An RTE documentary on Pope Benedict last night included an interesting contribution from Dr Hans Kung.
Dr Kung was Professor of Fundamental Theology at the University of Tubingen in Germany when he was censured by the Catholic Church in 1979 and banned from teaching as a Catholic theologian, though he continued to teach under secular rather than Catholic Church auspices.
Dr Küng's problems arose from his challenging views on areas of core, traditional Catholic doctrine such as the divinity of Christ, papal infallibility and the dogma of the Virgin Mary. It can hardly be surprising that he lost his Catholic accreditation in those circumstances.
It was Dr Kung who recruited Josef Ratzinger to the staff of the faculty at Tubingen, who later turned against him, accusing him of failure to interrogate or criticise liberal left wing views with anything like the vigour he brought to bear on traditional catholic teachings.
Pope John Paul II consistently refused to meet Dr Kung to discuss the issues, despite repeated requests over the years for such a meeting. On the death of John Paul II, Dr Kung determined to request a meeting with the new Pope, whoever he might be. It turned out to be his former academic colleague, Cardinal Ratzinger, who readily agreed to meet and appears to have made a relatively positive impression on Dr Kung with his openness and civility.
However, the consensus view emerging from the various contributors to RTE’s profile of the Pope was that his long-standing opposition to relativism - the ongoing re-interpretation of truths to suit changing societal trends and demands, rather than the existence of unchanging, fundamental truths - means that Dr Kung is unlikely to see his own views featuring high on the list of Papal initiatives in the near future.
It was also suggested that Pope Benedict is preparing the church for the inevitability of a major down-sizing exercise over the coming decades, willing to sacrifice quantity of members for quality of belief.
Such a position would be entirely incomprehensible to most media commentators, who thrive on “market share”, and self-styled "liberal" catholics (often the most illiberal people you could possibly meet) who want to live the á la carte version of catholicism.
Interesting times ahead.
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