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Pontiff renews dialogue with Hans Küng

Could the Pope's audience with Küng bring about reconciliation? Keystone

Pope Benedict XVI has met one of his harshest critics, dissident Swiss theologian Hans Küng, for talks that have been described as "friendly".

Both sides were positive after the talks, which took place over several hours at the Pontiff’s summer residence at Castelgandolfo on Saturday.

“The two agreed that there was no sense in entering, within the confines of the meeting, into a dispute surrounding the persistent doctrinal questions between Hans Küng and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church,” a Vatican statement said on Monday.

But they discussed other theological issues, including the question of global ethics and the dialogue between scientific reason and the reason of Christian faith.

In an interview with swissinfo in July last year, Küng called for a return to religious values to ensure peace in the world. He said humanity’s survival depended on the existence of a worldwide ethic and dialogue between religions.

Promoting dialogue

During Saturday’s meeting, the Pope appreciated Professor Küng’s effort to contribute to a renewed recognition of essential human values through dialogue with religions, the Vatican said.

It added that Küng had praised the Pope’s efforts to favour dialogue among religions and also his meeting of different social groups from the modern world.

Küng was stripped of the right to teach Catholic theology at Germany’s Tübingen University in 1979 after challenging Catholic doctrines, including papal infallibility.

He has long been a critic of Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog from 1981.

Ratzinger had publicly criticised Küng’s writings, and Küng called his old colleague’s election “an enormous disappointment for all those who hoped for a reformist and pastoral pope”.

Very constructive

In an interview with The Associated Press from his home in Tübingen on Monday, Küng said the audience was “very constructive and even a friendly conversation”.

He said the two had known each other for decades, but had fallen out after he questioned the infallibility of the pope.

“I am sure that this will be seen in the Catholic world, and even more than that, as a hopeful sign because it shows that he has more positive intentions than maybe what was seen at the beginning.”

“That he talked to me is a very significant event. I asked to see his predecessor for 25 years,” he added.

Küng and the Pope had been colleagues at Tübingen University, and it was Küng who had urged the university’s theology department to hire the young Ratzinger.

The two also attended the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s.

Küng founded the Global Ethic Foundation, which was formed on the idea that world religions can contribute to peace if they reflect on common ethics and values.

“We met only once after the big clash (of) 1979 and 1980, we met in Bavaria in 1983,” said Küng. He said that meeting was “a rather tense situation”.

“Now I got the impression that he was the same person I knew from the happy Tübingen years,” he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Hans Küng was stripped of the right to teach Caholic theology at Tübingen University in Germany in 1979 after challenging Catholic doctrines, including papal infallibility.
Both Küng and Ratzinger served as theological advisers to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Küng recruited Ratzinger, at the time a theology professor in Bonn, for a chair in dogmatic theology at Tübingen in 1966 and defended him strongly against opponents.

Hans Küng, aged 77, said Pope Benedict had responded quickly to his request for a talk, after Pope John Paul II had refused such a meeting for 25 years.

The meeting came a month after the Pope met the head of a breakaway traditionalist Catholic group – the Society of St Pius X – in an effort to seek possible reconciliation.

The Society, which has its main seminary at Ecône in canton Valais, has criticised the Vatican for being too liberal.

Küng has pushed for more collegial and open-minded policies from the Vatican.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR