Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Church Is Sick" (Hans Kung)

Even if you don’t accept everything he says, you have to admit that Hans Kung makes a strong case for his diagnosis that the Church is sick. You may not agree that it has “a debilitating and potentially terminal illness,” but you will have a hard time disproving his contention that “the Catholic Church is in its deepest crisis of confidence since the Reformation.” Pope Benedict  XVI said the Church has a disfigured face.

His book Can We Save the Catholic Church? (William Collins, 2013) spells out Kung's diagnosis, points to “the Roman system” as the major cause of the Church’s illness, and offers a prescription for recovery. The accumulation of power and prestige in Rome led to what Kung calls "the Roman system."

Kung is 86 years old. He served as a peritus (expert theological adviser) at the Second Vatican Council, lost his license to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian in 1979 when he publicly rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility, and has continued to criticize the “Roman system” as the major flaw in the Church’s mission to represent Christ.

After more than 50 years of study, experience and pleading, Kung says he has published his diagnosis “only to fulfill my duty in conscience to offer this service (possibly my last) to my Church, a Church which I have endeavored to serve all my life.” Can We Save The Catholic Church? may well be his final effort to spell out what he sees wrong with the Church and once again urge its members to seek reform.

In this book he reviews Church history, summarizing here the “critical, historical account of twenty centuries of Christianity” which he published in 1994 under the title Christentum: Wesen und Geschichte (published as Christianity: Essence, History and Future in 2004 by Continuum).

Reviewing various historical and defining moments in the Church’s history, Kung keeps asking whether the Church faithfully reflects the original Christian message “which to all intents and purposes is Jesus Christ himself” (57). 

He decries the Inquisition of the past, but insists that it is still operative today even if in a less physically violent form. He notes the name change, from “Holy Office (of the Inquisition)” to the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (CDF), but explains that it “now practices more subtle forms of psychological torture, and its proceedings continue to be secret, which is one of the reasons why the Vatican was not permitted to join the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, which demands certain minimal human rights” (290).

Kung, of course, has himself been subject to investigation by the CDF because of his book questioning papal infallibility. Just six years after the close of Vatican II Kung was writing in Infallible? An Enquiry (Collins, 1971) that “the Council put forward a magnificent programme for a renewed Church of the future” (15), but “the people of God are being deprived of the fruits of the Council” (22).

In his Disputed Truth – Memoirs II (Continuum, 2007), Kung explained why he refused to go to the “colloquium” to which the CDF had called him, describing its style as "hierarchical and heartless” (266), adding, “I will in no way submit to an inquisitional procedure disguised as a ‘colloquium’ in which in the end there is no other possibility for me of safeguarding my rights (something that is granted even criminals in civilized states) than ultimately to subscribe to the Roman dictate if I don’t want to fall victim to Roman sanctions” (268).

In effect Kung argues that the CDF will not discuss but only condemn what it deems contrary to Church doctrine. Kung believes that theologians need to be given an ear, an opportunity to explore, to seek the truth. He believes that over the centuries Rome has shown itself capable of learning, and he hopes that someday the organ of the inquisition will become an organ of  proclamation of the faith. “The protection of the faith is better served today not through the exclusive persecution of errors but through the positive promotion of Christian doctrine” (266).

Inquisitorial practice, however, is only one of Kung’s criticisms. Among other ailments of the Church are: 1) the Roman monopoly of power and truth; 2) juridicism and clericalism; 3) hostility to sexuality plus general misogyny; 4) theological vindication of the use of force and war; 5) great financial power; 6) refusal to reform. All these ailments are contrary to the Gospel and the health of the Church. 

Failure to acknowledge the problems and refusal to speak up exacerbates the illness. Denial is not a redeeming or curative factor.

Kung goes on to list therapies for restoring the Church’s health; among them are 1) exercise of  pastoral leadership by office-holders, not a ruling dominium (often a dictatorship) but rather a ministerium (healing service); 2) reform dictated by the testimony of the Gospel not by canon law; 3) a papacy which maintains community with the Church (an idea that seems part of Pope Francis’ style of ministry); 4) development of a Curia in accord with Gospel values; 5) appointments based on competence rather than cronyism; 6) openness in and restructuring of Vatican finances (another concern of Pope Francis); 7) allowing priests and bishops to marry; 8) opening Church offices to women; 9) inclusion of  laity and clergy in election of bishops.

Kung concludes his diagnosis, therapy and prognoses of an ailing Church with these remarks: “I have once again --this time at a very advanced stage of life--  set forth in summary fashion my vision of a Church which could fulfill the hope of millions of Christians and non-Christians alike. It is a vision based on my experience over decades of careful study, and my experience of struggling and of suffering for it. It is a vision of how the Church could not only be saved and survive but also flourish once again” (331).

Offering his prognosis Kung said, “I hope very much that this book will assist the English-speaking world in supporting Pope Francis’s reforms by offering a precise historic and systematic analysis and viable, practical proposals for reform” (xii)…Doubtless, Pope Francis will awaken powerful hostility, above all in the powerhouse of the Roman Curia –opposition which is difficult to withstand. Those in power in the Vatican are not likely to abandon the power that has been accumulated since the Middle Ages” (337).

“Can we save the Catholic Church?” Kung asks, and then provides a positive answer, “…sooner or later, we will once again become what Christ founded us to be” (338).

1 comment:

  1. Father Norm, It's been a long time since I have read such a beneficial commentary from a priest about the writings of the Rev. Dr. Hans Kung, whom I have respected among all Catholic theologians since I first heart of him while I was in Catholic seminaries during most of the 2nd Vatican Council. He calls us to live the life brought to us by Jesus,
    and points out so many ways that the Roman Catholic hierarchy, like
    the religious establishment of Jesus' day, often stands in the way of the Good News rather than promoting it.
    God bless you, and I am anxiously anticipating the English translation of Fr. Kung's Memoirs Vol. III.