Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Open Letter from George Weigel to Hans Kung

On the First Things website:
Dr. K√ľng:

A decade and a half ago, a former colleague of yours among the younger progressive theologians at Vatican II told me of a friendly warning he had given you at the beginning of the Council’s second session. As this distinguished biblical scholar and proponent of Christian-Jewish reconciliation remembered those heady days, you had taken to driving around Rome in a fire-engine red Mercedes convertible, which your friend presumed had been one fruit of the commercial success of your book, The Council: Reform and Reunion.

This automotive display struck your colleague as imprudent and unnecessarily self-advertising, given that some of your more adventurous opinions, and your talent for what would later be called the sound-bite, were already raising eyebrows and hackles in the Roman Curia. So, as the story was told me, your friend called you aside one day and said, using a French term you both understood, “Hans, you are becoming too evident.”

As the man who single-handedly invented a new global personality-type—the dissident theologian as international media star—you were not, I take it, overly distressed by your friend’s warning. In 1963, you were already determined to cut a singular path for yourself, and you were media-savvy enough to know that a world press obsessed with the man-bites-dog story of the dissenting priest-theologian would give you a megaphone for your views. You were, I take it, unhappy with the late John Paul II for trying to dismantle that story-line by removing your ecclesiastical mandate to teach as a professor of Catholic theology; your subsequent, snarling put-down of Karol Wojtyla’s alleged intellectual inferiority in one volume of your memoirs ranked, until recently, as the low-point of a polemical career in which you have become most evident as a man who can concede little intelligence, decency, or good will in his opponents.

I say “until recently,” however, because your April 16 open letter to the world’s bishops, which I first read in the Irish Times, set new standards for that distinctive form of hatred known as odium theologicum and for mean-spirited condemnation of an old friend who had, on his rise to the papacy, been generous to you while encouraging aspects of your current work.

Before we get to your assault on the integrity of Pope Benedict XVI, however, permit me to observe that your article makes it painfully clear that you have not been paying much attention to the matters on which you pronounce with an air of infallible self-assurance that would bring a blush to the cheek of Pius IX.

You seem blithely indifferent to the doctrinal chaos besetting much of European and North American Protestantism, which has created circumstances in which theologically serious ecumenical dialogue has become gravely imperiled.

You take the most rabid of the Pius XII-baiters at face value, evidently unaware that the weight of recent scholarship is shifting the debate in favor of Pius' courage in defense of European Jewry (whatever one may think of his exercise of prudence).

You misrepresent the effects of Benedict XVI’s 2006 Regensburg Lecture, which you dismiss as having “caricatured” Islam. In fact, the Regensburg Lecture refocused the Catholic-Islamic dialogue on the two issues that complex conversation urgently needs to engage—religious freedom as a fundamental human right that can be known by reason, and the separation of religious and political authority in the twenty-first century state.

You display no comprehension of what actually prevents HIV/AIDS in Africa, and you cling to the tattered myth of “overpopulation” at a moment when fertility rates are dropping around the globe and Europe is entering a demographic winter of its own conscious creation.

You seem oblivious to the scientific evidence underwriting the Church’s defense of the moral status of the human embryo, while falsely charging that the Catholic Church opposes stem-cell research.

Why do you not know these things? You are an obviously intelligent man; you once did groundbreaking work in ecumenical theology. What has happened to you?

What has happened, I suggest, is that you have lost the argument over the meaning and the proper hermeneutics of Vatican II. That explains why you relentlessly pursue your fifty-year quest for a liberal Protestant Catholicism, at precisely the moment when the liberal Protestant project is collapsing from its inherent theological incoherence. And that is why you have now engaged in a vicious smear of another former Vatican II colleague, Joseph Ratzinger. Before addressing that smear, permit me to continue briefly on the hermeneutics of the Council. Continue reading.

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