George Weigel, who recently took the dissenting theologian Fr. Hans Kung to task for his attacks against Pope Benedict, said he would welcome a response from the priest “in which the issues were truly engaged.” But, the scholar qualified, “another Swiss volcanic eruption wouldn’t serve much purpose.”
In an April 16 open letter to the Catholic bishops of the world, published in the Irish Times and other venues, Kung criticized Pope Benedict’s engagement of Protestants, Jews and Muslims; his support for Catholic teaching on birth control and condoms; and his approach to the Second Vatican Council.
Kung also commented specifically on the sexual abuse controversy, saying:
“There is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005).”
George Weigel responded to this in an April 21 letter of his own, published on the website of the journal First Things.
When asked by CNA last Friday why he felt compelled to respond to Kung’s letter, Weigel said that he was “struck by the extraordinary vitriol of the article and by its misstatements of fact, both of which required a response.” Weigel added that he would welcome a response from Kung “in which the issues were truly engaged,” but that “another Swiss volcanic eruption wouldn’t serve much purpose.”
On April 21, he called Kung’s charge against Pope Benedict “a tissue of falsehoods.” The theologian’s comment, Weigel said, was “manifestly ignorant” of the fact that sexual abuse cases were not under then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s oversight until 2001.
This ignorance forfeits “any claim to be taken seriously on this, or indeed any other matter involving the Roman Curia and the central governance of the Catholic Church.”
Weigel noted his own criticisms of the mishandling of abuse cases by individual bishops and by Vatican authorities before then-Cardinal Ratzinger began to press for reforms.
Judging from this experience, Weigel said Kung’s description of Cardinal Ratzinger’s role was “ludicrous to anyone familiar with the relevant history.”
That description was also belied by “the experience of American bishops who consistently found Ratzinger thoughtful, helpful, deeply concerned about the corruption of the priesthood by a small minority of abusers, and distressed by the incompetence or malfeasance of bishops.”
He especially criticized the Irish Times editors who subtitled Kung’s letter with the claim the Pope was “directly responsible for engineering the global cover-up of child rape perpetrated by priests, according to this open letter to all Catholic bishops.”
Weigel said this was a “grotesque falsification of the truth” and “shameful.”
He suggested that Kung owes Pope Benedict XVI a public apology for “a calumny that I pray was informed in part by ignorance (if culpable ignorance).”
“I assure you that I am committed to a thoroughgoing reform of the Roman Curia and the episcopate,” Weigel’s letter concluded. “But there is no path to true reform in the Church that does not run through the steep and narrow valley of the truth. The truth was butchered in your article in the Irish Times. And that means that you have set back the cause of reform.”
Fr. Hans Kung served as an expert at the Second Vatican Council with Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. He is now a well-known dissenter from Catholic teaching on many points and has been barred from teaching Catholic theology.