Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church

By Anli Serfontein

Editor's Note: This article was first published May 8, 2011 by ENInews.

The Catholic Church is seriously, possibly terminally ill and only an honest diagnosis and radical therapy will cure it, one of the sharpest critics of Pope Benedict XVI, the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng, has written.

Speaking at a sold-out event in the Literaturhaus (Literary Centre) in Munich on 2 May 2011, Küng, who is a former colleague of the pope at the University of Tubingen, introduced his new book, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? (Can the Church Still Be Saved?).

Küng argues that the malady of the church goes beyond recent sexual abuse scandals. According to him, the church's resistance to reform, its secrecy, lack of transparency and misogyny are at the heart of the problem.

He said that the Catholic church in the United States has lost one-third of its membership."The American Catholic church never asked why," he said."Any other institution that has lost a third of its members would want to know why." He also said that 80 per cent of German bishops would welcome reforms.

Küng is one of today's most outspoken Catholic theologians. Because he questioned the infallibility of the pope in 1971, he had his 'missio canonica', the license needed to teach Roman Catholic theology, withdrawn. Thereafter, he became professor of ecumenical theology in Tubingen. He remains a Catholic priest.

He told the mostly elderly audience in the Diocese of Munich and Freising, the former diocese of Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "I would have preferred not to write this book. It is not pleasant to dedicate such a critical publication to the church that has remained my church."

He said he had hoped that Benedict would find a way forward in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) which in the early sixties reformed the church in a number of ways, such as the celebration of Mass in local languages instead of Latin.

However, Pope Benedict has distanced himself from Vatican II and "failed in the face of the worldwide sexual abuse by clergy," King said. Benedict is "in essence a person for medieval liturgy, theology and a medieval church constitution."

Referring to the celibacy debate that arose after the sexual abuse cases, Küng said, "the Roman Catholic church survived for the first thousand years without celibacy." He is strongly in favour of allowing priests and bishops to marry.

Küng compared the changes needed in the Catholic church to the democratic changes taking place in the Arab world."When will in our church the youth take to the street? That is our problem; we have no young people anymore," he said to laughter from the 350 people present.

At the end of the book Küng returns to the question: "Can the church still be saved?" He said he has not lost his vision of a church that would meet the expectations of millions of Christians, but certain conditions have to be met. In their reforms, this Church should show Christian radicalism, constancy and coherency, he said.

"I have not given up the hope that it will survive," Küng ended, to applause.


  1. For a long time Hans Kung has been my great hero because some of his writing changed my life radically in working on my people and planet project. However, on a couple of occasions I have not agreed with him. One of those occasions is the above report by Anli Serfontein. Thanks PCV Editor for this find.
    I have been writing for years now that I believe that the Roman Catholic Church and Christianity for that matter have run their course and why I make this claim. So as not to repeat myself having done so already too often, let me comment on the quote above. ."When will in our church the youth take to the street? That is our problem; we have no young people anymore," Educated youth of the twenty-first century live in a different world. They are a part of what I call the ‘post axial age faith phenomenon’ that is if they are faith seekers. The axial age of religions (see Loyal Rue) appears to have run its course. But in the reading, one has to move far beyond Loyal Rue’s references to be convinced that we are in transition from an axial age religion to a post-axial age faith phenomenon and why. So I understand Hans (beloved by so many) Kung’s nostalgia. Kung says Benedict is "in essence a person for medieval liturgy, theology and a medieval church constitution." Pope Benedict has a ways to go in understanding that we are twenty-first century people and we have taken a giant evolutionary leap as the species called Homo sapiens. Where everybody ‘is at’ is perfectly understandable; that is the nature of evolution. Desperately seeking coherence!

  2. I suspect that someone who doesn't go to church very often wrote that. The numbers might not be huge, but there are very large numbers of young people who are finding a home in the Church.

    A good place to look for them is Pro-Life demonstrations. Another place will be in St. Peter's Square in Rome. Last weekend, 2 million were there for the Beatification of Pope John Paul II, mostly younger people. 400,000 are expected in Spain later this year for World Youth Day with an appearance by the Pope.