Hans Küng

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Hans Küng (born March 19, 1928 in Sursee, Switzerland) is a world-renowned theologian, philosopher, historian, and ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. He took part in the Second Vatican Council as a theological expert appointed by Pope John XXIII and taught theology for two decades in the Catholic faculty at the University of Tübingen before being stripped of his license to teach Catholic theology by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over his opposition to the doctrine of papal infallibility.

Subsequently, he continued to teach theology at Tübingen (though not as part of the Catholic faculty) and devoted himself to ecumenical work and writing, all the while remaining an uncompromising and controversial advocate for radical Church reform and one of the leading spokesperson's for Church reform.

A prolific writer, Küng has published numeous books on religion, theology, and history. The first volume of his Memoirs was recently published in Germany in 2004 (with an English translation the following year) while the second volume has appeared in Germany within the past year.

Youth and education

Hans Küng was the eldest of 7 children (5 sisters and 2 brothers) who survived infancy. His paternal grandfather had established a prosperous shoe business which was continued by his father, and Küng, in his memoirs, describes his family as "well-to-do, but not rich" (page 25). Most of his family, on both sides, were liberal Catholics.

Following his completion of the first 6 "classes" at Sursee, Küng chose to complete his youthful education at a "grammar" school in nearby Lucerne rather than in the Catholic boarding school in Sursee, preferring the liberal, humanist education to what he termed "ghetto Catholicism".

Meanwhile, however, as a result of his acquaintance with Pastor Franz Xaver Kaufmann, the youth minister in Sursee, Küng had made, at about the age of 11, the momentous decision to entry the priesthood. In July of 1948, Küng graduated from the school in Lucerne and soon thereafter set out for Rome to pursue his vocation.

Collegium Germanicum

  • spent 7 years in the papal Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum in Rome
  • studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University
  • ordained priest (year?)
  • PhD in theology from the Institut Catholique (Paris) at the Sorbonne 1957 (thesis on Justification)

Pastoral work

After obtaining his PhD in theology, Küng became an assistant to the priest in Lucerne, a position he held from late 1957 to mid-1959, a period of about 18 months. In the first volume of his Memoirs, he relates: "My expriences in practical pastoral work . . . were so intensive and constructive in every respect that they shape the whole of my life." (Memoirs, page 179)

Even at this stage in his career, Küng showed an independence of spirit and action. As he reports elsewhere in his Memoirs: ". . . I would tell married couples who accused themselves in the confessional of the sin of contraception that this was not a 'mortal sin', and that they need no longer accuse themselves of it if they already have a responsible number of children, because birth control is a matter of personal responsibility" (Memoirs, page 165). Advised that he risked being denounced to the Bishop, Küng nevertheless continued to dispense such advice.

Second Vatican Council

Meanwhile, in October of 1958, Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII died and Angelo Roncalli was elected to replace him. The new Pontiff took the name John XXIII. Within a few months of his elevation, in January of 1959, the new Pope stated his intentions to invoke a Church Council, the first since the Vatican Council of 1870.