Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2001

The Catholic Church – A Short History, by Hans Küng

reviewed by Dan O’Hara

Among the more prominent liberal reforming theologians to have flourished in the heady days of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, Hans Küng has become one of the most forceful critics of the conservative reaction that set in under John Paul II to have retained his good standing as a Catholic priest.

Formerly professor of Catholic theology at the University of Tübingen, he had his licence to teach revoked by the Vatican in 1979 following a critical article on the new Pope, just a year into his pontificate. Küng’s academic career was, however, saved by the university, which offered him a personal chair in ecumenical theology.

Küng has, over the years, written a number of very long books that have had a certain cachet in liberal Catholic and ecumenical circles, and have proved a constant irritant to the Roman curia. At the end of a long career, he has now produced a very short volume, which here appears in an English translation by John Bowden. He remains a most forceful critic of the way the Catholic Church has developed, and it is astonishing to read such a devastating verdict on “Hitler’s Pope” – the soon-to-be “Saint” Pius XII – and the present Pope from a serving Catholic priest. Can the Vatican now refrain from excommunicating him?

The book is clearly written to shake conservative and rally liberal Catholics; but what relevance has it for a humanist? While welcoming the belated candour with which he recounts so much that has long been, and remains, rotten at the heart of the Catholic Church (including its treatment of women and gays), I am struck by the naïveté with which he accepts so uncritically pious and liberal views of Jesus and the earliest forms of Christianity.

“I am buoyed up,” he writes, “by an unshakeable faith ... in Jesus Christ, his person and cause, which remains the prime motif in the church’s tradition, liturgy and theology.”

So for Küng, it seems, it is enough to justify his own faith that some early Christians believed incredible things about Jesus. This strikes me as the most unwarranted credulity. If he can swallow that particular camel, it seems pernickety to strain out the gnats of even the most extravagant papal claims.

After all, no pope has yet claimed to have risen from the dead!

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Created : Sunday, 2001-07-29 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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