Hans Küng obituary


The Catholic priest and theologian Hans Küng, who has died elderly 93, used to be simplest 11 months more youthful than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. For 3 years within the mid-60s the 2 labored harmoniously in combination on the College of Tübingen in south-west Germany; Küng had recruited Father Joseph Ratzinger, as he then used to be. However in the case of their perspectives at the church of which they had been contributors, they had been centuries aside, Küng remarked in 2013. Benedict, by means of that point Küng’s boss, used to be, he mentioned, “dwelling intellectually within the Heart Ages”.

There are some Vaticanologists who like to take a position that, had issues labored out another way, it would had been the suave, charismatic, enticing Küng who ended up in fee on the Vatican reasonably than the shy, unworldly, donnish Ratzinger. In 1962, simply 8 years after being ordained, Küng had sufficiently inspired to be named by means of Pope John XXIII as a peritus (professional adviser) on the landmark 2nd Vatican Council, which over the following 3 years set in regards to the activity of reforming the church.

Historians of the collection later judged that, in spite of his relative formative years and loss of seniority, Küng used to be influential in shaping its ultimate statements that sought to carry Catholicism into the trendy international. Whilst the council used to be in growth, he used to be appointed to the newly created chair of dogmatic and ecumenical theology at Tübingen, and in addition become the primary director of the college’s institute for ecumenical analysis; prior to that he were a professor of basic theology there (1960-63).

The desire for Catholicism to construct bridges and equivalent relationships with different church buildings and faiths used to be one of the most keynote subject matters of the council. To that finish, running with the younger Ratzinger, he based the magazine Ecumenical Research. However the prime hopes created by means of Vatican II had been temporarily dashed. In 1968, Küng took a dim view of the insistence of Paul VI, John’s successor, that each one “synthetic” birth control (this is, anything else that labored) used to be sinful. The pope, it used to be mentioned, had up to now attempted to tame Küng by means of providing him a submit within the Vatican. He declined. It could had been step one on a ladder to the highest, however he had extra about him than that. The distance between Küng and Rome widened.

Pope Benedict in papal robes, with hands clasped, visiting a mosque
Pope Benedict XVI and Küng had been colleagues on the College of Tübingen for 3 years, however then took diverging religious paths. {Photograph}: Patrick Hertzog/EPA

In 1971, his e-book Infallible? An Inquiry disregarded the respectable educating (although simplest since 1870, Küng identified) that during positive issues of religion and morals the pope may talk infallibly. It ended in an eight-year wrangle with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Religion that he described as similar to being focused by means of the Inquisition. In 1979, beneath the somewhat new and theologically conservative Pope John Paul II, Rome withdrew Küng’s licence to show theology at a Catholic college.

It used to be indubitably a blow. The verdict used to be broadly criticised. Greater than 1,000 scholars held a candlelit vigil at Tübingen, whilst the Church of England and the pan-protestant International Council of Church buildings expressed severe worry on the implications of Rome’s movements on inter-church discussions. The Vatican, although, would now not trade its thoughts, so the government at Tübingen had to take away Küng’s chair from the Catholic college there and put it, in addition to the ecumenical institute he headed, beneath the jurisdiction of the college senate.

By way of this implies he endured to show there till his retirement in 1996. For the remainder of his existence, his martyrdom at the altar of an intransigent church management increased Küng into the voice of the various Catholics (in some surveys, the vast majority of them within the west) who stay inside the fold however can’t in excellent sense of right and wrong practice the respectable line opposing feminine clergymen, married clergymen, intercourse out of doors marriage and same-sex relationships.

Even though he by no means appreciated to make use of the name Father, and eschewed clerical garb in favour of well-cut fits, Küng endured to function a clergyman inside the church. The level of his affect is tricky to measure, however in a contemporary interview the comic Frank Skinner quoted Küng’s observation that “the church is at the street to reality however is going down cul-de-sacs at the manner” as a part of the explanation he stays a practicing Catholic.

“For plenty of Christians,” Küng’s biographer, the British journalist Robert Nowell, wrote, “most likely particularly for the ones now not in communion with Rome, there used to be at all times one thing too excellent to be true about Hans Küng. He mixed the very qualities that lots of the Catholic church’s detractors have considered utterly incompatible: a zeal for reality and loyalty to Rome, an open-minded willingness to just accept the end result of crucial inquiry, and adherence to what from the out of doors used to be observed as a closed dogmatic device.”

Born within the the city of Sursee, north-west of Lucerne in Switzerland, Hans used to be the oldest of 7 kids, two of whom had been boys. He used to be named after his father, a shoe service provider; his mom, Emma (nee Intestine), used to be a farmer’s daughter. On the age of eleven, he felt referred to as to the priesthood and, he recalled in My Combat for Freedom, a 2002 memoir, thereafter stopped sitting subsequent to his female friend at the educate to university, having up to now kissed her simply the as soon as.

Shot of Kung lit from above by a church pillar, looking up at the light, with two microphones in the foreground
Küng in 1968. He didn’t like to make use of the name ‘Father’, and incessantly most popular fits to clerical garb. {Photograph}: Getty Photographs

He studied on the Gregorian College in Rome, the place his highbrow skills had been temporarily recognised all over his coaching. The 2 topics he selected for his thesis – the atheistic humanism of Jean-Paul Sartre (at the moment at the church’s index of forbidden books) and the theology of the Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth – had been an early signal of his huge point of view on religion.

Ordained in 1954 in Saint Peter’s, he did additional educational paintings prior to spending 18 months in parish paintings in Lucerne. Propelled into the highlight by means of the 2nd Vatican Council, the photogenic Küng (he additionally drove a sports activities automobile) undertook global lecture excursions and attachments to quite a lot of theological institutes in america. Whilst there, he used to be invited to the White Area to satisfy President John F Kennedy, the primary Catholic holder of the submit.

In 1968, on the top of the Europe-wide pupil protests, Küng and Ratzinger parted corporate, with the latter so unsettled by means of the unrest that he retreated to a extra conservative college. By the point they met once more, over lunch on the papal summer time villa at Castel Gandolfo in the summertime of 2005, it used to be on the invitation of the brand new Pope Benedict XVI. John Paul II had refused greater than a dozen occasions to look Küng, however Ratzinger used to be willing to sign that the church beneath his management can be a larger tent than prior to.

It used to be now not, on the other hand, sufficiently big to deal with Küng, whose pursuits had grown significantly wider since his licence were got rid of. His literary output used to be at all times prodigious, with greater than 50 titles to his title, however after 1979 he used to be more and more drawn to seem past his personal yard, with research of Islam, Mozart, the connection between science and faith, and the most important query of interested in the ones in his line of labor: whether or not God exists. On his retirement in 1996, he established the Stiftung Weltethos/International Ethic Basis at Tübingen to advertise co-operation and discussion between the faiths world wide.

In spite of the affect that this self-confident, suave and ever so reasonably useless priest could have given, Küng used to be now not one in every of nature’s rebels. His selected means would had been to paintings from inside, however the Catholic church in his heyday used to be illiberal of such dissenting voices amongst its clergymen. If the selection used to be silence or uneasy inner exile, he used to be now not going to chunk his tongue.

When challenged about his maverick function within the historical past of contemporary Catholicism, he remained fond to the top of quoting one in every of his heroes, Pope Gregory the Nice: “If scandal is taken as the reality, then it’s higher to permit scandal to stand up than to desert the reality.”

Hans Küng, priest, theologian and writer, born 19 March 1928; died 6 April 2021

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