Controversial Theologian Hans Küng 'I Don't Cling to This Life'
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
- Part 1: 'I Don't Cling to This Life'
- Part 2: Pope Francis 'Has Introduced a Paradigm Shift'
- Part 3: 'Churchgoers Are Largely in Support of Church Reform'