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Hans Küng (born March 19, 1928, in Sursee, Canton of Lucerne) is a Swiss Catholic priest, controversial theologian, and prolific author. Since 1995 he has been President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic (Stiftung Weltethos). Küng is "a Catholic priest in good standing", but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology. He had to leave the Catholic faculty, but remained at the University of Tübingen as a professor of ecumenical theology, serving as an emeritus professor since 1996. Although Küng is not officially allowed to teach Catholic theology, neither his bishop nor the Holy See have revoked his priestly faculties. He is a disruptive figure in the Catholic church.
Life and work
In 1960, he was appointed professor of theology at Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen, Germany. Like his colleague Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in 1962 he was appointed peritus by Pope John XXIII, serving as an expert theological advisor to members of the Second Vatican Council until its conclusion in 1965. At Küng's instigation, the Catholic faculty at Tübingen appointed Ratzinger as professor of dogmatics. However, due to the 1968 students revolt, Ratzinger moved to the University of Regensburg, ending cooperation between the two.
In a 1963 tour of the United States, Küng gave the lecture "The Church and Freedom", receiving an interdict from the Catholic University of America but an honorary doctorate from St. Louis University. He accepted an invitation to visit John F. Kennedy at the White House.
Küng's doctoral thesis, Justification. La doctrine de Karl Barth et une réflexion catholique, was finally published in English in 1964. It located a number of areas of agreement between Barthian and Catholic theologies of justification, concluding that the differences were not fundamental and did not warrant a division in the Church. (The book included a letter from Karl Barth, attesting that he agreed with Küng's representation of his theology.) In this book Küng argued that Barth, like Martin Luther, overreacted against the Catholic Church, which despite its imperfections has been and remains the body of Christ.
In the late 1960s, he became the first major Roman Catholic theologian since the late 19th century Old Catholic Church schism to publicly reject the doctrine of papal infallibility, in particular in his book Infallible? An Inquiry (1971). Consequently, on December 18, 1979, he was stripped of his missio canonica, his licence to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian, but carried on teaching as a tenured professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen until his retirement (Emeritierung) in 1996. To this day he remains a persistent critic of papal infallibility, which he claims is man-made (and thus reversible) rather than instituted by God. He was not excommunicated ferendae sententiae.
For three months in 1981, he was guest professor at the University of Chicago. During this visit to America he was invited to only one Catholic institution, the University of Notre Dame. He appeared on the Phil Donahue Show. In October 1986, he participated in the Third Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter held at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
In the early 1990s, Küng initiated a project called Weltethos (Global Ethic), which is an attempt at describing what the world's religions have in common (rather than what separates them) and at drawing up a minimal code of rules of behaviour everyone can accept. His vision of a global ethic was embodied in the document for which he wrote the initial draft, Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration. This Declaration was signed at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions by religious and spiritual leaders from around the world. Later Küng's project would culminate in the UN's Dialogue Among Civilizations to which Küng was assigned as one of 19 "eminent persons." Even though it was completed shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (in September 2001), it was not covered in the U.S. media, about which Küng complained.
In March 1991, he gave a talk titled "No Peace Among Nations until Peace Among the Religions" at UCSD's Price Center. He visited the nearby Beth El synagogue and spoke there on modern German-Jewish relations.
In 2005, Küng published a critical article in Italy and Germany on The failures of Pope Wojtyla. Küng argued that the world had expected a period of conversion, reform, and dialogue; but instead politically John Paul II offered a restoration of the pre-Vatican II status quo—thus blocking reform and inter-church dialogue and reasserting the absolute dominion of Rome.
This Papacy has repeatedly declared its fidelity to Vatican II, in order to then betray it for reasons of political expediency. Council terms such as modernization, dialogue, and ecumenicalism have been replaced by emphasis on restoration, mastery, and obedience. The criteria for the nomination of Bishops is not at all in the spirit of the Gospel... Pastoral politics has allowed the moral and intellectual level of the episcopate to slip to dangerous levels. A mediocre, rigid, and more conservative episcopate will be the lasting legacy of this papacy.
Nevertheless, in a 2009 interview with Le Monde, Küng deeply criticised the lifting of the excommunications on the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X. At the same time, he made criticisms of the Pope's theology, saying it remained the same as that of the council of Nicea held in 325. The interview drew a rebuke from Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Based on Studium Generale lectures at Tübingen University, his latest publication, Der Anfang aller Dinge (The beginning of all things), discusses the relationship between science and religion. In an analysis spanning from quantum physics to neuroscience, he comments on the current debate about evolution in the United States, dismissing those opposed to the teaching of evolution as "naive [and] un-enlightened."
In his recent book Was ich glaube (Piper Verlag, 2010), he describes his own personal relationship with nature, how he learned to observe correctly, drawing strength from God’s creation without falling victim to a false and fanatic love of nature.
In April 2010, he published in several newspapers an open letter to all Catholic bishops. In the letter he criticized Pope Benedict's handling of liturgical, collegial and inter-religious issues and also the sexual abuse scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church. In the letter, he called on bishops to consider six proposals, ranging from speaking up and working on regional solutions to calling for another Vatican council.
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- "If you cannot see that divinity includes male and female characteristics and at the same time transcends them, you have bad consequences. Rome and Cardinal O'Connor base the exclusion of women priests on the idea that God is the Father and Jesus is His Son, there were only male disciples, etc. They are defending a patriarchal Church with a patriarchal God. We must fight the patriarchal misunderstanding of God." — Newsweek interview, July 8, 1991
- "Everyone agrees the celibacy rule is just a Church law dating from the 11th century, not a divine command." — Newsweek interview, July 8, 1991
- "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions." - Küng speaking on global ethic
- "Joseph Ratzinger has stood still because as a Bavarian Catholic in the Hellenistic tradition, interpreted in Roman terms, he wanted to stand still. To this degree he represented and represents a different basic model of theology and church, as different from mine as in astronomy Ptolemy's geocentric picture of the world is different from Copernicus' heliocentric picture." — Hans Küng, Disputed Truth: Memoirs Volume 2, Continuum 2008, p. 329
- "The same church must, in my opinion, also respect that the one whose name is absent from the same declaration out of embarrassment, although he and he alone led Muslims to pray to this one God, so that once again through him, Muhammad, the prophet, this God 'has spoken to mankind." — World Religions 129
- "The Pope would have an easier job than the President of the United States in adopting a change of course. He has no Congress alongside him as a legislative body nor a Supreme Court as a judiciary. He is absolute head of government, legislator and supreme judge in the church. If he wanted to, he could authorize contraception over night, permit the marriage of priests, make possible the ordination of women and allow eucharistic fellowship with this Protestant churches. What would a Pope do who acted in the spirit of Obama?"
- 1991 Swiss culture prize;
- 1992 Karl Barth prize;
- 1998 Theodor Heuss Foundation prize;
- 1998 Interfaith gold medallion from the International Council of Christianity and Judaism, London;
- 1999 Federation of Lutheran cities prize;
- 2000 GLOBArt Award;
- 2001 Planetary Consciousness Prize from the Club of Budapest;
- 2003 Grand Order of Merit with star
- 2004 German Druiden medal from the Weltethos Foundation
- 2005 Niwano Peace Prize
- 2005 Baden-Wuerttemberg medal
- 2006 Lew Kopelew prize
- 2007 German freemasonry cultural prize
- 2007 Honorary Citizen of City of Tübingen
- 2008 Honour for civil courage by the circle of friends Heinrich Heine (Düsseldorf)
- 2008 Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold from the German Society for the United Nations, for "outstanding earnings/services to peace and people communication, in particular for his exemplary employment for humanity, tolerance and the dialogue between the large world religions".
- 2009 Abraham Geiger prize from the Abraham-Geiger-Kolleg at the University of Potsdam.
Bibliography (English translations)
- Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection, (org. 1964), (40th Ann. Ed. 2004), (Trans. Hermann Haring), Westminster John Knox Press, ISBN 0-6642-2446-6
- 'The Council and Reunion' (1960), London: Sheed and Ward
- 'Structures of the Church' (1962), New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons
- 'The Church' (1967), London: Burns and Oates
- Infallible? An Inquiry, (1971) ISBN 0-385-18483-2
- Why Priests? (1971)
- 'What must remain in the Church' (1973), London: Collins
- 'On Being a Christian', (1974)
- Signposts for the Future: Contemporary Issues facing the Church (1978), (ISBN 0-3851-3151-8), 204 pages
- Freud and the Problem of God: Enlarged Edition, Edward Quinn (translator), (ISBN 0-3000-4723-1), 126 pages, Yale University Press
- Does God Exist? An Answer For Today (1980) (ISBN 0-8245-1119-0)
- Christianity and the world religions: paths of dialogue with Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism (1986) ISBN 0-3851-9471-4
- Christianity and Chinese Religions (with Julia Ching, 1988) (ISBN 0-334-02545-1)
- Art and the question of Meaning (1980, translated 1981) E. Quinn, Crossroads New York (ISBN-0-8245-0016-4)
- Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View (1990) (Translated by Peter Heinegg) (ISBN 0-3854-1125-1)
- Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (1992), New York: Crossroad (ISBN 0-8264-0788-9)
- Great Christian Thinkers (1994) ISBN 0-8264-0848-6
- Christianity : Its Essence and History (1995) (ISBN 0334025710)
- A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Economics (1997) (ISBN 0-334-02686-5)
- The Catholic Church (2001) (ISBN 0-6796-4092-4)
- My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs (2003), New York, London: Continuum (ISBN 0-8264-7021-1)
- Why I Am Still a Christian (2006) (ISBN 978-0826476982)
- The Beginning of All Things - Science and Religion (2007) (ISBN 978-0802807632)
- Islam: Past, Present and Future (2007) (ISBN 978-1-85168-377-2)
- Disputed Truth: Memoirs II (2008) New York: Continuum (ISBN 9780826499103)
- Hans Küng his work and his way, Hans Küng, Hermann Häring, Karl-Josef Kuschel, Robert Nowell, Margret Gentner (1979) (ISBN 0-3851-5852-1)
- The New Inquisition?: The Case of Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Küng, Peter Hebblethwaite, (ISBN 0-0606-3795-1)
- Hans Küng (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind Series), John J. Kiwiet, Bob E. Patterson (Series Ed.) (1985) (ISBN 0-8499-2954-7)
- Küng, The Catholic Church: A Short History (2002), Introduction, p. xviii: "In 1979 I then had personal experience of the Inquisition under another pope. My permission to teach was withdrawn by the church, but nevertheless I retained my chair and my institute (which was separated from the Catholic faculty). For two further decades I remained unswervingly faithful to my church in critical loyalty, and to the present day I have remained professor of ecumenical theology and a Catholic priest in good standing. I affirm the papacy for the Catholic Church, but at the same time indefatigably call for a radical reform of it in accordance with the criterion of the gospel."
- Hans Küng (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind Series), John J. Kiwiet, 1985
- Hans Küng Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth, 1964, p. 200
- Briggs, Kenneth A., New York Times, (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Dec 13, 1981. pg. A.29
- ""Emptiness, Kenosis, History, and Dialogue: The Christian Response to Masao Abe's Notion of "Dynamic Sunyata" in the Early Years of the Abe-Cobb Buddhist-Christian Dialogue," Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 24, 2004
- Global Ethic Foundation
- UN - Short Biography
- Hans Küng Interview (Revue Lexnews)
- "Noted theologian Hans Kung to speak at USCD, synagogue", Rita Gillmon. The San Diego Union San Diego, Calif.: Mar 9, 1991. pg. B.11
- "Pope's September surprise" [home edition] John L. Allen Jr., Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2005, pg. M.5
- Theologian's criticism of pope draws Vatican response
- Church in worst credibility crisis since Reformation, theologian tells bishops
- Talk delivered by Hans Küng on March 31, 2005, at the opening of the Exhibit on the World's Religions at Santa Clara University.