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Can We Save the Catholic Church?

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019 год
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      Can We Save the Catholic Church?
Hans Kung

As the Year of Faith draws to a close, radical Catholic theologian and visionary Hans Küng presents the Church with an urgent and controversial call to arms. Can the Church Still be Saved promises what Catholics have long been yearning for: modern responses to a modern world.Fifty years ago, the world’s bishops gathered for the Second Vatican Council in the hope they could, in the words of Pope John XXIII, ‘open the windows of the Church and let some fresh air in.’ It was a gathering of real optimism; Hans Küng and our current Pope were both there.In Can the Church Still be Saved?, Kung relates how after fifty years and two Popes, the Church has only turned back the clock, becoming ever more conservative. Refusing to open dialogue on celibacy for male priests; the role of women in the priesthood; homosexuality and gay marriage; or the use of contraception even to prevent AIDS in Africa, the Papacy is losing touch. Now, amid widespread disillusion over child abuse, the future of Catholicism is in crisis.Küng calls for a complete renewal of the Church, setting out a radical and inspiring programme of action. As grassroots support grows - both in the UK and internationally - Can the Church Still be Saved makes a compelling case for structural reform and for a proper dialogue on the modern world.


COVER (#u1ab5a355-6745-53de-b3ed-f46259671c2d)

TITLE PAGE (#ulink_ab15c061-ed27-5fdc-afc8-d666aa834b8a)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (#ulink_18962c91-3ff7-521e-b9f7-9ef739e3823c)

A WORD OF THANKS (#ulink_0b59e12d-fa50-5f67-b349-24c408f27475)

PREFACE FOR THE ENGLISH EDITION (#ulink_f7647ecf-56d4-595d-af00-23a3049ff9ac)

INTRODUCTION: A DIAGNOSIS (#ulink_89d6ac5c-5aa3-5a32-9e72-d6d9f304536c)

1 A GRAVELY, PERHAPS EVEN TERMINALLY, ILL CHURCH? (#ulink_0ccec795-b270-585e-991c-f08e782d2ed3)

2 THE ROMAN SYSTEM (#ulink_bcb3fa84-eb83-565c-9877-bb12eb54178e)

3 SEEDS OF A CHRONIC ILLNESS (#litres_trial_promo)

4 REHABILITATION AND RELAPSE (#litres_trial_promo)

5 THE GREAT RESCUE OPERATION (#litres_trial_promo)

6 ECUMENICAL THERAPY (#litres_trial_promo)

CONCLUSION: THE VISION REMAINS (#litres_trial_promo)

EDITOR’S NOTE (#litres_trial_promo)


COPYRIGHT (#litres_trial_promo)

ABOUT THE PUBLISHER (#litres_trial_promo)


Hans Küng was born into a Catholic family and grew up in the small Catholic Swiss town of Sursee. He attended secondary school in the Catholic city of Lucerne.

He spent a full seven years living in Rome at the elite Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum, where he completed his philosophical and theological studies at the Pontifical University Gregoriana. After being ordained a priest, he celebrated his first Eucharist in St Peter’s Basilica and preached his first sermon to the Swiss Papal Guard.

He completed his doctorate on the Protestant theologian Karl Barth at the Institut Catholique in Paris, where he was awarded a PhD in theology. After two years’ pastoral ministry in Lucerne, in 1960 he became professor for Catholic theology at Tübingen University at the age of 32.

He attended the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965 as a theological advisor appointed by John XXIII, and taught theology for two decades at the Catholic theological faculty in Tübingen, where he also founded and headed the Institute for Ecumenical Research of the University of Tübingen.

In 1979 he gained first-hand experience of the Inquisition under the new pope, John Paul II, quite a different pope from his namesake. At the order of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was stripped of his ecclesiastical licence to teach as a Catholic theologian; but thanks to the fairness of German law and the good will of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg and the University of Tübingen, he retained his chair of theology and his institute, which was officially separated from the Catholic theological faculty, although friendly relations continued to prevail.

For three more decades his devotion to his Church has remained unshaken, although this loyalty has never been uncritical. The recipient of numerous awards and prizes, he has remained to this day a professor of ecumenical theology, although now officially retired, and he has remained a Catholic priest ‘in good standing’, authorized to preach and to perform all priestly offices.

He has always supported the papacy as a pastoral Petrine office within the Catholic Church, but, taking the Gospel as his yardstick, he has also assiduously called for radical reform of the papacy and especially of the Roman System which has dominated the Catholic Church for over a millennium.

Despite all his often painful and bitter experiences with this merciless Roman System, his spiritual home remains the Catholic community of faith. He has written this book to aid its recovery and to help it survive within the ecumenical Christian community.

Impressed by the decision of Pope Francis in May 2013 to appoint a committee of eight cardinals – most of them from outside the Roman Curia – to make proposals for Vatican reform, Küng resolved to send copies of this book to all of the cardinals on the committee, as the required translations become available. On 13 May 2013, Küng wrote to the pope personally, expressing his joy over the pope’s bold decision and enclosing a copy of the Spanish edition of this book. Pope Francis responded in a personal, handwritten note thanking Küng for sending him the book and indicating his interest in reading it. He closed the letter with the unpretentious friendly greeting ‘Fraternamente, Francisco’.


This book has already been published in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. To my great joy the English edition is now available – and it is being published at just the right moment! During recent months it has become clear that Pope Francis is striving for serious reform within the Catholic Church, as I request in the preface of this book. The pope has already made some important steps: first of all he appointed a group of eight cardinals from all continents with the mandate to initiate the reform of the Roman Curia.

Because of this development, I felt encouraged to send this book in Spanish to Pope Francis, and I was privileged to receive a personal, fraternal handwritten letter from him, in which he promises to read this book. I also sent the book, in their respective languages, to the eight cardinals.

I am deeply grateful to Collins for publishing this English edition; many of my most important books since the early 1970s have been published by Collins. My thanks go especially to Andrew Lyon, Editorial Director, Religious Publishing, who cared for this publication with tremendous competency and energy. The Sprachendienst Dr Herrlinger, a translation company in Tübingen, provided the basic translation. Dr Thomas Riplinger, a theologian and native English speaker, reworked and amended the text with extraordinary diligence in close collaboration with Andrew Lyon.

My thanks also go to Ben North for his creativity in inventing the ingenious dual title for the book, and the design team at Collins for the eye-catching cover. I am grateful to everybody for their excellent cooperation and I hope very much that this book will assist the English-speaking world in supporting Pope Francis’s reforms by offering a precise historic and systematic analysis and viable, practical proposals for reform.


The Arab Spring has shaken a whole series of autocratic regimes. With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis, might something like this be possible in the Catholic Church as well – a ‘Vatican Spring’?

Of course, the system of the Roman Catholic Church is quite different from those prevailing in Tunisia and Egypt, to say nothing of the absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia. In all these countries, the reforms that have taken place until now are often no more than minor concessions, and even these are often threatened by those who oppose any progressive reforms in the name of tradition. In Saudi Arabia, most of the traditions, in fact, are only two centuries old; the Catholic Church, by contrast, claims to rest on traditions that go back twenty centuries to Jesus Christ himself.

Is this claim true? In reality, throughout its first millennium, the Church got along quite well without the monarchist–absolutist papacy that we now take for granted. It was only in the eleventh century that a ‘revolution from above’, started by Pope Gregory VII and known as the ‘Gregorian Reform’, gave us the three outstanding features that mark the Roman System to this day:

• a centralist–absolutist papacy;

• clericalist juridicism; and,

• obligatory celibacy for the clergy.

Efforts to reform this system by the reforming councils in the fifteenth century, by the Protestant and Catholic reformers of the sixteenth century, by the supporters of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, most recently, by the champions of a progressive-liberal theology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, managed to achieve only partial success. Even the Second Vatican Council, from 1962 to 1965, while addressing many concerns of the reformers and modern critics, was effectively thwarted by the power of the papal Curia and managed to implement only a few of the demanded changes. To this day the Curia – in its current form a creature of the eleventh century – is the chief obstacle to any thorough-going reform of the Catholic Church, to any honest ecumenical reconciliation with the other Christian Churches and the world religions, and to any critical, constructive coming-to-terms with the modern world. To make things worse, supported by the Curia, under the previous two popes, there has been a fatal return to old absolutist attitudes and practices.

Had Jorge Mario Bergoglio asked himself why, until now, no pope had ever dared to take the name Francis? This Argentine Jesuit with Italian roots was, in any case, well aware that in choosing this name he was calling up the memory of Francis of Assisi, that famous social dropout of the thirteenth century. As a young man, Francis, the son of a wealthy silk merchant of Assisi, had led a high-spirited, worldly life like other well-situated young men of the city; then suddenly, at the age of 24, a series of experiences led him to renounce family, wealth and career. In a dramatic gesture before the judgement seat of the Bishop of Assisi, he stripped off his sumptuous clothing and deposited it at his father’s feet.

It was astonishing to see how Pope Francis, from the moment of his election, clearly chose a new style quite different from that of his predecessor: no bejewelled golden mitre, no ermine-trimmed crimson shoulder-cape, no tailor-made red shoes and ermine-trimmed red cap, no pompous papal throne decorated with the triple crown, the emblem of papal political might.

Equally astonishing is the way the new pope consciously refrains from melodramatic gestures and high-blown rhetoric and speaks the language of ordinary people, just as a layperson would do, were the laity not forbidden to preach by Rome.

Lastly, it is astonishing how the new pope emphasizes his human side: he asked people to pray for him before he blessed them; like every other cardinal, he paid his own hotel bill after his election; he showed his solidarity with the cardinals by taking the same bus back to their residence and then cordially taking leave of them. On Maundy Thursday he went to a local prison to wash the feet of young convicts, including a woman – and a Muslim at that. Clearly, he is showing himself to be a man with his feet on the ground.

All of this would have pleased Francis of Assisi, and it is exactly the opposite of everything that his papal contemporary – Innocent III (1198–1216), the mightiest pope of the Middle Ages – stood for. In reality, Francis of Assisi represents the alternative to the Roman System that has dominated the Catholic Church since the beginning of the end of the first millennium. What might have happened had Innocent III and his entourage listened to Francis and rediscovered the demands of the Gospel? Without question, one need not take them as literally as Francis did; it is the spirit behind them that counts. The teachings of the Gospel represent a mighty challenge to the Roman System – that centralistic, juridicized, politicized and clericalized power structure that has dominated Christ’s Church in the West since the eleventh century.

What, then, should the new pope do? The big question for him is: where does he stand on serious church reform? Will he carry out the long-overdue reforms that have become log-jammed in the past decades? Or will he allow things to go on in the way they have done under his predecessors? In either case, the outcome is clear:

• If he embarks on a course of reform, he will find broad support, even beyond the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. Many Orthodox and Protestant Christians, Jews and believers of other faiths – to say nothing of many non-believers – have long awaited these reforms, which are absolutely imperative if the Roman Catholic Church is to realize its potential to give convincing witness to the Gospel and to voice the urgent demands for peace and justice in today’s world. The Church can only give such witness when it ceases to be turned in on itself, fixed on defending its institutional structures and its traditional manner of speaking.

• If he continues the present course of retrenchment, the call to rise up and revolt (exemplified in Stéphane Hessel’s Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous!, [2011]) will grow ever louder in the Catholic Church and increasingly incite people to take things into their own hands, initiating reforms from below without hierarchical approval and often in the face of all attempts to thwart them. In the worst case, the Catholic Church will experience a new Ice Age instead of a new spring, and it will run the risk of shrinking down to a mere sect, still counting many members but otherwise socially and religiously irrelevant.

Nevertheless, I have well-founded hopes that the concerns expressed in this book will be taken seriously by the new pope. To use the medical analogy that serves as the leitmotif of this book, the Church’s only alternative to what would amount to assisted suicide is radical cure. That means more than a new style, a new language, a new collegial tone; it means carrying out the long-overdue, radical structural reforms and the urgently needed revision of the obsolete and unfounded theology behind the many problematical dogmatic and ethical positions that his predecessors have attempted to impose upon the Church. If Pope Francis commits himself to such a radical reform, he will not only find broad support within the Church, but he will also win back many of those who, publicly or privately, have long since abandoned the Church. Such a renewed Roman Catholic Church could once again become the witness to the Gospel of Christ that it was meant to be.

Hans Küng

Tübingen, July 2013

Note on the Present English Edition

This book originally appeared in 2011 under the title Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? For this revised version, the first in the English language, material of interest only to the German audience has been omitted and the text has also been updated to reflect events which have occurred since 2011, especially in connection with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and appointment of Pope Francis earlier this year.

This English translation was generously supported by a grant from the Herbert Haag Foundation for Freedom in the Church, Lucerne, Switzerland.


Let me begin by saying that I would have preferred not to have had to write this book. But with the appointment of Pope Francis we have an unprecedented opportunity, not seen since the days of John XXIII, to fulfil the aims and promises of his Second Vatican Council, and truly bring the Church into a meaningful dialogue with the modern world.

I would have preferred not to write this book because, despite this time of great hope and promise, it will not make pleasant or comfortable reading for many Catholics. And it is not at all pleasant for me, either, to address such a critical publication to the people who make up the Church, because, despite my often painful and bitter experiences with the merciless Roman System which up to now has governed the Church, the Catholic community of faith remains my spiritual home. But it is my hope that the recommendations in this book will aid the Church’s recovery from what I see, and what I will go on to describe, as a debilitating and potentially terminal illness from which the Church is presently suffering.
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