Theologian Fr. Hans Kung in a 2008 file photo.(CNS/Harald Oppitz, KNA)
Küng declined to show the letter to NCR, citing "the confidentiality that I owe to the Pope," but he says the letter was dated March 20 and sent to him via the nunciature in Berlin shortly after Easter.
Küng says the letter shows that "Francis has set no restrictions" on the discussions.
Küng also said that he is very encouraged by Francis' recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia ('The Joy of Love'), "I could not have foreseen then quite how much new freedom Francis would open up in his post-synodal exhortation," Kung wrote in statement released to NCR and other media outlets. "Already in the introduction, he declares, 'Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.'" Küng writes, "This is the new spirit that I have always expected from the magisterium" and makes a discussion of infallibility possible.
Following is the text of the statement about the pope's letter that Küng released to media. The English version is being released simultaneously by National Catholic Reporter and The Tablet at midnight April 27 (7 p.m. Eastern time, April 26 in the United States).
-- Dennis Coday, NCR editor
On March 9, my appeal to Pope Francis to give room to a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion on the problem of infallibility appeared in the leading journals of several countries. I was thus overjoyed to receive a personal reply from Francis immediately after Easter. Dated March 20, it was forwarded to me from the nunciature in Berlin.
In the pope's reply, the following points are significant for me:
- The fact that Francis answered at all and did not let my appeal fall on deaf ears, so to speak;
- The fact that he replied himself and not via his private secretary or the secretary of state;
- That he emphasizes the fraternal manner of his Spanish reply by addressing me as Lieber Mitbruder ("Dear Brother") in German and puts this personal address in italics;
- That he clearly read the appeal, to which I had attached a Spanish translation, most attentively;
- That he is highly appreciative of the considerations that had led me to write Volume 5 of my complete works, in which I suggest theologically discussing the different issues that the infallibility dogma raises in the light of holy Scripture and tradition with the aim of deepening the constructive dialogue between the "semper reformanda" 21st-century church and the other Christian churches and postmodern society.
I could not have foreseen then quite how much new freedom Francis would open up in his post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Already in the introduction, he declares, "Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium."
He takes issue with "cold bureaucratic morality" and does not want bishops to continue behaving as if they were "arbiters of grace." He sees the Eucharist not as a reward for the perfect but as "nourishment for the weak."
He repeatedly quotes statements made at the episcopal synod or from national bishops' conferences. Francis no longer wants to be the sole spokesman of the church. This is the new spirit that I have always expected from the magisterium. I am fully convinced that in this new spirit a free, impartial and open-ended discussion of the infallibility dogma, this fateful key question of destiny for the Catholic church, will be possible.
I am deeply grateful to Francis for this new freedom and combine my heartfelt thanks with the expectation that the bishops and theologians will unreservedly adopt this new spirit and join in this task in accordance with the Scriptures and with our great church tradition.
I admit that I am not sure what to say. Francis is keen on giving us moments that are filled with as many questions as answers. This is surely one of them. Fr. Hans Küng, hardly a spokesman for orthodox Roman Catholicism, seems an unlikely person to explore what infallibility means -- he surely already has in mind what he thinks it to mean! Yet, as in his many forays to secular journalists and media personnel, Francis is keen on appearing flexible, reasonable, and willing to set a new course. While this might be an important step for conversations between Rome and Constantinople and Rome and Wittenberg, it would hardly represent an end to the problems both have had with the papacy as an institution and office. I fear this is one more instance of a hint of hope that will in the end result in more a photo op than real change but. . . who knows. One thing is for sure -- many of my Roman Catholic friends who are already uneasy about Francis will have one more thing to be anxious over.