By Idafe Martin (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 20, 2013
He turned 85 yesterday. And despite his slow movements and deliberate speech, Hans Küng still has an alert mind and enormous prestige as one of the great theoreticians of the Catholic Church. Author of dozens of works that have shaped theology in recent decades, his lashings against the corruption of the Vatican Curia were feared within the power cliques of the last two pontiffs.
Küng, who was born in Sursee, Switzerland in 1928, received Clarín privately in the German city of Tübingen, where he was professor of ecumenical theology for decades and is now president of the Global Ethic Foundation. His dissent prompted the Vatican to take away the power to teach theology, but his university rebelled and created a chair for him. In this interview, very critical of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he says he's "very happy" because of the election of Pope Francis, who he asks to "be courageous." A cordial man, he invited me to have coffee and, to break the ice, asked the first question: "Do you think the Pope will read this?"
What do you think of Cardinal Bergoglio's election as the new Pope?
A very happy surprise because I didn't have confidence in the names that were rumored. My hope was that, after the discussion, a figure like John XXIII would emerge, but I didn't know who it could be. He's a fitting man, who brings hope, avoids pomp, and is changing the style of Benedict XVI.
And that he's chosen the name Francis?
A good sign, because it's a program in itself, not of domination and power but that proclaims a Church of service to all, starting with the poorest, of simplicity and modesty.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope. What does that mean?
It means that we have a person with a very good education, someone who's very intelligent, very well trained in philosophy and theology. A man who has the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. And an up-to-date spirituality, of service to human beings.
He's also the first non-European pope.
It's a good sign because it shows the Church is no longer Eurocentric, but universal. And from the political point of view, he's a man who doesn't come from the Curia, who hasn't been involved in the scandals.
What reforms might he initiate?
The question is whether he'll be able to assert himself over the Curia. Legally speaking, he has all the power and if he wants to, he could do a lot of things. But he should use that authority to clean up the Curia, surrounding himself with the right people and firing Secretary of State Bertone, who's incompetent, now. Moreover, he should be courageous and form a cabinet of experienced people. not just of those who come from the hierarchy, who are there because they're pleasant people who aren't annoying or argumentative. He needs to put competent people in the dicasteries who would meet each week, who would discuss things. He should put someone in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who's open to dialogue, not like the current Müller, who's there only because he's a friend of Ratzinger. And he could now review the "Gregorian" reform that imposed papal absolutism, strong clericalism, and celibacy. And move towards a collegial system between the Pope and the bishops, to leave behind absolutism and open a free debate about celibacy. For now, he has shown he can change.
Does the Church need a new Council?
The pope can make some reforms by himself. He can also make decisions together with the Curia that he names, with his small circle. Not just with the cardinals, since many of them are incompetent. He could convene a Council, but not with the nearly 5,000 bishops, but with bishops who would represent their communities and be elected by them. We need a Council that would make decisions with the pope, not against the pope or at the pope's orders.
What do you expect from the new pope on moral issues?
I don't think he has to adapt to everything, but he shouldn't be too much of a stickler. He shouldn't approve promiscuity, but the Church should allow couples to decide if they want to have children or not, and how many. As for abortion, no one expects the pope to agree with it, but in certain cases, the Church shouldn't condemn it. And I think it should accept homosexual civil unions, but not adoption by those couples.
Pope Francis says he wants a poor Church devoted to the poor...
Poverty in itself isn't an ideal. Especially in Latin America, what the Church ought to do is help people get out of poverty. The Church has to be on the side of the poor and the powerful must recognize that the Church should protest against abuse, against misery.
What should he do with respect to liberation theology?
I'm a friend of Leonardo Boff, I was a friend of Ellacuría and I knew Gustavo Gutiérrez. I think there's a different political situation today. Some of the liberation theologians were too fascinated by Marxism. They weren't Marxists, but they sympathized with Fidel Castro, and now we need democracy. Liberation theology could serve to create living communities that help fight against poverty. Millions of people in Latin America are leaving the Catholic Church to go to the Pentecostals, because they find community there and the help of others and because the Catholic Church is too hierarchical and with those boring Masses. We need community, warmth, emotion, the support of others. For that, we need more pastors, which we'll only get by abolishing celibacy. It's very hard to attract young men to a profession that prohibits them from marrying and that's governed in an authoritarian way. And mercy is very important, not just for the poor, but also for divorced people who want access to the Eucharist, for pastors who get married.
Is the election of a Jesuit a defeat for the movements that supported and were supported by the two previous popes, such as Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ?
There are good people in those movements too, with honest intentions. But I'd guess that the new Pope won't forget that the Jesuits were treated very badly, were humiliated, especially by John Paul II. I'm sure that Francis isn't a vindictive pope, but he has to distance himself from the financial power of Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ.
What could he do to promote better relationships with the other faiths?
Show sympathy. After Benedict XVI gave that unfortunate speech at Regensburg (where he linked Islam and violence), the Muslims said, "he doesn't like us." He was the opposite of John XXIII, who from the beginning showed that he liked the Jews, that he accepted them as brothers. And he should recognize what unites Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and even Hindus and Confucians. We have common ancestors, a common view of history, and common ethical standards. Each can keep their faith but must agree on basic ethical principles: not killing, not lying, not stealing...And above all, a golden rule: don't require of others what you don't require of yourself and treat every human being humanely.