According to Hans Küng‘s latest open letter to Catholic bishops, Benedict XVI is reponsible for making worse just about everything that is wrong with the Roman Catholic Church: ‘Without a doubt, he conscientiously performs his everyday duties as pope, and he has given us three helpful encyclicals on faith, hope and charity. But when it comes to facing the major challenges of our times, his pontificate has increasingly passed up more opportunities than it has taken’. Küng proceeds to list these missed opportunities:
- opportunity for the rapprochement with the Protestant churches. Küng specifically has in mind here the Anglican Church.
- opportunity for long-term reconciliation with Jews.
- opportunity for dialogue with Muslims in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
- opportunity for reconciliation with the colonised indigenous peoples of Latin America.
- opportunity to help the people of Africa by allowing the use of birth control to fight overpopulation and condoms to fight the spread of HIV.
- opportunity to make peace with modern science by clearly affirming the theory of evolution and accepting stem-cell research.
- opportunity to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church. Küng considers this point to be ‘the most serious of all’.
And then there’s the ‘scandal crying out to heaven – the revelation of the clerical abuse of thousands of children and adolescents, first in the United States, then in Ireland and now in Germany and other countries. And to make matters worse, the handling of these cases has given rise to an unprecedented leadership crisis and a collapse of trust in church leadership’.
Finally, Küng offers six challenges to bishops. These are summarised as:
1. Do not keep silent: By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, bishops taint themselves with guilt. When they feel that certain laws, directives and measures are counterproductive, they should so in public. ‘Send Rome not professions of your devotion, but rather calls for reform!’
2. Set about reform: Too many in the church and in the episcopate complain about Rome, but do nothing themselves.
3. Act in a collegial way: Bishops should not act for themselves alone, but rather in the community of the other bishops, of the priests and of the men and women who make up the church.
4. Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone: ‘Although at your episcopal consecration you had to take an oath of unconditional obedience to the pope, you know that unconditional obedience can never be paid to any human authority; it is due to God alone. For this reason, you should not feel impeded by your oath to speak the truth about the current crisis facing the church, your diocese and your country. Your model should be the apostle Paul, who dared to oppose Peter “to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong”! (Galatians 2:11). Pressuring the Roman authorities in the spirit of Christian fraternity can be permissible and even necessary when they fail to live up to the spirit of the Gospel and its mission’.
5. Work for regional solutions.
6. Call for a council: ‘Just as the achievement of liturgical reform, religious freedom, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue required an ecumenical council, so now a council is needed to solve the dramatically escalating problems calling for reform’.
By way of response, George Weigel, considers this latest ‘piece of vitriol’ of Küng’s to be ‘the low-point of a polemical career in which you have become most evident as a man who can concede little intelligence, decency, or good will in his opponents.’
Weigel’s basic argument is that Küng has his facts wrong. He accuses Küng of
- being ‘blithely indifferent to the doctrinal chaos besetting much of European and North American Protestantism, which has created circumstances in which theologically serious ecumenical dialogue has become gravely imperiled’.
- of ignoring recent scholarship about Pius’ ‘courage in defense of European Jewry’.
- of misrepresenting the effects of Benedict XVI’s 2006 Regensburg Lecture in which he mentioned Islam.
- of displaying no comprehension of what actually prevents HIV/AIDS in Africa.
- of being oblivious to the scientific evidence underwriting the Church’s defense of the moral status of the human embryo.
According to Weigel, Küng’s basic problem is that he ‘lost the argument over the meaning and the proper hermeneutics of Vatican II’.
You can read all of Weigel’s reponse here.
Seems like a good time to recite the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.