February 2004--Hans Kung is a Christian theologian whose influential writings have been criticized by the Vatican, which in 1979 stripped him of his right to teach as a representative of the Church. Ordained a priest in 1954, Kung was the youngest theologian to participate in Vatican II, the council which dramatically modernized aspects of the Catholic Church. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about his new memoir and about his concerns with the Curia, the Rome-based departments and officials through which the pope governs the Church.

Your book focuses on the years of Vatican II–you say the Council's promise has not been fulfilled. What was your most severe disappointment relating to Vatican II?

The most severe disappointment for me was that the Council never really [was] free and was not able to control the curial machinery, but was constantly hindered, corrected, and sometimes even obstructed by the Roman Curia.

That is the reason why a lot of basic, very important questions were not resolved by the Council. I mention just a few:

  • Birth control as a matter of personal responsibility;
  • Priestly celibacy in the Latin church;
  • The regulation of the question of mixed marriages--validity of the marriage...
  • Meaning marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics.

    Between Catholics and non-Catholics, especially with regard to the upbringing of children.

  • The involvement of Church regions concerned in the appointment of bishops;
  • The election of the pope by the synod of bishops, which would be more representative of the Church then the College of Cardinals, who are all appointed by the pope in the way of absolutist regimes.
  • So you think all these things could have been settled by Vatican II, but were not?

    Yes, they could have been settled by Vatican II. The proof is that we had the same obstruction against [the document on] religious freedom and the Declaration on the Jews [in Nostra Aetate].

    The Curia opposed both vigorously, but because the Council in this case really was strong enough, [it] was able to resolve these questions. And if the Council had not been hindered--after one morning of discussion--in going on with the discussion on the Pill, the Council would certainly have given a positive answer to that.

    So you're saying that in the space of just a few days, the question on birth control could have been decided in a way you approved of?

    Well, that was always a process. If you had a discussion that would have been frank and unhindered, then this would have been discussed in the commission, and the commission would have made a proposal. And I am sure it would have been possible to resolve it. It’s a rather easy question, because the principles are already stated in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

    But the Curia was able to add, especially in the notes, the reactionary documents of Pius XI and Pius XII. So they based Humanae Vitae [the 1968 birth control document] on these reactionary documents.

    In the text itself, you have a clear affirmation of the responsibility of the parents, but that is only one example of how the Council suffered on the compromises. The result of the compromises was that after the Council, the Curia was able to interpret these compromises in its own way, so we got Humanae Vitae.

    Towards the end of your book, there is a brief mention of [John Paul II], who at that time was the Archbishop of Krakow. When you’re speaking about birth control and the papal Pill commission, you say that he--Karol Wojtyla--"engag[ed] in intrigue behind the backs of the progressive majority." What did you mean?

    I did not use this word. I just stated the facts that he never participated in the [Pill] commission, but [rather] sent letters to the Vatican.
    You may call this an intrigue.

    That’s how it’s translated in the English version of your book. Perhaps it’s a translation question.

    For me, this was already an indication that this pope is not interested in serious scholarly discussions on controversial issues, dogma, and morals, but just in the decisionmaking process by authoritarian means. Imposing doctrines as he has done now during his 25 years of the pontificate. This was already an indication of his methods.