Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Status Quo 40+ Years Later

I just read something Swiss theologian and priest Hans Kung wrote more than forty years ago. It struck me that it could have been written yesterday.

In what he titled "A Candid Foreword" to his book Unfehlbar? (published in 1970, just five years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council), Kung was critical of the Church's failure to implement the changes inspired by the Council.

He observed, "Not withstanding the inevitability of change, the Pope, the Curia and many bishops continue to behave in a largely pre-conciliar fashion; little seems to have been learnt from the Council."

Describing Pope Paul VI as "a man of integrity, who suffers under his load of responsibility," Kung nonetheless faulted him for  rejecting the proposal of many Council fathers to freely elect the presidents of its commissions, for forbidding Council to discuss the birth-control issue or the question of priestly celibacy, and for the nota explicativa which  without Council approval presumed to interpret the principle of episcopal collegiality.

When Kung, in 1964, published his concern about these decisions, he was called to account for his assessment by Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the  Vatican's Holy Office. Kung noted that this interview "took place in an atmosphere of mutual respect."

Following the Council's closing in December of 1965, Kung believed that the "Council put forward a magnificent programme for a renewed Church of the future." He praised the various reforms in the Curia, the reformed Mass liturgy and the use of the vernacular in liturgy, and the reform of the seminaries.

"Nothing of all this was perfect," he admitted, "but it was all basically good and hopeful."

And then in a short time there occurred what Kung called a relapse into pre-conciliar absolutism, juridicism, and centralism. He saw this return to past thinking as consistent with a saying often heard at the time of the Council: "Councils come to an end, popes pass away, but the Roman Curia goes on."

When the Curia was enlarged rather than cut back, Kung noted that in the face of Roman rigidity "many bishops and bishops' conferences behaved irresolutely, hesitantly, and passively. Instead of boldly and immediately setting about putting the Council's decisions into practice in the various countries, a policy of wait-and-see was adopted."

Kung acknowledged that several positive steps had been taken: the Index was abolished,  synods of bishops had been held, the excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople was rescinded, but theologians were still subject to inquisitional proceedings, the bishops' recommendations had little impact, and Rome maintained its privileges and prerogatives over the Eastern churches.

The Petrine ministry, Kung wrote, "makes sense, and every Catholic accepts it. But the Pope exists for the Church, and not the Church for the Pope. His primacy is not the primacy of sovereignty, but the primacy of service."

Kung said that the post-conciliar Church was experiencing a fresh crisis "provoked by Roman intransigence" and asked whether it is "not better to speak out plainly and openly and in good time, before more priests give up the ministry, more candidates for orders go away, and more people noisily or quietly turn their backs on the Church."

"Reform and renewal," Kung proposed,  "is our watchword. But let this also be said. Just as we have no time for reaction in the Church, so do we have none for revolution, that is, the violent overthrow of the Church's government and values."

The changes which Kung advocated are to be achieved, he said, by changes of personnel and structures. "We must not give up the struggle for renewal and reform, but neither must we give up dialogue and hope for mutual understanding."

Kung made a plea for acceptance of free expression of opinion as a basic human right "that cannot be denied even to a Catholic theologian in the ecclesial community when he is striving after the truth of the Church's proclamation."

Kung's observations could have been written yesterday, but they are found in the foreword to his Infallible? An Enquiry (Collins, St. James Place, London, 1971).

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