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Hans Küng is at it again. The Holy Father, he says, is a ‘schismatic pope’ who has effectively deposed himself: what’s he up to now?

Küng claims that Paul VI declared that the SSPX bishops were invalidly ordained. But he just didn’t: it’s all very odd

By on Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hans Küng at his office in Tubingen, Germany, in 2009 (CNS photo)

Hans Küng at his office in Tubingen, Germany, in 2009 (CNS photo)

What on earth is Hans Küng up to now? He has mounted yet another assault on the Pope (every time he does this, he simply confirms one’s view that the Pope is right about whatever it is) over his willingness to heal the breach with the SSPX. But his tactics this time are very strange indeed. He says that since the SSPX bishops were invalidly ordained (not illicitly, invalidly) to accept them back into the mainstream of the Church would make him a schismatic pope, and that since, according to Catholic teaching a schismatic pope loses his office, he is very close to deposing himself. He is, in other words, arguing exactly like an extreme reactionary schismatic: it’s a kind of liberal sedevacantist argument.

But what on earth is all this stuff about the SSPX bishops and clergy being “invalidly” – rather than simply “illicitly” – ordained? It’s not as though Küng has a reputation for being particularly demanding over the criteria for validity. This, after all, is the theologian who argued in the Guardian only three years ago that the ARCIC documents provide the basis for a prompt recognition of Anglican orders, “which Pope Leo XIII, back in 1896, with anything but convincing arguments, had declared invalid” (my italics). From that, he continued, “follows the validity of Anglican celebrations of the Eucharist. And so mutual Eucharistic hospitality would be possible; in fact, intercommunion.” So, Anglican bishops and clergy, he thinks, are already validly ordained; and SSPX bishops and clergy are, on the other hand, definitely invalidly ordained, and a pope who accepted them as Catholic bishops would be a schismatic pope.

I hesitate to speculate on the possibility of the onset of senile dementia (a dangerous accusation from someone of my own advanced years) but the only other plausible explanation is that Küng has developed, late in life, a somewhat ponderous sense of humour. But no, the article (on the Tablet blog, surprise, surprise) is clearly absolutely serious: he means it. Bishop Fellay and the others are not bishops at all: Rowan Williams and his colleagues definitely are.

So, what are Küng’s arguments? This is what he claims: “According to Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani recognito [sic] of 18 July 1968, the ordinations of bishops and priests undertaken by Archbishop Lefebvre were not only illicit but also invalid.” Well, you can access Pope Paul’s Apostolic Constitution here; and I defy you to find any mention whatever in [ital] Pontificalis Romani Recognitio of Archbishop Lefebvre or the SSPX, or any reference, indeed to any criterion by which his ordinations might be supposed invalid. What the document concerns itself with are the form and content of the sacrament of Holy Order, and the sources in Catholic tradition and Conciliar teaching of the new ordinal, its coherence and greater simplicity and comprehensibility: it certainly doesn’t seek to cast doubt on any ordinations carried out under the old rite. And yet Küng claims that it specifically declares Lefebvre’s ordinations “not only illicit but also invalid”. It just doesn’t. Did he suppose we wouldn’t check? The facts, of course, are that, as the La Stampa site Vatican Insider puts it, “In truth, while everyone agrees about the fact that the priestly and Episcopal ordinations carried out by Lefebvre after his suspension a divinis and his excommunication in 1988 are “illicit”, practically no one expressed any serious doubts over their “validity”: the ordinations were celebrated by a bishop who was in apostolic succession and according to the rite used by the Catholic Church up until the post-conciliar liturgical reform.”

How are we to react to all this? Probably not too seriously; very few Catholics any more take Küng seriously; he is not the threat he once was, when the Church was fighting for its life against the great hijack of the Council by the “spirit of Vatican II” boys, back in the 70s and 80s. The Hermeneutic of Continuity as usual has it right: this is a “light-hearted moment”. Fr Finigan ends his comment with a splendid little joke, which I hadn’t heard before:

I think we can … regard it as certain that Pope Paul VI did not intend to declare ordinations subsequently carried out according to the older form to be henceforth invalid. Küng’s charge that they are, is simply one of the more absurd consequences of the hermeneutic of rupture.

But the fun is only just beginning with this claim. He veers away from the allegation of invalidity of orders to make the further claim that if Pope Benedict accepts the SSPX bishops into the Church, he will be committing an act of schism. Let us not be distracted by Küng’s implied assertion that the SSPX bishops are not already part of the Church. (We can all safely accept that they simply lack regular jurisdiction and canonical status.) Küng’s target is not the SSPX but the Holy Father.

Not only does he warn the Holy Father that he will become a schismatic, he spells out the consequence of this: “A schismatic pope loses his position according to that same teaching of the constitution of the Church.”

Thus the great liberal Hans Küng joins the ranks of the sedevacantists. You may well doubt whether he would agree to the theory of some, that Cardinal Siri was really elected Pope and not Cardinal Roncalli, but you could be tempted to speculate whether a homely Bierkeller in Tübingen might be the place to add to the list of the Popes at large. (Perhaps Martin VI in honour of another German who could tell everybody what was wrong with the Pope.)

Fun as such speculation might be, I think it would be mistaken. I happen to know, from an unimpeachable source inside the Vatican, leaked to an Italian journalist and thence to my late Auntie Eileen, that Hans Küng was indeed invited to become Pope when the conclave of 1978 became deadlocked. When telephoned with an offer of the post, he declined, saying: “No. I would prefer to remain infallible.”

Funny old Küng; I expect we’ll miss him when he’s gone. Meanwhile, he is still a useful yardstick, both of how far the Church’s regeneration has actually come under the present Holy Father’s guidance, and also of the increasingly apparent absurdity of those from whose influence we suffered for so long.

  • JByrne24

    Madame, Je viens d’être dit que je suis exactement le contraire.

  • JByrne24

    You are quite right.
    My ability to write as you did above is much inferior. 

  • Honeybadger

    I was being succinct… and to the point.

    As for sarcasm - we expect nothing less from the uber-intelligent (not!) JByrne24 on these blogs, you toffee nosed twit, you!

  • Honeybadger

    How about ‘extracting the urine’ from you!

    haw haw haw haw haw!

  • Honeybadger

    Syrup of Figs with red hot chillies to extract more of what Kung passes as ‘Catholic Theology’ from the usual orifice…

  • Honeybadger

    Tee hee! Good one!

  • Honeybadger

    Good grief! I was taught by professors and doctors… and they were addressed as such!

    You are twisting yourself into a knot, Byrnesie! It’s a good look.

  • Honeybadger

    Oh, pur-leeze!

  • Honeybadger

    In good standing like Pelosi, Sibelius and others we would mention…

    For a satisfying game of ‘Heresy Bingo’, read Kung!

  • Honeybadger

    Heck! Something you DON’T know!

    Phone the press…

  • beimabao

  • TheIdler

    The theological equivalent of Madonna exposing her nipple in Istanbul.  Something smells of desperation.

  • Oconnord

    Is that the Curia or Kung you’re referring to in your last sentence. It applies equally to both.

  • JabbaPapa

    Good one ha ha ha !!! :-)</b

  • JabbaPapa

    Given that Popes Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI have massively privileged the elevation of traditionally-minded and orthodox Bishops to the College of Cardinals, I think we can be thankful to God for providing our Church with the strong leadership that is needed during these troubled times of revisionist pseudo-doctrinal vagrancy by so many “catholics” that have been indoctrinated into formal heresies during 1960s to 1980s especially.

  • JabbaPapa

    No, he’s a John, not a James.

  • HapHarris

    Poor Hans Kung….calls himself a theologian but never learned his A,B.Cs of Catholicism.  This man, at best, is delusional.  He together with the other Modernist / Marxist wonks of Vatican II were condemned by Pope Pius XII.  Why John XXIII and Paul VI invited them to the Vatican II council is beyond belief.  Together they sandbagged the council by hijacking the Schema offered by John XIII and carried to the floor by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.  It is no surprise that the Archbishop formed the Society of St. Pius X.  When he left Rome he took with him the Ancient Content of the Faith and traveled to Econe, in the company of the Holy Spirit. It is there, today exiled from Rome that the True Catholic Faith resides.  It was not the Society of Pius X who left the Church, it was the Church of  Rome who left Catholicism.  

  • W Oddie

    Good point!

  • Lazarus

    ‘a deeper and truer vision of our Faith’
    Wow! That’s arrogant.

    It’s pretty clear to me that this is not just to do with knowledge or understanding -it’s silly to say that those of us defending orthodox Catholicism have a primary school knowledge and I wouldn’t level the same charge at you- but much rather to do with authority.

    If you set aside the special claims to teaching authority that the Church makes, there are all sorts of possible and intellectually interesting versions of Christianity and you can have great fun playing with them. But the Catholic Church is distinguished from other bodies of Christians -however well meaning- by its claim to have a living teaching authority. So, at its crudest level, if the Pope says something and the Catechism says something, I’m going to listen very hard and start off from the position that I’m going to find the truth there. And if, consistently, I failed to do so despite having a well informed understanding, I’d start to wonder whether I was in the right church. (My own experience has been that such a docility in fact produces deeper and deeper understanding rather than bafflement.)

    You seem to have made an existential commitment to opposing what are, on the above test, fairly obvious exercises of authority: it’s very hard to imagine how you could regularly appear on this site, opposing authoritative Church teaching, without committing yourself to the identity of someone who knows better than the legitimate authorities. Do you think that’s displaying the docility and humility in the face of authority that, I’d hope in some sense at least, you’d still acknowledge you’re called on as a Catholic to show?

    I’m not foolish enough to think these observations are going to cause a sudden conversion in you! But whilst I quite enjoy the agonistic nature of combox debates, I do worry that by undertaking them, we’re encouraging you into ‘bad faith’ in the Sartrean sense (quite apart from the Catholic one): the complete identification of yourself with what is only a role -the combox ‘heretic’. Are you sure you’re still open enough to, say, the teaching authority of Benedict XVI who, whatever my ignorance, is clearly someone who has more than a ‘primary school’ understanding of Catholicism?

    (And just to close off an obvious retort, yes, I’m sure I’ve read (and am reading) enough liberal theology to test my own prejudices.)

  • rjt1

    I have a joint honours degree in philosophy, a pontifical degree in philosophy and a joint honours degree in theology….and I still don’t agree with JByrne.

  • Patrick

    So a lack of charity and revenge are simply part of a “process”. I am sorry, but I don’t understand your code.
    Christians follow Christ, not Machiavelli.

  • Burt

     “the Pope should rather attend to the interests of the majority of Catholics and seek reconciliation with the Reformation Churches and with the whole of ecumenical Christianity.”What’s he up to now you ask? His last lines in his letter to ‘The Bitter Pill’ give it away. In my opinion it’s the same agenda the Modernist heretics had all along, ever since they usurped the Second Vatican Council. They only intended to make Trent lose to Luther’s reformation, no matter how long it takes!  He is so hostile to the notion of reconciliation with Orthodox Catholics, who dedicate themselves to maintaining the Sacred Traditions from the ages of Grace, but bemoans somehow the Church not reconciled with reformation Protestants. Silly old twit!

  • Guest2345

    I had some grudging admiration for Kung when I read his memoir the Price of Freedom (or some such title) The stuff was turgid as typical of Kung’s writings but I got through till the end. I felt that this German Pope could have elevated Kung to the position of Cardinal-Deacon or Cardinal Priest. The precedence is Cardinal Avery SJ, who was “used” by the church to demolish others including Kung.

    But I thought that this Pope would reward Kung for his many books not least of which is Christology which every seminarian aspires to read. Also Kung supported Ratzinger’s academic career at Tubingen so a red hat was in order.

    Now I have changed my mind….He is kept in the church because he is divisive. Many people still believe him. That’s why he is still a priest in good standing with his bishop. They do not want him to leave with his followers. But he is like in Chains having had his licence to teach theology revoked… I think Kung and his followers should just go off to join the Lutheran church…He should take ALL his followers with him and boost the Lutheran numbers!

  • Alan

    “He together with the other Modernist / Marxist wonks of Vatican II were condemned by Pope Pius XII.”
    Funny, I thought Pius XII died before Vatican II was ever thought of.
    Your last sentence shows us where you are coming from.

  • Nesbyth

    I so agree with Victor regarding JByrne24….Mr Byrne, you always sound SO NEGATIVE about every single post I’ve read of yours and there is no real debate from you; just unhelpful and generally snide comments. Why, indeed, do you come to this website?
    The only logical conclusion must be to irritate AND to enjoy doing so….

  • Sixtus

    The Roman Catholic Church has ceased to be European and has
    become truly universal. That has implications for its style of leadership; the
    Church must bring the bishops fully into government.

    That is the theme of this essay by the late Cardinal König
    published as part of a commemorative volume for the 150th anniversary of the
    Austrian Catholic Bishop’s Conference.

    This article appeared in The Tablet on 27 March 1999.


    To cope with a rapidly changing world, the Catholic Church
    has to preserve its unity. But it also has to develop Catholic diversity. What
    style of leadership will enable it to do this? From the point of view of
    ecumenical endeavour, the very existence and exercise of Roman primacy are the
    real difficulty, but

    how can or should the present structure of command, which in
    the past century has become so centralised, be amended or improved?


    A gradual decentralisation is needed, so as to strengthen
    the concern and responsibility of the college of bishops for the whole Church,
    under and with the Petrine office. That was the direction specified at the
    Second Vatican Council. At the same time, the competence of individual bishops
    both locally and regionally needs to be strengthened too, for they are the
    shepherds of their local Churches, the vicars of Christ in their own dioceses.
    That is why Vatican II described the Church as a communion of local Churches.


    the Vatican authorities
    have striven to take back autonomy and central leadership for themselves. The
    intentions of Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum have not been realised. The style
    of leadership of the universal Church which is being practised today is not
    entirely in keeping with the council’s intentions.


    He was no doubt implying that the principle of subsidiarity
    could be given more importance in Catholic associations. And the same applied
    to dioceses, religious orders and other church communities. Averting centralism
    within the Church, as Gundlach saw it, implied thinking about giving more scope
    to lay persons. Long before the Second Vatican Council and its Lumen Gentium
    text, Gundlach was of the opinion that laity should be entrusted with tasks
    that they could carry out as well as, or better than, priests, and that, with a
    view to the Church’s general well-being they should be “free to act and take on


    Lumen Gentium 27 makes it quite clear that, the bishops are
    not the Pope’s emissaries, nor are they here, as some maintain, to carry out
    the Pope’s instructions. They are not to be regarded, the conciliar document
    states, as vicars of the Roman pontiff (meaning the incumbent Bishop of Rome),
    “for they exercise a power which they possess in their own right and are
    most truly said to be at the head of the people whom they govern. Consequently,
    their authority, far from being damaged by the supreme and universal power, is
    in fact defended, upheld and strengthened by it.”


    Today, however, we have an inflated centralism. The issue is
    twofold, as I have demonstrated. On the one hand, we have to strengthen the
    bishops’ collegial concern and responsibility for the whole Church in
    accordance with Vatican II. On the other, we have to cease restricting the
    competence of local and regional bishops as church leaders. That means amongst
    other things that bishops must have a say in episcopal appointments, in
    accordance with the principle of subsidiarity – that nothing should be done at
    a higher level which can be done at a lower level. It also means giving the
    bishops’ conferences a more precise role and function.


    I repeat that it is not a case of seeking to eliminate the
    Roman pope as the guarantee and symbol of unity, as the Roman Curia fears.
    Without a pope, we should all be in trouble. Who else could have convoked a
    Second Vatican Council other than Pope John XXIII? Who else could have spoken
    out so effectively at the international level on human rights, human freedom
    and dignity with regard to Christ’s message, other than Pope John Paul II? What
    we have we to do, rather, is to discover a new form of government  – that is to say, rediscover the old form -
    which is particularly favourable to ecumenical concerns. Unless the episcopal
    college is made responsible in conjunction the Pope, neither the Orthodox nor
    the Anglicans nor the Protestants will consider any practical steps towards


    We have to return to the decentralised form of the Church’s
    command structure as practised in earlier centuries. That, for the world
    Church, is the dictate of today.


    The great majority of bishops at Vatican II (with the Pope)
    formulated the teaching that the world’s bishops were to govern the Catholic
    Church, but always together with the Bishop of Rome. This was no novelty, but a
    recovery of practice in the early Church. There would need to be representation
    in some way and a ‘Senate’ of bishops in Rome,
    with the Pope, was seen as a practical way forward. The Roman Curia, officially
    as a civil service was to be fashioned to serve both Pope and bishops governing
    as a ‘college’. Over forty years after the close of the Council, the civil
    service has tightened its grip on power over the rightful government: the
    world’s Catholic bishops, always with the Pope.


    In the early centuries the Church’s acceptance of the
    vernacular Latin for its liturgy contributed to the spread of the Christian
    faith, but its continued use of Latin long after it became a dead language
    blighted the health of the Church until Vatican II when the use of vernacular
    languages brought new life to our liturgy. Recent decisions by the Vatican
    are a major set-back for the health of the Church in this area.


    When one goes beyond the so-called ‘deposit of faith’ to the
    gospel itself, it is helpful to remember that God’s word is a living word that
    becomes incarnate in every culture and is alive and new each day. It is not
    only gift, but challenge. It is alive in itself, but Christians are called to
    make it come alive in their own culture. This means that while the same
    Christian faith can be found in all areas of the world, there is room and need
    for a variety of theologies to express and explain it. All of these theologies
    will be culturally and historically conditioned. The Church is enriched by the
    presence of Indian, Asian and African theologies, black theology, feminist
    theology and liberation theology. The movement from classical to historical
    consciousness means recognising that our personal identity is conditioned by
    our culture and history, and learning to read the ‘signs of the times’ and
    discover seeds of the gospel in that culture. The gospel is not a frozen
    package handed down from the past, but a living word that comes alive in each
    new culture, and a saving word that takes flesh in the complexity and messiness
    of everyday human life. Our statements of faith and our discernment in morals
    must reflect this reality, and that will be the measure of their truth. There
    is no need to criticise the past in the light of recent developments. Former
    teaching may have been appropriate in its time and place, but uncritical
    repetition of it is a disservice to the gospel.


    There is a definite tendency to minimise liturgical changes,
    which are the more visible results of the Council. The Latin Mass is again
    promulgated. There is nothing wrong with the Latin Mass as such, but it would
    have been better not to forbid it in the first place. Now its return is seen by
    both the conservative and the progressive side of the church as a symbol of
    going back to pre-conciliar modes of thought. Even the new English translation
    of the Mass which is to be foisted on us has gone back to its Latin roots,
    become less meaningful and more distant from the people.


    Is the sex scandal and much else wrong in the Church
    principally, or substantially a symptom of the failure by the Vatican to
    implement vital elements of teaching in the Second Vatican Council? The
    Council’s decisions produced the most solemn teaching in the Catholic Church
    and this is a theme to which the website must return regularly. This is only
    partly because most of the remedies currently aired (tentatively) for our
    present crises were formulated, at least in embryo in the teachings of the
    Council. Rarely mentioned is the fact that each bishop in communion with the
    Bishop of Rome is himself a “Vicar of Christ”. Always with the pope, the
    world’s bishops are responsible for governing the Church (collegiality). They
    are not his district managers. It is encouraging that we are joining with and
    can welcome a group with a near-identical purpose (see The whole issue of sex and marriage is but one
    issue – now in sharp focus – needing attention and could fall into place given
    the wider reforms proposed by the Council. Responsibilities for the distortions
    of Vatican II must come under scrutiny.  HK


  • kalbertini

    Kung is right,thats why the pope constantly reaches out to the sspx because there of the same camp.Ironically the SSPX finds the new mass & Eucharist a cookie & the new sacraments invalid.This pope is a disgrace associating with SSPX as well as dismantling Collogiality,subsidiarity,national Bishop conferences which he supported as a teaching of Vatican II when he was a theologian of the mid 60s.Thank God he chose to retire.He is up there with pius IX who condemned democracy & Gregory the 16 who condemned the railroad as a work of the devil.