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Hans Kung: Theologian's Criticism of Pope (Letters in Irish Times)

Irish Times, April 17, 2010

Madam, – Hans Küng’s open letter to the Catholic bishops (Front page and Opinion, April 16th) is a timely challenge to all of us Catholics, particularly in the context of the threatened Vatican visitation of the Irish church.

Prof Küng calls on the bishops to come together as a group, to honestly face the many problems in the church, and to develop an independent voice. He reminds them that, though they took a vow of obedience to the pope, the ultimate obedience of all of us must be to God. May I join my voice with his in calling on our bishops to begin to act in a new way?

The situation we are confronted with is radically different to anything the church has faced for many centuries, and it calls for new thinking and new ways of behaving. Automatic submission to Rome, particularly when these visitors arrive, will simply allow them to impose their solution on us. But who believes the way out of our problems will be found in the Vatican?

Our bishops now have a great opportunity, in collaboration with the people, to lead all of us in trying to find, as Prof Küng suggests, regional or national solutions to our difficulties.

As for us priests, we are in a sad state. We have no structure, no organisation, to give us a voice at this urgent time. – Yours, etc,

Athenry, Co Galway.

Madam, – Far be it from me to minimise the Catholic child sex abuse crisis. Indeed, I have raised my own concerns with the hierarchy. But all such crises inevitably bring out the usual suspects; ultra-liberal fringe professional church critics, and the most usual of all, is Prof Hans Küng.

The very few of us, of whatever perspective, who follow Prof Küng’s cyclical hissy-fits, have heard his gripes so many times, we could write letters, such as that in The Irish Times (April 16th) for him.

Not only do most of his repeated “issues” have little or nothing to do with the sex abuse issue, they have nothing to do with church polity as it is, or is ever apt to be. He makes this letter sound “important” by addressing it to all of the world’s bishops, but it is doubtful that many will even read it and certain that not one will act upon it. Perhaps more important, Prof Küng’s rantings have nothing to do with the life of the people in the pews. Most don’t even know he exists.

Your own “liberal agenda” is also hackneyed by now, to the point of cliché. But, in all other areas, you are responsible journalists. One wonders if your responsible journalists’ ethos will ever overcome your predispositions in this area. But I guess that is as likely as that anyone in the hierarchy (or the pews) will ever take Prof Küng seriously. – Yours, etc,

An Daingean, Co Chiarraí.

Irish Times, April 20, 2010

Madam, – May I strongly disagree with David Irby’s strange assertions (April 17th) that “very few” follow Hans Küng’s “gripes”, “rantings” and “hissy-fits” which have “nothing to do with the life of the people in the pews” (Opinion, April 16th).

Mr Irby is obviously unaware that many people “in the pews” read and respect Fr Küng’s work not only because Küng writes about issues which are very important to their lives, but also because they find both consolation and encouragement in Fr Küng’s vision of what the future church might be. Mr Irby also does an injustice to Catholic bishops in doubting their interest in reading the carefully considered views of a theologian who has spent many years encouraging the spirit of Vatican II. I hope he is wrong in asserting that none of the bishops will act upon Fr Küng’s advice.

At a time when church reform is vital, an important step must be for bishops to reclaim real collegiality, as Fr Küng suggests, and as decreed by Vatican II. I join with Tony Flannery (April 17th) in hoping that bishops may take this step and may begin to act in a new way which will allow the church to become the humble, collaborative, pilgrim Church of the People envisaged by Vatican II. – Yours, etc,


College Park Way, Dublin 16.

Madam, – David Irby’s comment (April 17th) that Hans Küng’s letter has little or nothing to do with the sex abuse issue is alarmingly off the mark. Is he blind to the shadows cast by secretum pontificium over church and papacy?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, finding greater good in truth being kept untold, kept victims away from healing light and prolonged for them the bitter night. By passing on the problem, the church unwittingly became evil’s conspirator and by holding the abuse away from light, the Congregation drew the papacy and the church itself into shadow.

Does he seriously believe this corruption of eternal truth is unconnected with the clinging to power by the papacy and Curia contrary to Vatican II and protested by Hans Küng? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Lastly can he not see that all in authority who have erred so grievously, the bishops, the Curia, the Pope himself, are men? Did evil done by men, from men take toll, because the church sees not the woman’s role? Just as the therapy for those who suffered from abuse is the healing light of naked truth so it is for the church as an institution. Only the courage of independent-minded bishops will haste the day of perfect light that will no shadows cast, nor yield to night. – Yours, etc,

Park Avene,
Dublin 4.

Madam, – As a convert Lutheran minister now Catholic priest, I’m appalled by the distortions and inner inconsistency of Hans Küng’s letter which he writes with such vehemence.

If I didn’t suspect the condition of his mind, I would fear for his soul. – Yours, etc,

Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel,
East 90 Street,
New York, US.

Madam, – Fr Tony Flannery (April 17th) supports Hans Küng’s call for bishops to start leading independently from Rome in their own territories.

“As for us priests”, he says, “we are in a sad state. We have no structure, no organisation, to give us a voice at this urgent time.” Why does Fr Flannery need “structure” and “organisation” to bring good news to people? Jesus did an excellent job without either. – Yours, etc,

Patrick Street,
Dublin 8.

Madam,   – Hans Küng’s letter to the bishops is not just a diagnosis of what has gone wrong in the Catholic Church: the resistance to change and the missed opportunities for reform. It seems to me also one of hope that the faithful themselves, who, as the writer says, “have no voice in the current situation”, must take steps to put matters right within the church, which forms a great part in our lives.

Its six proposals for reform should not only be read, but made the basis for a fresh renewal of a church in serious crisis. Now Hans Küng, in a very important document from one who has been closely involved in the Second Vatican Council, has shed the light of his wisdom and experience on the future of the church after a long and dark night of the soul. – Yours, etc,

Co Roscommon

Madam – Dr Hans Küng’s accusation that Cardinal Ratzinger as leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) “engineered” a “worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committee by clerics” is simply false, if the reports of informed journalists like John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter are to be relied on. (See Allen, “A Papal Conversion”, New York Times, March 27th, 2010; also the item on his blog “Keeping the record straight on Benedict and the crisis”, The CDF did not deal with such cases of clerical paedophilia at all until 2001, when, partly as a result of Cardinal Ratzinger’s pushing, motivated by his concern over the failure to deal decisively with certain cases in the 1990s, they were transferred to the CDF. That was a progressive step, since it was the first time that a Vatican department began to take the issue very seriously. Mr Allen suggests that the traumatising experience of reading all the files now sent by bishops to him led Cardinal Ratzinger to direct the CDF officials to take a much tougher response to such criminal behaviour, and to do so with far greater speed.

US bishops were afraid that the Vatican would insist on trials in all cases, which would have made the whole process very slow. In fact, the CDF directed bishops to conduct trials in only 20 per cent of cases. In 60 per cent of the cases, since the available evidence was so strong, the CDF authorised the bishop to take immediate action in removing the priest permanently. Some canon lawyers have raised concerns about such summary procedures, without benefit to the accused of due process. But what cannot be denied is that under Ratzinger’s leadership the CDF was taking expeditious and decisive action.

As for the “oath of secrecy” involved in canonical proceedings, reading of the text shows that there is no prohibition on reporting the matter to the police. The “oath of secrecy” was a rather ham-fisted way of trying to protect names and reputations, and to preserve the integrity of the canonical process. Other legal systems also have rules of confidentiality or “secrecy”.

The church needs much reform in this area. Wild accusations won’t help, and only feed lynch-mob frenzy. – Yours, etc,

N Kenmore Avenue,
Illinois, US.

Madam, – I was as much delighted to read Vincent Twomey’s words of praise concerning Pope Benedict XVI (Opinion, April 19th) as I am disheartened at the continuing assault against the Christian faith and the Catholic Church by mainstream media outlets such as yours.

The goal of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is to unite all Christians in prayer and Pope Benedict has proven himself a faithful and diligent leader in this respect.

The seething malcontent of his detractors; the willingness to misinterpret his words; the obsession with seeking out the bad in all that is done by him and the church he leads – all this has not dampened his spirits one bit.

One might even say, he is strong in his faith. – Yours, etc,

Rue des Confédérés,

Irish Times, April 21, 2010

Madam, – Allow me to assure Vincent Twomey (Opinion, April 19th) that there was nothing in Hans Küng’s open letter to the Catholic bishops (Opinion, April 16th) that a normal member of society would regard as “atrocious” or even unreasonable. On the contrary, I have yet to meet anyone who disagrees with the least of Fr Küng’s conclusions or suggestions.

And no amount of spin can obscure the fact that this papacy has been a catalogue of poor public relations and missed opportunities, conducted in language that the ordinary person cannot begin to understand: a strangled Latinate gobbledygook incapable of expressing the simplest human emotions.

And the West has not turned its back on God; merely on the men who would claim to speak in His name. – Yours, etc,

Strand Road,
Bray, Co Wicklow.

Madam, – If ever proof were needed of the capacity for self-delusion and denial in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church in Ireland, one needs to look no further than Vincent Twomey’s simpering and hagiographical article (Opinion, April 19th) in which he claims that the world and “the faithful” have warmed to Pope Benedict despite the “concerted attempt by the media” to “besmirch his name”.

With a degree of spin which would do justice to the most Machiavellian political adviser, he adoringly lists what he regards as the “prodigious” achievements of the Pope. On closer examination, these actions seem to be confined to having meetings and writing letters which are invariably misinterpreted and greeted by outbreaks of “media outrage.”

For example, Vincent Twomey describes the Pope’s response to the Ryan and Murphy reports as “swift and decisive.” In reality, the Pope was true to form. He called a meeting (after which nothing happened) and he wrote a letter (an appalling and ill-informed attempt to blame the abuse of children on secularism).

While many Catholics are struggling to cope with their pain, confusion and guilt as a result of the inaction and abdication of responsibility on the part of their hierarchy, this Pope and his sycophants are presiding over the decline in the influence and moral authority of their church in Ireland and around the world. Vincent Twomey needs to get out more. If he doesn’t do so quickly, there will be no “faithful” left to tell him what he needs to hear. – Yours, etc,

Rock Road,
Blackrock, Co Louth.

Madam, – While I have a great deal of sympathy for Pope Benedict in his present travails, I believe his plight is made all the worse by some of those who have rallied to his defence.

In fact the ineptness of the various senior apparatchiks who have spoken publicly beggars belief. First Fr Cantalamessa at a Good Friday ceremony (of all days) in the presence of the Pope, draws the Jews into the equation.

Next, on Easter Sunday again in the presence of the Holy Father, Cardinal Sodano (Dean of the College of Cardinals) glibly dismissed recent revelations of the cover-up of child sexual abuse as “idle gossip”.

Not to be outdone the Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone blames homosexuality as the cause of the debacle.

Finally, Fr Vincent Twomey describes Fr Hans Küng’s open letter to the bishops of the world as “atrocious” (Opinion, April 19th).

In my view Fr Küng’s letter is possibly the finest piece of religious writing to appear in The Irish Times in many a day. If these are the best defenders Mother Church can send to the ramparts, in our hour of need, then we are in greater peril than I feared. – Yours, etc,

Co Louth.

Irish Times, April 22, 2010

Madam, – Charles Brennan (April 21st) accuses Pope Benedict of communicating in “a strangled Latinate gobbledygook incapable of expressing the simplest human emotions”. But we can be sure that, if the Pope took a more populist approach, he would be accused of being “a slick operator” and “media savvy”. He simply can’t win.

As for the ideas of Hans Küng, there is nothing liberating, daring or new about them. It is simply the old game of reducing Christ to a cipher for the fashions of the age. We would do well to remember the great words of GK Chesterton in Orthodoxy : “To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.” – Yours, etc,

Sillogue Gardens,
Dublin 11.

Irish Times, April 23, 2010

Madam, – I write to commend and applaud Fr Vincent Twomey’s analysis of Pope Benedict XVI’s Papacy. The Holy Father has been the object of ridicule and condemnation over the past few months. There is no doubt that the media shapes public opinion and so I am grateful to The Irish Times for publishing Fr Twomey’s article (Opinion, April 19th).

In contrast to Fr Hans Küng’s vehement attack on the Pope and on the church (Opinion, April 16th), Fr Twomey’s observations are well reasoned and I believe, represent those of so many of us in the Catholic Church who love and support the Holy Father.

This past weekend, on his pastoral visit to Malta, the Holy Father once again showed the world his compassion and resolve as he met victims of clerical sexual abuse.

In their own words, the encounter was an emotional one and yet filled with serenity and hope. This is part of the process of healing and an acknowledgement of the suffering of so many.

Let us continue to pray for Pope Benedict XVI as he walks in the “shoes of the fisherman”. – Yours, etc,

Holy Spirit Catholic Church,
Northside Drive,
NW Atlanta,
Georgia, US.

Madam, – The memory of Catherine of Sienna is celebrated on April 29th. She is a doctor of the church, a lay woman and patron of Europe. In the 14th century she wrote to Pope Urban VI: “Most holy father it is time to detest sin in yourself, in your subjects and the ministers of holy church”.

She is said to have “fumed at the silence” of those in authority. Pope  Urban remarked, “She is the courageous one!” Yet in her love for the church, she persevered in hope that  it would one day be the Church Christ wanted it to be. Like Catherine, many are trying to keep working for change. Seven centuries is a long time, and there are still courageous ones. – Yours, etc,

Belgard Green,
Dublin 24.