A Theological Virus Is Spreading
A NOTE FROM OUR PUBLISHER: Hans Küng's death was an occasion to reflection on how his outlook of dissent has infected parts of the Church, the dangerous effects of which can now be seen in the German “Synodal Path.”
The death of dissident Swiss theologian and priest Hans Küng on April 6 at the age of 93 has provoked intense reactions from across the world. The most immediate, for many, was to pray for the soul of this man who had wandered so far from the Church’s authentic teachings over the decades since the Second Vatican Council. A second response was a very sad reflection on how his writings and outlook have spread like a virus in the Church, leading many on his same journey down the road to error and dissent.
Regrettably, the dangerous effects of this can be seen quite clearly in the so-called “Synodal Path” underway right now in Germany.
Father Küng was one of the most infamous theologians in the last 100 years, and he cultivated a celebrity status by his public, vocal opposition to a host of Church teachings, including those on the topics of papal infallibility, euthanasia, abortion, contraception, the ordination of women, the authority of bishops, priestly celibacy, homosexual acts and even whether a priest is needed for the valid consecration of the Eucharist. The secular and progressive Catholic media promoted his books, gave him abundant airtime and applauded his often-uncharitable criticisms of Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Father Küng was actually censured in 1979 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — which found that, in his writings, he had “departed from the integral truth of Catholic faith, and therefore he can no longer be considered a Catholic theologian nor function as such in a teaching role.” Yet he still remained a hero to several generations of theologians who saw him as the herald of a new theological revolution in the Church.
That revolution may well be upon us in the form of the Church in Germany’s Synodal Path.
Allegedly responding to the sex-abuse scandals and the crisis of declining Church membership, the bishops of Germany announced in 2019 that they would bring together the more than 200 members of the German bishops’ conference, leaders of a radical progressive lay group called the Central Committee of German Catholics, and various other groups of young people and Church offices to bring about reform and renewal. The organizers wasted little time in announcing an agenda that includes the same poisonous heterodox wish list that had been pushed for decades by Father Küng and others.
The Synodal Path will put Church teachings up for a majority vote, and its leaders will not accept what they call “blocking discourse.” And in the name of “the standards of a democratic society,” they threateningly demand “that recommendations and decisions adopted by a majority will also be supported by those who themselves have voted differently.”
The Holy See has tried to discourage and even correct the Synodal Path from the beginning. Pope Francis issued a lengthy letter to the Church in Germany in June 2019, warning that this path would end up “multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” and urged the bishops to focus on evangelization. It was a sensible call, given that the Catholic population in Germany is expected to be halved by 2060. In 2019 alone a total of 272,771 German Catholics formally left the Church.
Vatican offices have since weighed in, declaring the synodal plans were not “ecclesiologically valid” and the entire process could not be legally binding. Just last month, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with Pope Francis’ approval, reiterated the Church’s ban on the blessing of same-sex unions, a practice already happening in some German parishes and a topic certain to be voted on by the Synodal Path.
The majority of German bishops are refusing to listen and to turn away from their potentially disastrous journey into schism. In the face of this obstinance, the time for stronger and clearer action by the Holy See is now, before the Synodal Path imposes itself on the Catholic faith the German bishops have been entrusted with and presents Pope Francis with an ultimatum to change Church teaching irrevocably. It also must be stopped before this infection spreads elsewhere in the Church.
In the 1970s, the Vatican admonished Father Hans Küng and implored him to bring his own views into harmony with the Church’s authentic magisterium. Ultimately, he refused, despite being censured. He remained to the very end a voice of open dissent.
One of Father Küng’s former students, Cardinal Walter Kasper — not exactly a conservative himself — lamented to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano after Küng’s passing that “he was a person who wanted to promote renewal of the Church and realize its reform. … However, in my judgment, he went too far — beyond Catholic orthodoxy — and so did not remain tied to a theology based on the doctrine of the Church, but ‘invented’ his own theology.” The German Synodal Path is a clear inheritor of that toxic theological legacy.
Under the guise of reform, the Synodal Path is on the road to schism, and the dangers are real for the entire Church. Like Martin Luther in 1517, nailing his “95 Theses” to the doors of the church in Wittenberg, the German bishops and their progressive lay Catholic partners plan to send their program across the world to infect other regions and dioceses. And they have massive amounts of money to do it, thanks to the national Kirchensteuer, or church tax system, that gives billions in tax money to German dioceses every year.
Similar events happened in the 16th century, in what became the Protestant Revolt. In that age, the Holy See was slow to react and resolve the crisis of Luther and to harness the authentic movement of reform and renewal in time to prevent a catastrophe for all of Christendom. There is little time to act now, or Catholics in the 21st century may see the same result.
Let us pray for the soul of Father Hans Küng, for those taking the Synodal Path and for the Church in Germany, that it may not succumb to this latest theological virus.
God bless you!