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Peace prize winner attacks Bush administration

Hans Küng is no stranger to controversy

(Keystone)

Controversial Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng has launched a broadside against the US government, saying it has lost its moral credibility.

Küng made his comments after receiving the Lev-Kopelev peace prize in the German city of Cologne for his work promoting better relations between religions.

Küng, who has been at odds with the Vatican for years, was awarded the prize for his "tireless work to help improve understanding between the world's great religions."

The jury cited the 78-year-old theologian's efforts to help set up the Global Ethic Foundation, based on the idea that there can be "no peace among the nations without peace among the religions".

Küng, who lives in Cologne, spoke his mind as usual at the ceremony. He took the opportunity to criticise President Bush, calling his administration's policies "inconsiderate, neo-imperialistic, in search of power and prestige".

He said that Bush liked to present himself as a Christian, but that the truth was that the American leader's attempts to grab more power showed contempt for one's fellow men.

Küng added that aggressive war tactics, mishandling of prisoners of war and civilians, and contravening human rights were all part of this. For the theologian, the United States has lost all moral credibility even among its friends and allies.

Common ground

During the ceremony, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey hailed Küng as the kind of intellectual who was prepared to become involved in public affairs.

She added that it was important, as the theologian proposed, to highlight the common ground between religions and to promote co-existence, and not simply to point out the differences.

Rather than build barriers, she said, there should be respect on all sides.

"When a cashier wears a headscarf, we shouldn't focus on symbolic or formal aspects," she warned. "I remember that for my Catholic grandmother it was perfectly natural to wear such a scarf."

The award, which carries no prize money, was set up in memory of Russian writer Lev Kopelev, who died in 1997. Previous winners include Palestinian political specialist Sari Nusseibeh and Israeli editorialist Uri Avnery in 2003, and Chechen human rights activist Sainap Gachayeva last year.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Hans Küng is a Catholic priest, theologian and author.

In 1960 he was appointed professor of theology at Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany, and helped recruit Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in 1966.

During the same period Küng served as an expert theological advisor to members of the Second Vatican Council until its conclusion in 1965

In the late 1960s he became the first major Roman Catholic theologian since the late 19th century to reject the doctrine of papal infallibility. His position led him to be stripped of his authority to teach Catholic theology in 1979.

Though he had to leave the Catholic faculty, he remained at the university as a professor of Ecumenical Theology until his retirement in 1996.

Since 1995 he has been President of the Global Ethic Foundation.

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