitment, citing issues of health and the pressure of his work. But he kept open that he would ultimately consider ACC to be the kind of world event that his presence might enhance, while modestly remarking that his edited film comments would “do so much more.”
Thank you, Dr. Küng, for your time, your insights, your hope for the future, and the symbol you are to those of us seeking to reform the institutions of our Church to make it closer to the Gospel ideal and relevant to the human experience of God.
Küng’s presentation at the ACC in Detroit in June of 2011 will be in the form of this interview, live or filmed, depending on his health. In either event, DVDs of the film will be available at the Council.
Recommended Off-site Links:
The American Catholic Council
Books by Hans Kung at Amazon.com