Küng: "We have a crisis in the Church"

The famous Swiss theologian, Hans Küng, recently released his memoirs. "Erkämpfte Freiheit" (Hard-won Freedom) will be available in English early next year.

This content was published on December 27, 2002 - 08:00

The former Vatican adviser spoke to swissinfo's Jonathan Summerton about his new book and his views on the Catholic Church.

Hans Küng is widely acclaimed as one of the most brilliant Catholic thinkers of his generation.

He was an adviser to the Second Vatican Council in 1962, but was refused permission by the Church to teach theology after the publication in 1979 of a book in which he questioned the infallibility of the Pope.

He remained a professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany until he retired in 1996.

Küng is the author of several books including "A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Economics".

His most recent book details his life and his struggles with the Catholic Church.

swissinfo: Your new book is a very personal view of your life and the world. Why did you feel the need to write it?

Hans Küng: Next March I shall be 75. I do not know how many years are left and, in any case, I wanted to describe what I had experienced, fought for and suffered.

It is a very dense history. I was involved in many things and I have been criticised a great deal. I also have very many friends who would like to know what my inner motives were. I also wanted to show how the Catholic Church, theology and Christianity have developed since the Second Vatican Council.

We have a crisis today in the Church and you can only explain the problems we have under this pontificate if you know what happened in the Second Vatican Council, where we made great progress but also struck very bad compromises.

We had decrees on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and a completely new attitude towards the Jews, to the other world religions, and to the secular world in general.

But the ecclesiastical structure has remained medieval, absolutist and triumphalist. There is still one man who thinks he can decide for everybody, whether they may use the pill, what they have to do in the case of abortion etc. The thinking has not been adapted to the present situation.

I have always been a great admirer of England, where they were able to change an absolutist system to a parliamentary one through glorious revolution.

I am not an admirer of the French revolution, in the sense that they had to kill the king first in order to have democracy.

I think the Catholic Church also needs a glorious revolution and maybe a Third Vatican Council in order to achieve what we did not get in the Second Vatican Council from 1962 and 1965.

I was an official theologian of the council and the book is written from the point of view of a man who wanted to have more, who wanted to have real solutions - not only compromises.

Do you feel the Catholic Church has somehow failed you by not moving in the direction in which you would like to see it move?

After the Second Vatican Council there were more and more reactionary movements within the church.

There was a certain ambivalence under Pope Paul VI, but now under the current Pope it is quite obvious that the ideas of the council have been betrayed. Collegiality was the main principle of the council. It wanted to have the Pope and the College of Bishops governing the Church. Now, though, we have an absolutist rule.

We wanted to have real ecumenism, but instead we have a eucharistic community and no real progress. We had the principle of dialogue but now we have a system that teaches and produces one document after another.

I am just waiting for another Pope to do what Pope John XXIII did. He showed that there is another way possible in Christianity.

The present policy has only had negative results. There have been big words for the world about justice, human rights and peace, but inside the church you have no justice. You have authoritarianism, and censoring people and theologians. Women are treated as second-class people who cannot be ordained, and there are problems with sexual morality.

If the Catholic Church does want to have more and more parishes without priests because of celibacy, if we do not want to have more women leaving the church, and if we want to encourage young people back, then we have to change course.

The reader will find out a lot about the Catholic Church and your views on it. What do you hope readers will find out about Hans Küng, the man?

I wanted to reflect on my whole life, so I started telling my story from the moment I first listened to the radio when Hitler came to power. It was an awful experience for me as a child in Switzerland, knowing that this man had come to power and could also endanger our country.

I wanted to recount my experiences during the Second World War and look back at everything that has happened to me.
First, there was my time in Switzerland and afterwards seven years in Rome at the Pontifical German college. Later I moved to Paris where I completed my doctorate, followed by two years in a parish in Lucerne. And then there has been my time in Tübingen as a university professor and my first lecture tours in Britain in America.

The book has given me the chance to explain how I decided the answers to certain questions and to reflect on what was good and areas in which maybe I could have chosen another way. Basically I went my own way and I think if you read the book you can understand that I have been consistent.

You can criticise it but you cannot say it was either stupid or dishonest.

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