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Bishops recall Fr. Hans Küng as theologian who loved the Catholic Church

Vatican City – German and Swiss bishops who knew and worked with Fr. Hans Küng described him as a man in love with the Catholic Church, even if the theologian sometimes went beyond the limits of Catholic doctrine and criticized the decisions of religious leaders.

Born in Switzerland, Küng, 93, died on April 6 in Tübingen, Germany, where he lived and taught for decades.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, speaking to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, described Küng as a person who knew deep in his heart that he was a Catholic and never left or wanted to leave the church , even if “his behavior” was not always that of a Catholic.

In an interview published on April 7, Kasper, theologian and retired president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, recounted having been Küng’s doctoral assistant from 1961 to 1964, before a long period of estrangement. and deeply divergent views on a host of theological questions and the proper way to raise them.

But for the past several decades, the cardinal said, their relationship has been one of “mutual respect” and the exchange of cards and letters for holidays and other celebrations. “True, the theological differences remained, but on a human level the relationship was simple and peaceful.”

Küng was more than a critic of the Church; “he was a person who wanted to promote the renewal of the church and carry out its reform,” said the cardinal. “However, in my opinion, he went too far – beyond Catholic orthodoxy – and therefore did not stay tied to a theology based on church doctrine, but ‘invented’ his own theology. . “

The cardinal declared that he found “unacceptable” the way Küng had sometimes spoken of Pope Benedict XVI, with whom he had served as an expert at the Second Vatican Council, but “I know that Benedict prayed for him”.

Yet, Kasper said, Küng was always ready to talk, discuss and debate, and he knew how to write and talk about religion in a way that was understandable to people who were not Catholics or who had strayed from it. church. He was also a pioneer of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

Towards the end of his life, Küng grew closer to Pope Francis, the cardinal said.

“Last summer, I phoned the pontiff to tell him that Küng was about to die and that he wanted to die in peace with the church. Pope Francis told me to convey his greetings and blessing . “

“Certainly the theological differences remained and were not resolved,” said the cardinal. But “on the pastoral and human level, there has been a reconciliation”.

“He wanted to die in peace with the church despite all the differences,” Kasper said.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, declared: “Hans Küng has never failed to defend his convictions. Even though there have been tensions and conflicts in this regard, I expressly thank him in this hour of departure for his many years of commitment as a Catholic theologian in the communication of the Gospel. The dialogue of religions in the quest for a global ethics worried him a lot. Hans Küng was deeply influenced by the Second Vatican Council, whose theological reflection he sought.

Although he taught in Tübingen, Küng remained a priest in the diocese of Basel, Switzerland. Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, said that despite all his criticism, “Hans Küng was a lover of the church”.

“He didn’t want to make the church redundant and didn’t want it to perish. He wanted a renewed church, a church for the people of today,” Gmür said.

“He fought for a church that would deal with the realities of life as they are and the world as it is. He wanted a Christian church and a Christian faith and people of Christian faith who listen and are heard, with whom we can discuss, who get involved, who live off their trust in God, who serve peace with other believers, “said the bishop.

“That’s why he treated the church the way it is. He did the same with me, his bishop. He loved, and because he loved, he demanded. It could be exhausting sometimes, too. been lived by some with whom he did not retain the critics, in particular the popes ”, he declared.

Gmür said he was sometimes surprised at how Küng “positively stood alongside the papacy despite all its struggles”.

[Anli Serfontein contributed to this article from Berlin.]

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