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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



  • JabbaPapa

    I don’t believe you.

  • JByrne24

    But all your articles carry the name “William Oddie”.

    As you have probably noticed many people use only Ms Phillips’ Christian name and people use Fr. Lucie-Smith’s Christian name with his surname.

    I think you are probably just complaining for the sake of saying something critical, but suggest that, if you prefer W Oddie, you author your articles as such.

    You are not actually a total stranger, by the way, although I can accept that you have forgotten me.

  • Patrick Madrid

    Not to belabor the obvious . . . when you said, “Please don’t tell me what I SHOULD DO. You have no such right,” you were in fact telling Fides et Ratio what *he* should do — or, more specifically, what he should *not* do, which is the functional equivalent.

  • Athelstane

    I think it’s more accurate to call him a very liberal Lutheran.

  • The Catholic Herald

    The comment has now been deleted.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    It seems to me that there are two different applications of the word “Catholic” in this case. JByrne24 means it simply to refer to Fr. Kung’s religious affiliation “a Catholic who is also a theologian, hence, Catholic theologian,” which is true but not complete. In constrast, Recusant means it more along the lines  of “a theologian whose theology accurately reflects the Catholic Tradition,” which does not necessarily require the person actually to be a Catholic (CS Lewis comes close, for instance, and Cardinal Newman prior to his conversion). Both are correct, but Recusant is closer to the whole truth.

    All in all, JByrne24, your defense of Fr. Kung is wanting. The man is heterodox in his beliefs and actions at best. This latest polemic really has no legs. The SSPX ordinations and Sacraments are valid provided Abp. Lefebvre used a valid form and it would be ironic indeed if the SSPX used an invalid form when the form they used was in fact used to avoid possible/alleged invalidating aspects of the new rite.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    You go, Patrick!! I love calling out moral relativists, too!

  • Isaac

    Please don’t tell Dr. Oddie what to do!

  • Isaac

    Please don’t tell Recusant what to do!

  • JByrne24

    Fortunately the Admin. has removed the phoney post which carried a different log-in as I could not edit it- i.e. remove it. I assure you the posting was from somebody other than me.
    Perhaps the administrator could send you a mail confirming this??

  • JByrne24

    Thank you Catholic Herald.

    I’m still wondering how this was done. I have no special expertise in IT matters – perhaps it was not all that difficult to do?

  • JByrne24

    It is foolish to carry this to an absurdity.

    I’m sure that like myself you would always use the word in certain situations (children and fire for example).
    This is quite different to the language of moralists, who presume to tell people: what they should believe; what they should eat, and when; what should be banned; what people should and should not read, say, look at…. etc……. .

  • JByrne24

    Please see above reply Isaac.

  • Patrick

    Fr. Kung is a creative theologian indeed, perhaps even brilliant. What I find most disturbing however, is the uncharitable and vengeful way in which he expresses opinions, particularly about his former colleague. Pope Benedict has always shown him respect and kindness despite their theological differences. 

  • JByrne24

    Some of what you would probably call “traditional conservative Catholic positions”, are in fact nothing of the sort. There is a[n] (I was tempted to say “astonishing” – but it no longer really surprises me) great ignorance of Church history and development among the many on this website, whose views and knowledge of Catholicism constitute very little (if anything) more than that of the older child in a Catholic primary school.
    So, noting this, I post here in an effort to perhaps lift the odd eye, here and there, to a deeper and truer vision of our Faith.

    I know it’s an uphill struggle which, of course, receives little approbation (NOT the Catholic meaning of this word: approbation is an act by which a bishop or other legitimate superior grants to an ecclesiastic the actual exercise of his ministry.)  But I go on because an individual or two might just think a thought that she or he otherwise might never think.
    So it is the “earnest publicist” within me who wins over the “Devil’s advocate”, the latter whispering to me that it’s a waste of time.

  • JByrne24

    “He’s not a Catholic, as he has proved here many times”, but don;t stop there BC, finish the sentence:
    He’s not a Catholic, as he has proved here many times, to the complete satisfaction of Benedict Carter and several other people who share many of BC’s views.

  • JByrne24

    Honeybadger giving yet another deep analysis and showing profound understanding. 

    You may eventually gain a Doctorate if your heights of intellectual excellence are spotted by the right person

  • JByrne24

    “That man is even more heretic and modernist than the Anglicans”

    I don’t agree with this opinion, and as a Catholic I have no wish to join the C of E – although I do respect them (as, incidentally, does the Holy Father).

  • JByrne24

    That remark is absurd.

    If you see a man threatening to kill another (and at the point of actually doing so) saying “I should kill you for that”, I suggest that a non-moralistic person would be correct to say to him [the potential murderer]: “you should not do that”.

    There is a good book (first published in the 1930s I think – but still available; I’ve just checked Amazon) Called 
    “Straight and Crooked Thinking” by Robert Henry Thouless.I recommend it.

  • JByrne24

    I suggest you read it too.

  • JByrne24

    And you too, old boy.

  • JByrne24

    Sorry. I’ve noticed that I omitted the last 3 words: “and little else”.

  • JByrne24

    “…your defense of Fr. Kung is wanting.”

    The present Holy Father’s (non-infallible) opinion would lead anyone to believe so.

  • The Big Fella

    You’re funny, JByrne. Hopelessly wrong about poor old desperately lost Hans Kung, but funny. 

  • JByrne24

    Yes, I agree that the current atmosphere is very bad.

    Many of us see this as part of a “process” being carried out to ensure (as THEY wrongly see it) an “appropriate” successor to the present Holy Father, and (what should have been expected) the inevitable reaction to this “process”.

    I posted this in more detail and in stronger words earlier, but the comment was removed. I hope that this milder and slightly coded one remains.

  • Hossteacher

    What does anyone listen to Hans Kung anymore?

  • JByrne24

    Yes, I don’t like the word “trolls” either, and it’s not really me. I was tempted to use it (and succumbed) for the sole reason that one of the regular article writers here used the word – to my surprise – to one of my posting in reply to their article.
    So I think you have a good point. (Trolls removed – with apologies).

    The important point I was making was that surely the original poster, and those who “like” his post, well-know that Fr. Kung has never said or written anything that can lead anyone to believe that he has ever had such a wish.

  • JabbaPapa

    No. You are uncatholic because of your overt and expressly repeated denials of several infallible Catholic doctrines.

  • JabbaPapa

    Typical cronyism.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your opinions are worthless in any case, so the addition or substraction of some words or not signifies nothing.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Straight and Crooked Thinking. Well, it didn’t seem to help you straighten out your assessment of Hans Kung’s thinking.

    Are you this J Byrne by any chance?

  • JabbaPapa

    You haven’t a clue what you’re attempting to talk about.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    As if some other Holy Father would think differently….?

  • JabbaPapa

    cripes you’re vile — reviling someone’s honorifics is absolutely disgusting !!!!

  • Mikethelionheart

    A good reply JBryne.
    Although I do think you’re fretting over nothing about Cestius’ post. It is a good and reasonable comment to make that there are those in the Church that think they know better than the Pope and that they are better at teaching the faith than the Pope himself. Kung’s recent comments are the best example of that I’ve ever come across.   

  • JabbaPapa

    yet another crapload of JB24 trademarked revilifications and ignorance

  • JByrne24

    Hi Big Fella.

    Well I always try to be serious, but I do like the lighter touch at times and a little semi-hidden humour. (Usually missed and sometimes taken seriously)

    There is no doubt, in my opinion, that human beings’ humour reflects that of God’s. There is often a place for it – and I see Satan as a very moralising and humourless character.

    On the other hand, you may be “just taking the Michael”. 
    I don’t mind if you are.

  • JabbaPapa

    heretic !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Even that brainwashed fool JB24 couldn’t answer that one !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Satan is some hypocrite like you.

  • Jim

    Unfortunately, his books are still in all the major bookstores all over Germany, including one cathedral bookstore of which I know.

  • theroadmaster

    That is your opinion, but one among many.  If you can comprehend English sentences, you should be able to understand the points being made

  • JByrne24

    Oh yes, of course!

    I believe this whole matter (and Vatican leaks) and more, much more to come in the next few (and it may not be all that few) years, is all concerned with the battle for minds, that is presently intensifying, over the inevitable matter of Benedict’s successor.

  • JByrne24

    Hello Jabba. Had your tea?

  • JByrne24

    I do too – but it’s a bit more complicated than the rest of your first sentence acknowledges.

  • JByrne24

    Such a sanguine and phenotypic observation leads one to question the ontological basis of your radical interpretation of the aggiornamenti involved (you know, I suppose).

  • Madame Chantal

    At least Cestius has a sense of humour.

  • Thanasit

    I wonder how it is that Paul VI declared the ordinations of the 4 SSPX bishops invalid when said ordinations occurred years after his death.

  • theroadmaster

     Your woeful attempts to parody my previous contribution just adds to the growing list of confused commentaries that you have already made on this forum.