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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.

  • Cestius

    Seems to me that Kung wants to be pope, and is very frustrated that he isn’t.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Good article. And very good ending sentence. These fools that have done so much damage are a aged and dying bunch looking increasingly ludicrous.

  • JByrne24

    “what’s he up to now?”

    For a moment I thought you were going for the heart of the matter!

  • Jae

    The pope is “schismatic pope” said by this poor theologian and by the Sedevacantists as well. Just tells you of the danger of falling by either side of the road ditch.

  • Mr Grumpy

    The great liberal crusade is now transparently reduced to a one-sided personal vendetta. But don’t expect German-speaking Catholics to see it that way; he’s still an iconic figure for far too many of them.

  • JByrne24

    Yes, and an iconic figure for many who are not Germans, but simply good Catholics.

  • JByrne24

    And incidentally Oddie, it’s FATHER Hans Kung to you.

    Fr. Hans Kung was, of course, responsible for the appointment of somebody named  Ratzinger as a professor of dogmatic theology.

  • JByrne24

    How can you make such a foolish, crude comment?

    You, and your “8 likes”, (well certainly you at least) know perfectly well that Fr. Kung has never said or written anything that can lead anyone to believe that he has ever had such a wish.

    Your cheap jibe is out of order.

  • Wilhelm7

    He was mad but not as mad as this time. Poor modernist, twisted and incoherent soul.

  • Victor

    This Kung is not a Catholic theologian regardless of his ordination as a priest. He has a right to his opinions but no right to call himself a Catholic theologian. He needs to be told clearly not to meddle in Church affairs. He has no more right to dispute Catholic doctrine than I do to dispute Islamic doctrine. Throw the fool out and tell him to join the Lutheran Church and be happy there.

  • Recusant

    That’s Dr. Oddie to you.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Why would you remain nominally in the Catholic Church if you support Hans Küng?
    That man is even more heretic and modernist than the Anglicans. So you should simply join the Anglicans, and the liberal arm of the Anglicans at that.

  • JByrne24

    If he isn’t a medic he shouldn’t, as I don’t, use the Dr. prefix, except in a seat of learning.

    Since however you are so devoted to this silly snobbery, please accordingly, Recusant, address any future remarks to me as: Dr. JByrne24.

  • JByrne24

    Please don’t tell me what I SHOULD DO. You have no such right.

    I agree with many of the views of this most learned Catholic priest and theologian.

  • Oliver

    Liberal sedevacantism! Yay! Like the traditional sort, but without any logic or coherence! Sadly the SSPX bishops were ordained according to the same rite as Mr Küng. But then systematic thought isn’t something one associates with liberals.

  • JByrne24

    Well, as you rightly say, he is a Catholic priest and a theologian, i.e. a Catholic, a priest and a theologian.
    I can, therefore, see some logic in referring to him as a “Catholic theologian”, and your comment “This Kung is not a Catholic theologian” as absurd, self-evident nonsense.

    On September 26, 2005, he had a friendly discussion about Catholic theology over dinner with Pope Benedict XVI.

    The present fuss is totally concerned (together with several other actions) in attempting to secure the Papacy (after Benedict XVI) for an equally conservative, blinkered and authoritarian successor. It is a shameful programme of electioneering – which the Church has never before, in modern times, allowed.

  • theroadmaster

    Hans Kung and the present Holy Father were both products of the prodigious Tubingen school of Catholic Theology and were present during the deliberations of the Great Vatican Council 11.  Kung has consistently taken a radical interpretation of the intentions of the Council Fathers which amounted effectively to a “Hermeneutics of Rupture” which disowned the traditional teachings which the Church has on such matters as abortion, contraception, priestly celibacy, liturgy and other topics.  In contrast, Joseph Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict XV1 realized during the late 60′s the potential disastrous consequences of the modernist, liberal attitudes, which threatened to unravel the true intentions of Vatican 11.  Subsequently he reviewed his initial sanguine expectations, and settled for a realistic program of “Hermeneutics of Continuity”, which emphasized Aggiornamento(updating) and deepening of the doctrines, teachings and liturgical practices of the Church and not a repudiation of them.  The current spurious nature of Kung’s charge concerning the recognition by Pope Benedict XV1 of the supposedly illicit/invalid ordinations of the SSPX bishops, looks like a desperate attempt to undermine his formerly close collaborator’s position as the successor to St Peter, by associating him with a schismatic act.   When one considers the ongoing attempts by dishonorable parties to discredit the Pope by a campaign of selective leaks, Kung’s opportunistic and frankly ridiculous assertion does not come as a complete surprise.  But with the grace of God, the present successor to St Peter, will come through it, with the close co-operation of his faithful comrades in the Holy See and with the prayers of the worldwide Faithful.

  • Recusant

    I haven’t used any titles at all. You are the one who insisted on them, so I thought a little gentle correction in order in the interests of consistency. And having checked with Debrett’s Correct Form, I think your assertion about the use of the title Dr is mistaken. As, alas, are so many of your posts.

    By the way, you seem in particularly bad form tonight, full of snark and bile. The overuse of capital letters is a bad sign. Perhaps a night off might be in order?

  • JByrne24

    This is a collection of adjectives and adverbs.

  • davidaslindsay

    Dear, dotty old Hans Küng, who, in an
    “argument” decidedly reminiscent of the Lefebvrist one about the
    unchangeable universality of the frequently changed and never-universal
    Tridentine Missal, has claimed that an Apostolic Constitution of Paul VI
    invalidates any subsequent ordinations to the Episcopate according to the
    previous Roman Rite, such as those by Archbishop Lefebvre. (I myself await the
    judgement of the Holy Father as to whether it is possible to have a Catholic
    intention to confer the Episcopate contrary to the express will of the Roman
    Pontiff, as such. So there is a question of validity. Just not the one posed by

    But he
    goes further: if the Pope permits the reconciliation as bishops of those thus
    invalidly ordained, then he will have committed a schismatic act, and thus
    forfeited his position. Küng is not only a sort of Lefebvrist; he is a
    full-blown sedevacantist. Ha, Ha, Ha, and all that. But Küng is a nasty piece
    of work. His disparagement of Blessed John Paul the Great’s Polishness made and
    make them the authentic voice of the age-old Teutonic racism against the Slavs.
    He only gets away with it because he is Swiss. As a foreign preacher of hate,
    he ought not to be permitted to enter the United Kingdom. Blessed John Paul is
    a kind of litmus test, which Lefebvrists and all points right fail along with
    liberals and those, such as Küng, who have, in the words of the dissident
    American nuns, “moved beyond Jesus”.

    Yet the
    Swiss, by and large, are a Good Thing in the Church. It gladdens my Dominican
    heart that orthodoxy is robustly maintained at Fribourg, just as it does that
    English seminarians in Rome now receive their philosophical formation at the
    Angelicum. It was to Fribourg that Lefebvre originally directed disgruntled
    Francophone seminarians in Rome, although that institution, located right on
    the Helvetic Confederation’s internal linguistic border, is uniquely bilingual. And there are
    several solidly orthodox serving Swiss bishops. Like the professors, never mind
    the students, at Fribourg, they are really very considerably younger than Hans

  • Recusant

    Well, you neglect to mention that he has been forbidden from teaching theology by the   CDF, and was moved from a chair of Catholic theology to a chair of ecumenical theology. Therefore it certainly appears to me that it is not at all self-evident that he is a Catholic theologian, as you claim. In fact, anyone with a correct understanding of the authority of the Magisterium would conclude that Victor has made a far more accurate statement than you have.

    These many mistakes that you make really make it very difficult to take your last paragraph seriously.

  • theroadmaster

    An admirable collection I must say which aptly describe the situation pertaining to Hans Kung’s ludicrous charges against the present pope

  • Patrick

     Ah, so it’s ok for you to tell others what they should do, but it’s not ok for others to do the same in return?  Double standards.  Your beloved Kung is not a Catholic theologian and has no faculty to teach anything to anybody. 

    I agree with Fides et Ratio that the man is a heretic, furthermore he is a danger to souls.

  • JByrne24

    They are not mistakes. Simply not relevant to my point that he is a Catholic priest and a theologian.

    The facts that you mention are widely available, and on Wikipedia, for example, and very well-known to me and to very many others.

  • JByrne24

    I don’t tell ANYONE what they should do.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    This man is far less Catholic than John Calvin. Why doesn’t he admit that he is an Anglican?

    The Pope does not usually meddle in the affairs of the Anglican Communion. Why does Hans Küng think he should meddle in Catholic affairs?

    But let’s look at the good side. The most effective lies are those that are 80% true. So we should rejoice that Hans Küng has almost completely lost his grip on reality. A small Heretic (like Arius or Luther) is much more dangerous than a lunatic (Hans Küng).

  • JByrne24

    The point is that Fr. is always used when speaking of, for example, Fr. Licie-Smith (and I too always use it with his name), but very noticeably not for Fr Kung.

    As you well-know, Catholics should always address a priest as (at least) Fr. .This is a deliberate slur.

    And kindly call me Dr., as requested and if you are so fond of it.Dr. Oddie might like to limit his use of the title. I was once asked to attend to a woman’s ankle injury at Tegel airport. My passport had been renewed with my academic title by a young lady in Admin. in the department where I worked – not my idea – but she meant well.

    I don’t think the use of capitals (or italics) for one word or a few words for emphasis is a bad idea.

  • Honeybadger

    What is Kung up to, you ask?

    No. Good.

  • Victor

    JByrne24 why do you participate in so many arguments here? The Catholic Herald is a conservative Catholic newspaper. If you disagree with traditional conservative Catholic positions why do you spend so much time here? Do you just enjoy arguing? Why even be a Catholic at all for that matter, and not just join the Episcopal church which agrees with all you positions?

  • JByrne24

    If you want to know the truth, I’m a retired Marxist atheist who just wants to be a thorn in the side of traditionalists and enjoy causing them to lose their temper…

  • jen

    THAT explains EVERYTHING. 

    The only troll here is you.

    good bye.

  • Rupert_Napier

    Wonderful. What a silly man Küng is! And yet he remains “in good standing”… Just like Ted Kennedy.

  • GFFM

    The man is utterly deranged. A good mind has been frittered away and now it is only capable of muttering laughable inanities. It really is a kind of pathetic. Jung’s jealousy of Benedict drips from every word he writes and every fulminating tirade he indulges in. Again, quite pathetic; a shell of a man; a tragically sad figure.

  • IrenaeusSaintonge

    I think perhaps it’s time to medicate the poor old heretic.

  • JabbaPapa

    Finally, some honesty.

  • W Oddie

    I never insist on being addressed as “Doctor” (though when others do so, I take it as a not unwelcome courtesy) except when total strangers attempt to address me as “William”. 

  • JabbaPapa

    I think Küng is kept “in good standing” partially because, at least until very recently, he refrained from declaring any formally heretical opinions in public, restraining himself to the critique of “authoritative” teachings only ; and because not defrocking him keeps him under the remit of the canon and ecclesial and Vatican Authorities, by keeping him subject to his vows of obedience.

    But I think he’s changed tactics, and is now deliberately seeking to be either defrocked or excommunicated. The Holy See should be very wary of granting him either of these desires…

  • RPAntonioSoler

    This sort of argument reminds me a bit of those “freeman-of-the-land” types who go around making all sorts of obviously phoney legal arguments (usually amounting to “most laws are invalid”) to try to avoid paying fines or having their houses repossessed.

  • Benedict Carter

    What he’s always been up to. Being an instrument of the devil and destroying the Faith. 

    Who is not aware of his remark made in Rome just before Vatican II opened, overheard by Cardinal Bea and related by him to Fr. Malachi Martin? 

  • Benedict Carter

    JABBA!!!!! As I have informed you before, his books are replete with multiple heresies. 

  • Paul Ben

    I love the Catholic Church lead by the successor of St, Peter, founded by Jesus Christ. Her foundations will always remain the same as set up by Jesus and the forces of evil will not subdue her.

  • Benedict Carter

    He’s not a Catholic, as he has proved here many times. 

  • Dantescomedy

     People in glass houses…

  • JabbaPapa

    Dear Benedict, my understanding of doctrine leads me to believe, so far, that formally, his errances relate to authoritative rather than infallible doctrines.

    That he is in doctrinal *rebellion* against the Reposit of the Faith is obvious — but whilst this is clearly motivation enough to strip him of the privilege of teaching theology — opposing _authoritative_ doctrine, no matter how extensively, is short, no matter how close, of formal heresy as such. His tactic of manipulatively skirting around formal heresy without ever actually stating it out loud as such (but letting his reader guess it “on their own”) is despicable, and of course, that tactic is the very heart and locus of the Modernist heresy.

    I do understand that your own views of what constitute infallibilia are different to my own, so that whilst I disagree with you doctrinally on this rather arcane question, I would certainly not condemn your own condemnation of Küng.

    I condemn the man’s ghastly teachings too, but I see Küng as a hypocritical pseudo-orthodox rather than as a formal heretic as such.

    One could arguably and perhaps persuasively describe him as a heretic on the basis of his Modernism, but not as far as I can see, generally speaking, on the basis of his doctrinal interpretations taken individually.

    Modernism really is a ghastly heresy !!!

  • Mikethelionheart


    A vile, un-Christian and shameful post. 
    You should remove yourself from this website.
    Go on, have the courage.

  • teigitur

    Pot Kettle Black

  • teigitur

    ha ha ha ha

  • JByrne24

    I did NOT post this: “I’m a retired Marxist atheist”. Someone has taken over my posting name.

    ADMINISTRATOR please note- can you do anything about this?

  • JByrne24

    Please see above please Jabba – I did not post that.( I’m a retired Marxist atheist etc)

    Someone has dishonestly taken over my posting name.

  • JByrne24

    jen – I did not post that- see my message to the Administrator.

    I did not post “I’m a retired Marxist atheist” etc. Somebody has dishonestly taken over my name.

    Administrator please help.