Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is papal infallability an open question?

  • Theologian Fr. Hans Kung in a 2008 file photo. 
    (CNS/Harald Oppitz, KNA)
Editor's note: Fr. Hans Küng, the Swiss theologian, says that he has received a letter from Pope Francis that responds "to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility."
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.
Francis has set no restrictions. He has thus responded to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility. I think it is now imperative to use this new freedom to push ahead with the clarification of the dogmatic definitions, which are a ground for controversy within the Catholic church and in its relationship to the other Christian churches.

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.

My Comments:

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.


Carl Vehse said...

Is papal infallability an open question?

Certainly not for Lutherans! In his Christian Dogmatics, J.T. Mueller writes:

"Romanism is built upon two fundamental errors, which Holy Scripture most stringently condemns: the infallibility of papal authority in religion and the meritoriousness of man's good works. It is above all these two errors that make the Church of Rome an antichristian sect." [p. 20]

"The declaration of papal infallibility (1870) must be regarded as intolerable blasphemy and antichristian rebellion against God." [p. 94]

RMMV (Romanist mileage may vary)

Kirk Skeptic said...

Since papal infallibility was infallibly declared to be dogma at an ecumenical council (Vatican I), will Bergoglio fallibly or infallibly repeal it?

John Joseph Flanagan said...

What need is there to debate Papal infallibility? If we want to go into that erroneous doctrine, we can find no support for it anywhere in God's word. No human being has ever claimed infallibility except the Popes of the Roman Church. In their quiet moments of reflection, as they lie in bed at night, it is likely no Pope really believed he was infallible in true heart. To believe this in the presence of God is foolishness.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

As a cradle Roman Catholic, I discovered Hans Kung after hearing him speak at a Lutheran/Roman Catholic Forum that we frequently had in Tucson in the 1980's. I read his "On Being A Christian" in my early 20's and admit to not understanding much of what I read. Hearing him speak as a young Lutheran Deacon I didn't receive much clarification. I recall one of my mentors, a great Confessional Lutheran Pastor, commenting after Kung's lecture that it was old stuff for any good Lutheran. I found it an encouragement from my old Roman roots.

When Kung was more or less silenced by St Pope John Paul II, his writing on infallibility sort of went away. It should be recalled, however, that near the end of Ut Unum Sint JPII stated that for the sake of Christian Unity the Papacy will need to be re-examined (imprecise language alert) for the sake of Christian reunification. In order for that to happen the doctrine of Infallibility will have to be changed for the sake of we Ecclesial Communities. Francis is up to something, in my judgement....he doesn't appear to be interested in much of a dogmatic nature, but then he comes up with something that sounds incredibly well thought through....sort of the inverse of Mr Trump....

Carl Vehse said...

If Christian reunification of the visible church occurs on this side of parousia it will be because everyone has become Lutheran; otherwise that will occur on the other side.

Anonymous said...

Your RC friends, along with many other orthodox Christians, have good reason to feel uneasy about Pope Francis. The truth behind the writing of the Amoris Laetitia is not pretty. Please see the snippet and link below.

RORATE CÆLI: Family Synods were a hugely expensive Fraud: Essential Passages of Exhortation had already been written 10 years ago

Yes, the fabulous Rector of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), elevated to the position of titular Archbishop -- His Excellency Victor Manuel "Tucho" Fernández. We had already reported here in January that he was the main ghost-writer of the post-synodal Exhortation (later published under the title Amoris Laetitia, "The Joy of Love"). This of course had been clear since the Pope named him a member of the Synod drafting committee: as we had called him at the time, "the Pope's closest theological adviser and first named bishop, (fabulously efficient) Rector of the Catholic University of Argentina, member of the original 6-liberal Synod drafting commission".

What we did not expect was for Tucho (pronounced TOO-cho) to merely copy-paste inside a papal document the most controversial parts of the exhortation from his own controversial words of the past -- articles written for no other reason than to counter the foundational encyclical of Pope John Paul II on the Moral Doctrine of the Church, and against all kinds of relativism, "Veritatis Splendor". The fabulous trick was revealed by Sandro Magister today.