May 8, 2010

Hans Küng: Liberalism's Pathetic Icon

...Or, When Good Scholars Go Bad

I do find it disconcerting that Hans Küng, a dissident Catholic theologian, still holds appeal for so many liberal Catholics. Yet, I must ask, What is still Catholic about Hans Küng? He prefers a Catholic Church reformed (or rather de-formed) according to liberal Protestantism. Not to mention that liberal Protestantism, that aberrant form of Christianity, may be in its death throes. Anyway, Küng's pseudo-Catholicism reveals much about the so-called "Catholicism" of his liberal Catholic admirers.

More accurately, in matters of Catholic faith and morals, there are no "liberal" or "conservative" positions. There are only orthodox and heterodox views.

Küng’s heterodox opinions include frequent and trendy challenges to the official Church position on papal infallibility, birth control, priestly celibacy and the all-male priesthood. Küng's pontificating on the clerical sex abuse problems, which he attributes to the Church’s "uptight" attitude about sex, is as absurd as it is naïve. Küng shows little to no awareness of causes most relevant to the crisis such as poor spiritual formation and homosexuality.

I wonder how Küng would explain the fact sex abuse among teachers in the public school system where it is a much greater problem. Sex abuse in the public school system is a significantly greater problem, which includes cover-ups such as the standard “passing the trash”, by transferring the offending employee to another school or district. This problem is not nearly so publicized and denounced by the media as it is with Catholic clergy. Also, among clerics, Protestant denominations have comparable sex abuse problems to the Catholic Church. Yet, this is not the impression one gets from the picture painted by the media. Sex abuse is a social crisis, perhaps at an epidemic level, though hardly confined to celibate priests in a Church allegedly “uptight” about sex.

In the United States, one of the classic works on sex abuse, entitled Pedophiles and Priests, by Philip Jenkins provides a more accurate insight into the problem.
Jenkins has carried out research in the area of clergy abuse over a period of twenty years and he concludes that there is no evidence that celibate clergy are any more likely to abuse minors than non celibate clergy: the incidence of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church is comparable to that found in other denominations. To put matters in context, minors are a hundred times more likely to claim that they have been abused in state schools in the United States than by Catholic Clergy. (See Making Sense of the Sex Abuse Crisis by Dr. Pravin Thevathasan)
Küng’s “solution” for the Church is “abolition of the celibacy rule, the root of all these evils, and the admission of women to ordination.” Guffaw! It is naïve at best to believe the celibacy rule is responsible for clerical sex abuse. And as for women priests, that will forever remain a dissident theologian’s elusive fantasy.

We can see more clearly how twisted Küng’s arguments are by taking a close look at his stance on abortion. A brief look at his view on abortion will suffice here as an example of the characteristic weakness and rank logic of his positions. In 2007, Küng weighed in on the abortion debate in Mexico. The Global Ethic Foundation held the conference on March 28 in Mexico City.

Küng said, “The Church’s absolute prohibition of abortion is a merciless extremism that could be anything but Christian.” Now, as a matter of history, the Church has maintained the same position on abortion since apostolic times. So one can only wonder what Küng means by the Church’s position being anything but Christian. Here are just a few examples of the early Church’s teaching on abortion that Küng would consider to be “merciless extemism.”

The Letter of Barnabas (A.D. 74; Chap 19 v. 5) says, "The way of light, then, is as follows. If anyone desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following. . . . Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born."

The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, (2nd century; Chap. 2) says, "You shall not kill an unborn child or murder a newborn infant."

In A Plea for the Christians, Athenagoras says (A.D. 177; Chap. 35), "What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? For the same person would not regard the fetus in the womb as a living thing and therefore an object of God's care, and at the same time slay it, once it had come to life."

Tertullian says in his Treatise on the Soul (A.D. 210; Chap. 27), "Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does.” And "The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion. (Chap. 37; [Ex. 21:22–24]”

St. Basil the Great says (First Canonical Letter, Canon 2; A.D. 374) "Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not." Also (Letters, 188), "A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder. And any fine distinction as to its being completely formed or unformed is not admissible amongst us."

Clearly, Küng’s view, one that is impossible to be true, is that the Church in  ancient times as well as modern is in error on abortion.

Küng contends that “Thinking of abortion as a birth control method evidently doesn’t respect life.” This, he said, is one extreme. But the other extreme is the Church’s --- “the one that doesn’t permit anything and doesn’t see abortion as a serious problem for many women, especially poor women, because the rich ones have other methods to resort to.”

What does Küng allege to be the true Christian view on abortion? It is a view that says the fertilized ovum is not a human person. Here we see the beginning of Küng’s strategy to break down the absolute prohibition on abortion with his pseudo-science and misrepresentation of Church history. Küng must find some authority for his personal view on abortion. He tries to find justification in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, a typical pro-abortion Catholic maneuver. We will see next that this is a failed strategy. one that relies on misrepresenting Aquinas.

Küng says, “There is a great difference between the classic Catholic doctrine and St. Thomas Aquinas’ position, because he thinks that human animation is a process and there is not a human person from the beginning because the human person, says St. Thomas Aquinas, presuppose an anima intellectualis, an intellect, what distinguishes humans from animals, it is clear that at the beginning there is not a human person.”

For this reason, Küng maintains that “a fertilized ovum, evidently is human life but is not a person. So the problem of abortion is considerably reduced.”

Is there any legitimacy to Küng’s argument? To answer that question we must first look at what Aquinas actually taught. Kung is playing on an historical scientific issue that he conveniently leaves unexplained. Specifically, during the medieval period the state of biological science, following Aristotle, was such that it mistakenly believed the male pre-natal child was not developed enough to be 'ensouled', and therefore human, until 40 days, while the female took about 80 days.

In Aquinas’ philosophical view, the nutritive and sensitive souls precede the presence of the spiritual or intellectual soul. The intellectual soul, which contains within it the powers of the lower nutritive or vegetative and sensitive souls, is created directly by “God at the end of human generation, and this soul is at the same time sensitive and nutritive, the pre-existing forms being corrupted” (S.T. Ia, q. 118, art. 2, reply 2).

Even though Aquinas followed the latter day Aristotelian theory, which held that the fetus was not developed sufficiently until about 40 or 80 days for the intellectual soul, he considered abortion of the fetus in the earlier stages of either the nutritive or sensitive states to be counted among those “the evil deeds” that “are contrary to nature”, (IV Commentary on the Four Books of Sentences of Peter Lombard, dist. 31, q. 2, art. 3 Exposition). Thus, for Aquinas, abortion is grave moral evil in the very early stages of development, and clearly murder during the latter stages.

The key to understanding Aquinas’ position is to realize that he made reflections based on the science of his day, yet his conclusion that abortion is always a grave moral evil, is a position that remains above and independent of the particular historical state of science. In this respect, Aquinas' teaching is consistent with the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church before him.

If Aquinas had accurate biological knowledge available to him, he would have undoubtedly considered abortion murder at any stage of pre-natal development.

So, the question we must now ask is why does Küng base his argument on the state of biological science in the middle ages? Why does he resort to a position based on inaccurate scientific knowledge rather than acknowledge contemporary scientific knowledge of pre-natal development? The only answer can be that Küng’s argument, which summarily rejects modern scientific facts about conception and pre-natal development in favor of the erroneous biological information of the medieval period, is intellectually dishonest. One needs to look no further for an explanation.

What conclusion does Küng want his audience to draw from his argument? Is it that the “true” Christian position would allow for abortion before 40 or 80 days? Even this would be a grave moral evil according to Aquinas. Does it follow from this that Küng is advocating what he knows to be mortal sin? Or, does he not believe in sin any longer?

Küng’s convoluted reasoning makes it difficult to precisely grasp his intended meaning in every statement. Yet what is assuredly true is that Küng’s heterodox views are wrong, pathetically wrong!

Share This