Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Open Letter to Hans Küng

This post is a response to Fr. Küng's open letter to the Bishops of the Roman Church published in the Irish Times [reposted in full on Orate Fratres]. The cover of Time was on June 7th, 2010 issue. It took me more than a few hundred words to say half the message of this graphic.

Dear Father Küng:

I want to say tell you how much I appreciate your stand against the thousand-year-old tradition of priestly celibacy in the Latin rite. I admire both its eloquence and urgency.

However, I would be uncomfortable if you were to take the lead in the effort to reverse this policy of mandatory celibacy.

It is not that I don’t find your arguments cogent. They are.

It is not that I disagree with your overall assessment that the insistence on papal infallibility is a huge blunder. It is. I also admire your conduct after you were disciplined for arguing against the declaration of Vatican I and refusing the back down.

It is not that I disagree with your analysis that the insulation of the priestly class has resulted in a massively dysfunctional organization that relies on secrecy, manipulation, and force to preserve its power. The current crisis has demonstrated that beyond any shadow of a doubt.

It is not, as some may argue, that you might appear to have an ax to grind with the current leadership, Benedict and his Curia. You have never denied that you do, but have always maintained an admirable level of civility. There have been too many revolutionary leaders who've stepped out of prison and sounded the call to arms when the political winds change.

It is not that you might appear to be fanning the winds of scandal for political change. The world is dong it; the press is doing it; religious leaders of other churches are doing it; rank and file members of the Latin rite are doing it; the elite leadership in Rome themselves are doing it through their defensive, strident, and often just plain stupid pronouncements.

If the Latin rite's leadership in Rome refuse to take responsibility, no one can force them to. No one can force them to do anything. They have insulated themselves against any outside moral force. Even if we could tell them how to resolve the untenable situation they have created—if those who have been gravely injured and those who are rising up in indignation could agree on a remedy—that would still only satisfy those groups. It might be a good first step, but it does not address the root problem.

It is the failed leadership itself that has to decide what they must do to take responsibility for the crisis. As far as I can see, the only solution is for them to make themselves accountable to the Teaching of Jesus. We can only say that what they’ve done so far, in our view, has not measured up. They will use their authority to claim that it does. Their professional class, priests and lay people in their employ, will claim that it does, but so far, public reaction indicates that few people believe them. I don't believe them. As the poet says, “The lady doth protest too much.” Please keep pointing to the failure of their argument.

In 1517 when Luther nailed 95 good reasons why the papal Ponzi scheme devised to finance the grandiose rebuilding of the mother church of the Latin rite was not in accord with the Teaching of the Gospel, the revolt that ensued was not just about money. Rather Luther unleashed a complete reexamination of the Christian life: how to live a good life, your “works," and what constitutes sin and failure when faith counts on the Gift of God’s grace and forgiveness.

So far, the public debate, the accusations and recriminations, the posturing have all have been about the role of the church’s leadership in a cover-up. The fact that the crimes themselves touch human sexuality at its core is only spoken of very carefully and obliquely. No one yet dares examine the perversion of Church teaching on sexuality. Luther began a revolution in the way humans were able to view their relationship with the transcendent. I hope to see a powerful movement that will free us from the tyranny of onerous teachings on sexuality that are steeped in denial and negativity.

Hans Küng by David Levine

And that is why I hope that you, Father Küng, do not assume the leadership in ending the 1000-year-old celibate stranglehold on Latin rite.

I hope that a whole new generation of powerful, thoughtful, skillful, faithful Christian leaders emerge. I hope that they begin to analyze the structures of our economic and political systems and find ways to make every voice heard, especially the ones that Jesus loved, the poor and disenfranchised. I hope that men and women assume equal leadership roles in the church so that every person who asks for grace, blessing and forgiveness is welcomed. I hope that they envision a new spirituality of sex so that every man and woman can enjoy its mystery, grace, and wonder in love and freedom. And that might be only a small beginning of the list of their accomplishments. Our God is generosity and love.

There are some who think that the role of religion in our 21st century lives is far less powerful than 500 years ago, and this crisis will fade away. I don’t think it will. I hope it doesn’t. If it does, we will lose an opportunity to find God once again in our lives.

The early followers of Jesus were very clear about one teaching: the Kingdom of God is at hand. And when it didn’t appear in any recognizable way, they transformed their hope, looked for the Kingdom with fresh eyes, and took action. They realized that this process itself was as endless and as the boundless as the love they saw in Christ Jesus. They began to see the Kingdom wherever and whenever it appeared, and they made it appear when only they could envision It. That place is always right here. That moment is always right now.

With gratitude and love,

Ken Ireland

For another recent article by Fr. Küng, go to