Controversial Theologian Hans Küng 'I Don't Cling to This Life'

AP/ Osservatore Romano

Part 3: 'Churchgoers Are Largely in Support of Church Reform'


SPIEGEL: Is there anything in your life that you would like to undo?

Küng: I was sometimes too polemical, and I wish I hadn't said a few things. But my most drastic experience was the revocation of my license to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian in 1979. It was devastating to me, both emotionally and physically. There was one day when I was lying on this yellow sofa here and couldn't bring myself to go the scheduled faculty meeting to discuss my case.

SPIEGEL: You were depressed?

Küng: Not depressed, but exhausted. Of course, I wondered whether I should have given in. All they wanted was that I keep quiet. They said the people in Rome didn't care about my personal beliefs. You can believe what you wish, they told me. Some people say that if I had backed down at the time, I would have been made a cardinal long ago. But that was precisely not my goal.

SPIEGEL: At the time, you were hoping for a professorship in the United States. Did you want to leave Germany?

Küng: I was enthusiastic about America. I knew President (John F.) Kennedy, one of his sisters and other family members, and many universities in the United States invited me to give lectures there. Yes, it was a dream: a professorship in Los Angeles, for instance, with a house on the Pacific. But it was unrealistic. I never really wanted to leave Tübingen.

SPIEGEL: Do you expect to be rehabilitated during your lifetime?

Küng: No. The German Bishops' Conference could begin the process, and Rome would only have to agree to it. But I no longer anticipate or expect it. Pope Francis shouldn't jeopardize other important tasks by rehabilitating me and becoming too close to me.

SPIEGEL: You were accused of vanity your entire life. There is even an entire chapter about it in your memoirs.

Küng: But I'm probably no vainer than the average person.

SPIEGEL: You write that other theologians were jealous of you for being invited to appear on TV shows more often, because you valued being in good physical shape and wore appropriate clothing, including a tie.

Küng: It actually reads: "occasionally a tie."

SPIEGEL: Here's another quote: "I rarely overestimated my abilities."

Küng: If you take it out of context, it actually does sound vain. But you can read on the same page that I have an aversion to illusorily overestimated characteristics. I know my limits. I detest posturing and pomposity. But if I hadn't had any self-confidence in the dispute with Rome, I would have been lost. To this day, my books are ignored by the hierarchy and by scholastic theology. Perhaps that's why I repeatedly mentioned the names of those in academia, politics and the media who quote me approvingly.

SPIEGEL: You, the son of a shoe salesman, became a professor of theology in the German university town of Tübingen at 32 and an adviser to the Second Vatican Council at 34. And then, in 1979, came the serious blow, when your license to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian was revoked.

Küng: A major media campaign was waged against me at the time, and in the end, a pastoral letter was read against me in every church in Germany. You have to imagine that.

SPIEGEL: Part of the reason your license to teach was revoked is that you questioned whether priests should have to be celibate. Do you believe that the celibacy rules might be changed under Francis?

Küng: I can't really imagine that this issue will continue to be deferred seeing that there are fewer and fewer parish priests every day. I don't know how the church will be able to provide pastoral care in the next generation. The question has been relevant for some time, and churchgoers are largely supportive of this reform.

SPIEGEL: Do you live in celibacy?

Küng: I am not married, and I have neither a wife nor children.

SPIEGEL: There is a woman in the book whom you refer to as "my ideal companion in life."

Küng: Yes, in the sense of an ideal traveling companion. We have separate estates, live on separate floors and have separate apartments. I described all of this in my memoirs, and I stand behind it. I have nothing else to say about it.

SPIEGEL: Professor Küng, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Markus Grill

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broremann 12/12/2013
1. professor Kung
great article, a man ahead of the catholic church, his views are what people want the church to be
Inglenda2 12/12/2013
2. Christianity a tradition, or a way of life?
This interview indicates the problems of the Catholic church, which has structures built up over many centuries, but which have little or nothing to do with the teachings of Christ. What Mr. Küng says may well be his honest opinion, but remains only one opinion amongst the millions of people who claim to be Christians. He is however not alone, in respect to Wojtyla's canonisation. There are several reasons why this proposed advance to Sainthood is considered by many Catholics to be a mistake. These include the activities of John-Paul, during his adolescence, which make this decision more than questionable. On the other hand, Saint Paul was also not a person of exalted character, before his conversion. The administrative church does itself no favours by trying to decide such matters, which for believers are better left for God to determine.
LayaboutJoe 12/12/2013
3. Markus Grill was the wrong man for this interview.
An interview with Hans Küng ought to have been highly instructive, whether or not one agrees with his assertions. Yet this interview was, in the main, very shallow and tedious due to odd questions by Mr. Grill which were both irrelevant and unfriendly. Unless journalism is asleep at "Der Spiegel" Mr. Grill answers to an editor who can include or remove questions and responses from an interview. Perhaps he or she was not at work the day this interview's deadline was imminent? I can't help but wonder, though, whether or not "Der Spiegel" has a hidden agenda regarding Mr. Küng. A bias against Mr. Küng sticks out all over this article, hence I'm very disappointed.
titus_norberto 12/13/2013
4. Interesting, a Catholic theologian citing Sartre.....
Sartre is not one of the saints of my devotion but I agree that there is a huge sexual problem in the church that must be eradicated, firstly, in order to protect children and the faithful, and secondly, in order to avoid exposing a flank to the numerous enemies of the church, especially entrenched in mass media. Perhaps eliminating celibacy in certain cases is the solution, but I believe that the Pope MUST be celibate to prevent dynastical temptations.... On another topic, when I was young I did not believe in the existence of the Devil to the dismay of my priests…. but now at 58…, unlike Professor Kung, I do believe in evil as a positive entity operating on earth…, therefore in the existence of Hell as well… In regards to John Paul II I believe that Professor Kung's criticism is biased, Pope John Paul II was a key factor in the destruction of the WORST SCOURGE of the XIX and XX century, namely Marxism….
alasiaperle 12/13/2013
5. ....
Thank you for this beautiful interview.
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