Following are excerpts from Der Spiegel's two-part conversation with Küng.
Der Spiegel: You and Benedict are traveling along two different paths. You want to reform the Church to keep it alive. The pope is trying to seal off the Church from the outside world and increasingly restrict it to a conservative core, which may possibly survive.
Küng: Indeed. In the past, the Roman system was compared with the communist system, one in which one person had all the say. Today I wonder if we are not perhaps in a phase of “Putinization” of the Catholic Church. Of course I don’t want to compare the Holy Father, as a person, with the unholy Russian statesman. But there are many structural and political similarities. Putin also inherited a legacy of democratic reforms. But he did everything he could to reverse them. In the Church, we had the Council, which initiated renewal and ecumenical understanding. Even pessimists couldn’t have imagined that such setbacks were possible after that. The Polish pope’s restoration policy, beginning in the 1980s, made it possible for the like-minded head of the highly secretive Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), once known as the Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition — and it’s still an inquisition, despite its new name — to be elected pope.
Der Spiegel: That’s an audacious comparison.
Küng: It shouldn’t, of course, be overstretched. But unfortunately, even as we acknowledge the positive things, the negative developments that are taking place cannot be overlooked. Practically speaking, both Ratzinger and Putin placed their former associates in key positions and sidelined those they didn’t like. One could also draw other parallels: the disempowerment of the Russian parliament and the Vatican Synod of Bishops; the degradation of Russian provincial governors and of Catholic bishops to make them nothing but recipients of orders; a conformist “nomenclature”; and a resistance to real reforms.
Der Spiegel: What would be the treatment?
Küng: The base must gather its strength and make itself heard, so that the system can no longer circumvent it. . . .
Der Spiegel: More than a year ago, you wrote an open letter to all bishops in the world, in which you offered a detailed explanation of your criticism of the pope and the Roman system. What was the response?
Küng: There are about 5,000 bishops in the world, but none of them dared to comment publicly. This clearly shows that something isn’t right. But if you talk to individual bishops, you often hear: “What you describe is fundamentally true, but nothing can be done about it.” It would be wonderful if a prominent bishop would just say: “This cannot go on. We cannot sacrifice the entire Church to please the Roman bureaucrats.” But so far no one has had the courage to do so. The ideal situation, in my view, would be a coalition of reformist theologians, lay people and pastors open to reform, and bishops prepared to support reform. Of course they would come into conflict with Rome, but they would have to endure that, in a spirit of critical loyalty.
Der Spiegel: That’s what led to the Reformation 500 years ago. But at the time, the Roman system was incapable of understanding the criticism from within the ranks.
Küng: After 500 years, we are surprised that the popes and bishops of the day did not realize that a reform was necessary. Luther didn’t want to divide the Church, but the pope and the bishops were blind. It seems that a similar situation applies today.
. . . Der Spiegel: You don't just want to reduce the power of the pope. You are also calling for an end to celibacy, you want women to be ordained as priests and you want the Church to lift its ban on birth control. Catholics loyal to the pope say that these elements are part of the core values of the Catholic Church. If you peel all of this away, how much of the Church is left?
Küng: What remains is the same Catholic Church that used to exist -- and which was better. I'm not saying that the papacy should be abolished. But we need offices that serve the congregations, and we need the kind of papacy that was practiced by John XXIII. He didn't seek to dominate. Instead, he simply demonstrated that he was there for everyone, including other churches. He laid the groundwork for the Council and a new dawning of ecumenical Christianity. He allowed a new church to come alive.
To read the complete interview, click here.
Recommended Off-site Links:
Vatican II: Lost and Betrayed – Giovanni Franzoni (via Iglesia Descalza, September 19, 2011).
Fr. Hans Küng On Benedict's Trip To Germany – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, September 22, 2011).
Church "Needs to Undergo Revolution" – Marie Crowe (The Independent, August 28, 2011).
See also the previous PCV posts:
Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reform Can Save the Catholic Church
A Meeting with Hans Küng
A Priest's Call for a Catholic Reformation
Encouragement for Those Disappointed with the Church
A Tradition Worth Returning To
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)
Urgent Tasks for Church Renewal
"All Voices Must Be Heard": A Response to Archbishop Nienstedt
It's Critical That Catholics Find Their Voice
Let Our Voices Be Heard!