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Hans Küng (2009)
The Reverend Father Hans Küng (born March 19, 1928, in Surseemarker, Canton of Lucernemarker), is a Swissmarker Catholic priest, controversial theologian, and prolific author. Since 1995 he has been President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic (Stiftung Weltethos). Küng remains a Catholic priest in good standing, but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology. Though he had to leave the Catholic faculty, he remained at the University of Tübingenmarker as a professor of Ecumenical Theology, serving as Emeritus Professor since 1996. Neither his bishop nor the Holy See has revoked his priestly faculties.

Life and work

Küng studied theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian Universitymarker in Romemarker and was ordained in 1954. He then continued his education in various European cities, including the Sorbonnemarker in Parismarker.

In 1960 Küng was appointed professor of theology at Eberhard Karls Universitymarker, Tübingenmarker, Germanymarker. Just like his colleague Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in 1962 he was appointed peritus by Pope John XXIII, serving as an expert theological advisor to members of the Second Vatican Council until its conclusion in 1965. At Küng's instigation, the Catholic Faculty at Tübingen appointed Ratzinger as professor of dogmatics. However, due to the 1968 students revolt, Ratzinger moved to the university of Regensburgmarker, ending the cooperation between the two.

During his 1963 six week (March-April) tour of the United States, Küng gave the lecture "The Church and Freedom", receiving an interdict from the Catholic University of Americamarker and an honorary doctorate from St. Louis Universitymarker. He also accepted an invitation to visit John F. Kennedy at the White Housemarker.

In the late 1960s Küng became the first major Roman Catholic theologian after the late 19th century Old Catholic Church schism to reject the doctrine of papal infallibility, in particular in his book Infallible? An Inquiry (1971). Consequently, on December 18, 1979 he was stripped of his licence to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian but carried on teaching as a tenured professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen until his retirement (Emeritierung) in 1996. To this day he remains a persistent critic of papal infallibility, which he claims is man-made (and thus reversible) rather than instituted by God. He was not excommunicated, and remains a Roman Catholic priest in good standing.

For three months in 1981, he was a guest professor at the University of Chicagomarker. During this visit to America he was invited to only one Catholic institution, the University of Notre Damemarker. He also appeared on the Phil Donahue Show. In October 1986, he participated in the Third Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter held at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

In 2005 Küng published a critical article in Italy and Germany on The failures of Pope Wojtyla. Küng argued that the world had expected a period of conversion, reform, and dialogue; but instead politically John Paul II offered a restoration of the pre-Vatican II status quo - thus blocking reform, inter-church dialogue and reasserting the absolute dominion of Rome.

This Papacy has repeatedly declared its fidelity to Vatican II, in order to then betray it for reasons of political expediency. Council terms such as modernization, dialogue, and ecumenicalism have been replaced by emphasis on restoration, mastery, and obedience. The criteria for the nomination of Bishops is not at all in the spirit of the Gospel... Pastoral politics has allowed the moral and intellectual level of the episcopate to slip to dangerous levels. A mediocre, rigid, and more conservative episcopate will be the lasting legacy of this papacy.

On September 26, 2005, he had a friendly discussion about Catholic theology over dinner with Pope Benedict XVI, surprising some observers.

In a 2009 interview with Le Monde, Küng was deeply critical of the lifting of the excommunications on the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X. At the same time, Küng made criticisms on the Pope's theology, saying it remained the same as since the council of Nicea held in 325. The interview drew a rebuke from Cardinal Angelo Sodano.


His doctoral thesis Justification. La doctrine de Karl Barth et une réflexion catholique, was published in English in 1964. It located a number of areas of agreement between Barthian and Catholic theologies of justification, concluding that the differences were not fundamental and did not warrant a division in the Church. (The book included a letter from Karl Barth, attesting that he agreed with Küng's representation of his theology.) In this book Küng argues that Barth like Martin Luther overreacted against the Catholic Church, which despite its imperfections has been and remains the body of Christ.

Based on "Studium Generale" lectures at Tübingen University, his latest publication Der Anfang aller Dinge ("The beginning of all things") discusses the relationship between science and religion. In an analysis spanning from quantum physics to neuroscience, he comments on the current debate about evolution in the United States, dismissing those opposed to the teaching of evolution as "naive [and] un-enlightened."

In the early 1990s Küng initiated a project called Weltethos (Global Ethic), which is an attempt at describing what the world religions have in common (rather than what separates them) and at drawing up a minimal code of rules of behaviour everyone can accept. His vision of a global ethic was embodied in the document for which he wrote the initial draft, Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration. This Declaration was signed at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions by many religious and spiritual leaders from around the world. Later Küng's project would culminate into the UN's Dialogue Among Civilizations to which Küng was assigned as one of 19 "eminent persons." Even though it was completed shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (in September 2001), there was no coverage in the U.S. media, something about which Küng complained.

In March 1991, he gave a talk titled "No Peace Among Nations until Peace Among the Religions" at UCSDmarker's Price Centermarker. He also visited the nearby Beth El synagogue and spoke there on modern German-Jewish relations.


  • "If you cannot see that divinity includes male and female characteristics and at the same time transcends them, you have bad consequences. Rome and Cardinal O'Connor base the exclusion of women priests on the idea that God is the father and Jesus is his son, there were only male disciples, etc. They are defending a patriarchal Church with a patriarchal God. We must fight the patriarchal misunderstanding of God." — Newsweek interview, July 8, 1991
  • "Everyone agrees the celibacy rule is just a Church law dating from the 11th century, not a divine command." — Newsweek interview, July 8, 1991
  • "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions." - Küng speaking on global ethic


  • 1991 Swiss cultural prize
  • 1992 Karl Barth prize
  • 1998 Theodor Heuss prize from the Theodor Heuss foundation
  • 1998 Interfaith gold Medallion from the International Council of Christianity and Judaism, London
  • 1999 prize from the Federation of the Lutheran cities
  • 2000 GLOBArt Award
  • 2001 Planetary Consciousness Prize from the club Of Budapest
  • 2003 Swiss Order of Merit with star
  • 2004 German Druiden medal from the Weltethos Foundation
  • 2005 Niwano Friedenspreis
  • 2005 Baden-Wuerttemberg medal
  • 2006 Lew Kopelew prize
  • 2007 Cultural prize of German freemasonry
  • 2007 Honorary Citizen of City of Tubingenmarker
  • 2008 Honour for civil courage by the circle of friends Heinrich Heine (Duesseldorf)
  • 2008 Otto-Hahn Freedom medal in gold of the German society for the United Nations, LV Berlin Brandenburg, for "outstanding earnings/services to peace and people communication, in particular for his exemplary employment for humanity, tolerance and the dialogue between the large world religions".
  • 2009 Abraham Violonist prize from the Abraham Violinist college at the University of Potsdam.

See also

Bibliography (English translations)

Biographies about


  1. Küng, The Catholic Church: A Short History (2002), Introduction, p. xviii: "In 1979 I then had personal experience of the Inquisition under another pope. My permission to teach was withdrawn by the church, but nevertheless I retained my chair and my institute (which was separated from the Catholic faculty). For two further decades I remained unswervingly faithful to my church in critical loyalty, and to the present day I have remained professor of ecumenical theology and a Catholic priest in good standing. I affirm the papacy for the Catholic Church, but at the same time indefatigably call for a radical reform of it in accordance with the criterion of the gospel."
  2. Hans Küng (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind Series), John J. Kiwiet, 1985
  3. Briggs, Kenneth A., New York Times, (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Dec 13, 1981. pg. A.29
  4. ""Emptiness, Kenosis, History, and Dialogue: The Christian Response to Masao Abe's Notion of "Dynamic Sunyata" in the Early Years of the Abe-Cobb Buddhist-Christian Dialogue," Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 24, 2004
  5. "Pope's September surprise" [HOME EDITION] John L. Allen Jr., Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2005, pg. M.5
  6. Theologian's criticism of pope draws Vatican response
  7. Hans Küng Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth, 1964, p. 200
  8. Global Ethic Foundation
  9. UN - Short Biography
  10. Hans Küng Interview (Revue Lexnews)
  11. "Noted theologian Hans Kung to speak at USCD, synagogue", Rita Gillmon. The San Diego Union San Diego, Calif.: Mar 9, 1991. pg. B.11
  12. Talk delivered by Hans Küng on March 31, 2005, at the opening of the Exhibit on the World's Religions at Santa Clara University. [1]

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