On Twitter, Pontifical Academy for Life Marks Death of Dissenting Theologian Hans Küng

Küng served as a theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council but repeatedly clashed with Rome in the years that followed.

Hans Küng receives an honorary degree from the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, Jan. 27, 2011.
Hans Küng receives an honorary degree from the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, Jan. 27, 2011. (photo: UNED)

VATICAN CITY — The Pontifical Academy for Life commented on Twitter on the death of the influential and controversial Swiss theologian Hans Küng, who rejected papal infallibility, Catholic teaching on contraception, and the moral impermissibility of assisted suicide.

In poor English, the Pontifical Academy for Life’s comment described him as “a great figure in the theology of the last century whose ideas and analyzes (sic) must always make us reflect on the Catholic Church, the Churches, the society, the culture.” The comment, posted to Twitter on April 6, included a hashtag using the 93-year-old theologian’s name. It included a photo of Kung with German-language text of the dates of his birth and death.

The Pontifical Academy for Life was founded by Pope St. John Paul II and professor Jerome Lejeune in 1994. It is dedicated to promoting the Church’s consistent life ethic. In November 2016, the academy came under controversy after its president removed a requirement that academy members sign a statement promising to defend life in conformity with the Church’s magisterium.  

Küng served as a theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council but repeatedly clashed with Rome in the years that followed.

The tensions culminated in a 1979 declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Küng 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.”

The Congregation cited his opinions on the doctrine of infallibility, expressed in his 1971 book “Infallible? An Inquiry,” as one of the reasons for the move.

Kung has also departed from Catholic orthodoxy in advocating for the ordination of women to the priesthood, which Catholicism does not believe to be possible. He has rejecting Catholic teaching on contraception and also holds that assisted suicide can be an ethical choice. He explained his position on assisted suicide in a 1998 book and reaffirmed it in 2013, noting that he suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

Küng and Pope Benedict XVI met to converse in September 2005. The two men were colleagues at the University of Tübingen in the latter half of the 1960s, but reputedly fell out over their theological differences.

Küng described the audience, which lasted several hours, as a “very constructive and even a friendly conversation.” At the same time, he continued to criticize Benedict XVI’s theological vision, claiming in a 2012 interview that the German pope had “a medieval idea of the papacy.”

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