Sunday, 3 March 2013

'In a more civilised age Hans Kung would have been burnt'

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Hans Kung

Hans Kung (shouldn't it be Kueng?) describes himself as the harshest critic of Pope Benedict XVI and sums up Benedict XVI's record as almost entirely negative with one significant exception:
In 2005, in one of Benedict’s few bold actions, he held an amicable four-hour conversation with me at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo in Rome.... 

For me, and indeed for the whole Catholic world, the meeting was a sign of hope. [1] But sadly Benedict’s pontificate was marked by breakdowns and bad decisions. He irritated the Protestant churches, Jews, Muslims, the Indians of Latin America, women, reform-minded theologians and all pro-reform Catholics.
Did you know that Catholic priests were allowed to talk like that about the Pope? Nowadays they are and to publish books denying dogmas such as the Virgin Birth and papal infallibility, denying Jesus's miracles and denying no end of other things. His prose in  'Why I am Still a Christian' is so turgid that I did not find out all the things that he does not believe in  but it comes to an awfully long list. (Yet I remember seeing Westminster Cathedral bookshop with a copy of one of Father Kung's books piled high in all the windows.) 

Ian Paisley, who believes in the Creed, is a much better Catholic than Father Kung. One knows why Evelyn Waugh, whose early death the Second Vatican Council caused, said that 
'In a  more civilised age Hans Kung would have been burnt.'
Father Kung seems a bitter man and notably lacks humility (in sharp contrast to the Vicar of Christ who spent four hours with him).  The Pope's most important act was meeting me! 

Irritating the Protestant churches, Jews, Muslims, women, reform-minded theologians and all pro-reform Catholics might be because Benedict XVI was thoroughly bold and unafraid to speak the truth, but it depends on what you think the truth is. It was indeed bold of the Pope to meet his former friend and characteristic of his humility and graciousness.  

Another bold move which I wish the Pope had made was to have excommunicated Father Kung. After all, Father Kung is not, by any definition, apart from his own, a Catholic. In 'Why I am Still a Christian'  he explains his reason for not leaving the Catholic Church of his own volition: the discouraging failure of people who have broken away from the church in the past. Well, since Luther's day, I suppose he meant.

Non-Catholics imagine we are still forbidden to use private judgement and required to believe what the Pope tells us. If only it were somewhat like that, though Catholics never had to agree with the Pope on everything. In practice, it is now a free for all. A low church Protestant friend of mine with whom I discussed Father Kung's book 'Why I am Still a Christian' said the title should have continued 'Even Though I No Longer Am.'

Father Kung's influence is immense and he advised British Prime Ministers James Callaghan and Tony Blair. He said a few years back that Muhammad was a true prophet but this will not endear him to Muslims because he does not believe in the Virgin Birth, which for them, as for Catholics, is de fide, an obligatory article of faith. 



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[1] Gosh, Kung has a good opinion of himself. This makes me think of Chesterton:

Are they clinging to their crosses,
F. E. Smith, 
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
Are they, Smith?


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