From ....... HUMAN QUEST

January-February 1997

page 12

Criticisms Of The Roman Church

Catholic Theologian Hans Kung Speaks Openly


THE SECOND Vatican Council under the leadership of Pope John XXIII, 1962-1965, was so successful in making people think that the Catholic Church has reformed itself and is adapting itself to the modern world that virtually no Protestant theologians or bishops have since criticized the Vatican or its subsequent repressive actions.

Under the present Pope John Paul II the Roman church has become so thoroughly reactionary that its leading theologian, Hans Kung, in 1985 wrote,

Much of Kung's criticism is leveled at Cardinal Joseph Ratsinger, the pope's appointed head of what used to be called the "Holy Office of the Roman and Universal Inquisition", now called the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

In a long statement published in the October 11, 1985 National Catholic Reporter, Kung cited the repudiation of Vatican II and a return to the medieval church.

After reading Kung's words I decided to take them seriously. I kept the Kung article on my desk. For years after Vatican II I had been the theologian in Kansas and Missouri most often invited to speak to Catholic audiences. For example, I was in three successive years a lecturer at Conception Seminary in northwest Missouri, and spoke to various groups in Kansas and Greater Kansas City. I was invited by the National Catholic Reporter to serve as an African correspondent while I was on sabbatical there in 1977, and twelve of my major articles were published.

When I wrote an article for The Circuit Rider, a publication of the United Methodist Church, critical of the silencing of Matthew Fox, a Dominican priest, the article was published alongside an article by the "ecumenical" officer of the United Methodist Church which said I should not criticize another church. I learned then that the Roman church had, instead of an ecumenical dialogue with Protestant theologians, arranged separate dialogues with each of a number of denominational representatives with the understanding that neither would criticize the dialogue partner.

It would be wrong to generalize, but I am unaware of theological criticism or dialogue in Protestant denominational or ecumenical journals with respect to the abuses cited by Hans Kung. My own articles are no longer accepted in Catholic or ecumenical Protestant journals because I became outspoken in secular journals in favor of separation of church and state, pro-choice on abortion, opposed to aid for church schools, and critical of the Vatican's position on contraceptive birth control.

Instead of even private ecumenical dialogue on such issues, the Roman Catholic bishops chose in 1975 to establish a political ecumenism over the matter of abortion with right wing Protestants, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. That was the result of the "Pro-Life Pastoral" and Catholic laity like Paul Weyrich persuading those TV evangelists to get into politics. In a PBS series on the religious right Weyrich laughed at his having provided Falwell with the name "Moral Majority."

However, back to Kung, who wrote,

Kung then details some differences over married priests and ordination of women, but notes that the real issue is that the Bible has been "Catholically appropriated" and

Kung wrote that Roman leaders believe

He noted that

Speaking of Pope John Paul's world travels, Kung said,

Kung ended his public statement with a plea to Catholics to

Why are there not more Catholic theologians like Kung? They have been silenced. How can Kung make these statements? He is banned from teaching in Roman Catholic universities, but taught in a non-Catholic university. In 1996 he retired. He can justly be critical of the pope's departure from Vatican II, as he helped to mold that council as Council theologian.

Why are Protestant theologians silent? For some it means being banned from speaking in Catholic circles or in ecumenical settings where a word from a priest prevents certain Protestants from being on the program. That happened to me in 1979 when Father Senecal, President of the Benedictine college where the annual Pax Christi conference was to be held, told leaders who had invited me to speak that he would not permit me on campus because of my defense of separation of church and state and a woman's right to an abortion. I have never since had a similar invitation.

The following are excerpts from the statement I prepared at the request of the National Catholic Reporter on that occasion:

I went on to indicate that "conscience as well as medical judgment should determine whether abortion is to be chosen, just as I believe conscience should determine whether anyone prepares for or participates in nuclear or other war." I also indicated that I would not have raised either the abortion or separation of church and state issues at the conference "if only because I respect religious convictions that differ from mine."

That is still my position - one critical of the Vatican and its positions on many issues, but friendly to the many progressive Catholics who have kept alive the struggle for peace and justice and at the same time respect the conscience of others.

Dr. Swomley is Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri. He has a PhD. in political science and is Associate Editor of the Human Quest.