The slapping down of a dissident theologian

The nice folks at First Thingsdo you subscribe? … have performed a fine public service – and some smile provoking entertainment – in the form of an open letter from George Weigel to none other than, wait for it, Hans Küng.  Mr. Weigel responds to the public nutty thrown by Fr. Küng in the Irish Times.

It is on the long side, so go over the FT, spike their stats, subscribe, post your favorite bits of this slap down here and discuss.

Here are a few good bits…


…your April 16 open letter to the world’s bishops, which I first read in the Irish Times, set new standards for that distinctive form of hatred known as odium theologicum and for mean-spirited condemnation of an old friend who had, on his rise to the papacy, been generous to you while encouraging aspects of your current work.



In a sense, of course, none of your familiar complaints about post-conciliar Catholic life is new. It does, however, seem ever more counterintuitive for someone who truly cares about the future of the Catholic Church as a witness to God’s truth for the world’s salvation to press the line you persistently urge upon us: that a credible Catholicism will tread the same path trod in recent decades by various Protestant communities which, wittingly or not, have followed one or another version of your counsel to a adopt a hermeneutics of rupture with the Great Tradition of Christianity.


Permit me to suggest that you owe Pope Benedict XVI a public apology, for what, objectively speaking, is a calumny that I pray was informed in part by ignorance (if culpable ignorance).


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ghlad says:

    George Weigel is like the adopted son that came to be preferred to the original son.

    The best paragraph that Weigel wrote, IMHO, was:

    I therefore speak with some assurance of the ground on which I stand when I say that your description of Ratzinger’s role as quoted above is not only ludicrous to anyone familiar with the relevant history, but is 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 who took the promises of psychotherapy far more seriously than they ought, or lacked the moral courage to confront what had to be confronted.

  2. As I said over at mine, quanno ce vo’, ce vo’!

    George has done us a literary service as well. It has been some time since I last saw a piece of polemical writing this well crafted.

    Its tone is elevated without becoming squeamish. It maintains a withering substantive critique, which is appropriately spiced with devastating psychological deconstruction and properly ruthless remarks on Kung’s (miserable lack of) style and grace – literary and as regards his manners.

    Well done, indeed!


  3. dhgyapong says:

    I hope this letter goes far and wide. It’s rather sad how the charming Kung comes across as bitter and jealous of both Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

    Years ago, he was in Ottawa visiting Saint Paul University and insisted that he was a Catholic theologian whether or not the Church recognized him as such because the whole world did.

  4. Justin from Ohio says:

    Kung’s original article made me chuckle…he is like a stereotype or caricature of the “spirit of Vatican II” baby-boomer generation that keeps telling us how wonderful, liberating, and cool the 1960’s were. I don’t wish death on anyone, but the Church will be in much better shape once these folks are gone from the scene, out of positions of power in our parishes, out of the priesthood, out of the chancery offices, out of the public eye.

    There’s a shorter, but equally humorous article written by a guy over at Inside Catholic too on Hans Kung’s rantings:

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    Weigel to Kung: “And that means that you have set back the cause of reform.”

    Apparently there is a lurking assumption that Kung wants to promote the cause of reform. Perhaps someone can give an example from his 50-year career in which he has supported authentic reform in continuity with Vatican II and the Catholic faith on which the council was based. Rather than calling for a new council to do what he thinks Vatican II ought to (but did not) do.

  6. ejcmartin says:

    It reminds me of something my manager said during a meeting to a competitor “you’re either stupid or you are liar and somehow I don’t think you are stupid”.

  7. Dear EJCMARTIN,

    I think you get it exactly backward.

    One of the most important things in intellectual exchange, especially public intellectual exchange, and never more than in public intellectual polemical exchange, is the rule of Christian charity according to which we must always think all the good we can of our interlocutors.

    Weigel is very careful to make it clear that he is left with an alternative: think Fr. Kung an ignorant, indeed incompetent failure; think Fr. Kung a malicious liar.

    The effectiveness of Weigel’s polemic is his success in plausibly depicting Fr. Kung as a boob – a pitiable caricature of himself.


  8. ghlad says:

    Everything that I’ve read by Küng (disclaimer: I’ve not had the courage to fully read any of his works, I prefer to read materials that affirm my faith) has just been pandering to the lowest common denominator, again, in what Weigel expertly pegs as stemming from being ‘evident’ in the Communio communion.

    @ejcmartin: I’m not sure if Weigel is only feigning charity when he says that Küng is merely guilty of willful ignorance, but he doesn’t call Küng a liar. He does seem like a liar to me, though, pursuing the catchy-ness of the Magisterium-hating press.

  9. Joseph says:

    I think Kung and their ilk is all about rationalising their dissent, betrayal etc. One paints the the church in as bad a picture inorderto justify ones actions. We all tend to do that when we are sinning.
    PS: Has he forgotten about the four last things? At his age, it would be now or never.

  10. TJerome says:

    I am a proud subscriber of First Things. George Weigel nails Kung, who must be vying for the “Father McBrien Look A Like Award.”

  11. AnAmericanMother says:

    Speaking as a professional, I am in awe.

    I am very occasionally turned loose by my boss to deliver a chastisement. I thought I had perfected the art of facially even-handed, gentle prose that slips the stiletto straight to the heart.

    After reading this, I acknowledge that I am a complete tyro and need to go back to school.

    As Mark Twain said in another context, wherever you look here, you find richness.

    Wow. Just . . . wow.

  12. AnAmericanMother says:


    Weigel is employing a well known technique that most courthouse lawyers are familiar with.

    Don’t ever call a party or a witness a liar. Lay out the alternatives, and let the jury make that decision.

    Weigel’s readers are his jury . . . and I know which conclusion I reached.

  13. ejcmartin says:

    I was not directly comparing what Weigel said to what my manager said. The article simply reminded me of someone’s response to claims that were so out of touch with reality much like Kung’s. My manager’s comments were direct and uncharitable, however they may have been true.

  14. venerable says:

    Fr.Z, Will you comment on G. Weigle’s various use and spelling sometimes with a capitol “T” of the word “tradition”. From my memory of B. Catechism days I thought he was not precise and even careless. Sacred Tradition is part of the Deposit of Faith and is so misunderstood today.- With gratitude and perservering prayer,V.

  15. venerable: I will let others comment on this particular use by Wiegel.

    That said, most of the time when writers use that orthography they are distinguishing between Tradition, one of the pillars of revelation, which the Church alone maintains and interprets, and traditions which can change, die out, be formed as circumstances require.

  16. Igne says:

    Kung has, strangely enough, done lovers of Catholicism a great service. He has collected together in an ego-driven ‘encyclical’ not only the slanders and libels against Pope Benedict, but also a catalogue of the canon of ‘modern society’s’ grouses about Catholicism. As a result he has given all lovers of the truth a localised target to aim at. We must aim at it. All those who care about apologetics (apart from the bishops to whom he megalomaniacally addressed the letter) should reply in attractive and measured ways to him, to uphold the truth. Remember a drop of honey brings more bees than the sadly too evident barrel of vinegar. VIncent Twomey, formerly of Maynooth, did an excellent job in ‘The Irish Times’ (an achievement, given the hostility of Patsy McGarry, their religious editor, who thinks religion is an absurdity). See We need more intelligent and cogent responses to Kung’s ‘Encyclical’, but not solely responses that preach to the converted. We need people who will help those intelligent people who at this moment feel they haven’t been given a good reason to rethink their views on any of these issues. We’re right. And many will be able to come to that conclusion if surrounded by reasoned attractive responses to Kung. The writings of His Holiness provide all the material needed to undermine this opportunist’s outmoded canting. Let’s use them.

  17. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I will echo An American Mother. I am an attorney & writer, but no polemic I have ever writen, or am capable of writing, holds a candle to the brilliance of Mr. Weigel.

    I am going to use that article for a writing class.

  18. WOW!
    Thank you, George Weigel, for this excellent defense of Pope Benedict XVI and his teaching that is making the authentic “hermeneutic of continuity” a signature of his papacy.
    Reading Fr. Kueng’s diatribe, this struck me as something very strange and false:
    the Church today is “in the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation”; this seems to be the foundation of his rants. Is it really so?
    The worst? Since the Reformation?
    This sounds like hysteric polemics to me.

  19. EnoughRope says:

    Sounds great! About time- the slap down was long overdue. These days, there are so many cans of whoop-@#! that need to be opened on these crazies. Please say a prayer for me and my friends- we are protesting a planned parenthood (murder inc.) former CEO tonight. We are few, but we are dedicated and we are speaking the TRUTH.

  20. The Egyptian says:

    ouch, that is going to leave a mark ;D

  21. muckemdanno says:

    I do not subscribe to First Things. I am a “Chronicles” man.

    Here is the great Patrick J Buchanan on anti-Catholicism at the NY Times:

  22. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Survey says: LIAR!! Mr. Weigel is very good to try to put a charitable interpretation on Kung’s relentless malice, but it is malice and nothing else.

  23. irishgirl says:

    Yay for George Weigel!

    I’m not a subscriber of ‘First Things’, but once in awhile I will read an article or two that appears on the blogs I regularly read….such as Fr. Z’s! (Wonder what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus would have said about all this?)

    As The Egyptian said: Ouch!

    A slap-down that was long overdue!

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