No Love for Hans Kung et al.

Art Remillard

Is the Catholic Church taking a turn to the right and, in the process, leaving the Vatican II reforms in the dust? It's a question that many Catholics are asking after Pope Benedict's decision to rescind the excommunications of four bishops of the "Society of Pope Pius X." The New York Times reports:
Pope Benedict XVI, reaching out to the far-right of the Roman Catholic Church, revoked the excommunications of four schismatic bishops on Saturday, including one whose comments denying the Holocaust have provoked outrage. The decision provided fresh fuel for critics who charge that Benedict’s four-year-old papacy has increasingly moved in line with traditionalists who are hostile to the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that sought to create a more modern and open church.

On the "traditionalist movement" and anti-Semitism, John Allen of the NCR reported:

A troubled history with Judaism has long been part of the Catholic traditionalist movement associated with the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — beginning with Lefebvre himself, who spoke approvingly of both the World War II-era Vichy Regime in France and the far-right National Front, and who identified the contemporary enemies of the faith as “Jews, Communists and Freemasons” in an Aug. 31, 1985, letter to Pope John Paul II.

Jewish groups are expressing everything from outrage to disappointment. And it looks like Benedict could end up cancelling his May visit to Israel. But left-leaning Catholics are also jumping in, asking why more efforts aren't being made to mend fences on their side of the aisle. Hans Kung seems to think that Benedict is out of touch, and “does not see that he is alienating himself from the larger part of the Catholic Church and Christianity. . . . He doesn’t see the real world. He only sees the Vatican world.” As such, perhaps a leaner Catholic Church will be Benedict's legacy. It all makes me wonder just how long the Hans Kungs of the church will hang around.


Anonymous said…
What exactly is the "real world"? There are any number of issues where the most of the world lines up closer to Ratzinger than to Kung. And there's no doubt that Ratzinger is closer to the Catholic majority. That doesn't mean Kung is wrong on this issues. It's just that that particular comment of his only reveals his own insularity.
Randall said…
Art, This is an interesting post. You can track so many changes in the church since the 1960s just by looking at Kung and the reaction to him. It reminds me of a review that recently appeared in the TLS on the trials of Kung. And now... I can't find that link.
Tim Lacy said…

Thanks for posting on this. Although the history of the Church is not my main specialty area, the subject is more than hobby for me.

In terms of history, what strikes me about this move is that it is clearly out of line with the trajectory of JPII's teachings. This might be the first issue where Pope Benedict XVI has stepped completely out of JPII's shadow. We're seeing the Holy Father act on his own interests and intellectual leanings.

Aside from the real and indirect Church politics here, I don't understand the theology of the decision. I mean, the Holy Father has already sanctioned Tridentine/Latin masses. So if liturgy were the only issue, that had already been taken care of. The Holy Father has also said the Church may need to get smaller before it grows again. That's fine. But how does that coordinate with his reaching out to a wing of separatists that nearly deny the validity of Vatican II? [Aside: I think it was only the day before this move on the Society that the Vatican released a short statement reaffirming the principles that drove VCII.]

There are a lot of apparent contradictions here. I wish the rescinding would've come with a longer explanation, perhaps as an encyclical.

- TL
Tim Lacy said…
And, I'm not the world's biggest fan of George Weigel, but this was striking from the end of the NYT article:

George Weigel, a biographer of John Paul II, said he was troubled by Bishop Fellay’s implication in his letter that the schismatic group represented the tradition, while “the rest of us are, somehow, the true schismatics.”

He added: “It is not easy to see how the unity of the Church will be enhanced unless the Lefebvrists accept Vatican II’s teaching on the nature of the Church, on religious freedom, and on the evil of anti-Semitism, explicitly and without qualification; otherwise, you get cafeteria Catholicism on the far right, as we already have on the left.
Anonymous said…
There's a long discussion of this on a blog, where the writers and commenters seem very well-informed:

Ross Douthat is also discussing it on the Atlantic blog.
Mike Pasquier said…
I think there is sometimes a tendency to focus almost entirely on the theology or philosophy behind a papal decision like this one. Sometimes we put base too much of our reasoning on how one interprets Vatican II. In doing so, as Tim Lacy points out, we're left with what appear to be strange contradictions and many questions. The question that strikes me most is, Why reach out to an excommunicated separatist group when most people who would describe themselves as the most "orthodox," "conservative," "tridentine" Catholics wouldn't dare break with the Magisterium? There may be a very simple reason, though certainly not the only reason, namely, loyalty. Priests (or bishops or bishops) look out for other priests. They always have, they always will. This is simplifying things, of course, but the fact remains that the priesthood creates strong (sacred?) and complicated bonds between men.
John G. Turner said…
Art, thanks to you and commenters for the thoughtful observations about this. I'd read a couple of items in the media but hadn't digested the situation. Very helpful.

Popular Posts