Dissident Theologian Hans Kung Calls on Pope to Issue "Mea Culpa" for Sex Abuse

By Richard Owen
The Times
March 18, 2010

The dissident Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Kung has called on Pope Benedict XVI to issue a "mea culpa" for his part in "covering up decades of clerical sex abuse", both as an archbishop in Munich and as a cardinal in Rome.

Father Kung, who once taught theology alongside the future Pope at Tubingen in Germany, noted that Monsignor Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German bishops had apologised to sex abuse victims after meeting the Pope last week, saying that the pontiff was "shocked and deeply moved" by his account of cases in his native Germany.

Benedict is expected to sign a letter tomorrow to the faithful in Ireland after his talks with Irish bishops last month, when he described sex abuse as a grave sin and a "heinous crime".

However Father Kung said that bishops including the pontiff himself should not just seek forgiveness but "should finally acknowledge their own co-responsibility" in covering up "systematic abuses". He added: "Should not Pope Benedict XVI also assume his own responsibility, instead of complaining that there is a campaign against him?"

Writing in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Father Kung, President of the Global Ethic Foundation and professor emeritus at the University of Tubingen in Germany, noted that the Pope the former Joseph Ratzinger had taught theology for eight years at Regensburg, where he had been in close contact with his older brother Georg, who was choirmaster of the "Domspatzen" or "Cathedral Sparrows" in Regensburg.

Former Regensburg choirboys have come forward with allegations of sexual and physical abuse dating back decades after the growing crisis over paedophile priests spread to Germany in January this year.

"Joseph Ratzinger was perfectly well aware of the situation of the Domspatzen," Father Kung said. "And it is not a case of slaps, which unfortunately were the order of the day at the time, but of sex crimes." Monsignor Ratzinger has admitted striking choirboys but has denied all knowledge of sex abuse allegations.

Father Kung said that the future Pope had then been Archbishop of Munich for five years, "during which time a priest transferred to his bishopric perpetrated a series of abuses which have now come to light". He said that although Monsignor Gerhard Gruber, then Vicar General in Munich, had assumed "full responsibility" for this, "his loyalty is not enough to excuse the archbishop, who was also responsible on an administrative level".

Father Kung noted that Cardinal Ratzinger had then served for 24 years in Rome as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when he had imposed "papal confidentiality" on cases of clerical abuse around the world.

In five years as Pope he had "not altered this practice one jot". "In the name of truth, Joseph Ratzinger, the man who for decades was mainly responsible for the concealment of these abuses at a world level, should have pronounced a mea culpa," Father Kung said.

He also said that the Pope was wrong to continue to deny "against all historical truth" any link between clerical paedophilia and celibacy, and refuse to admit that the Bible "expressly permits" Church leaders to marry.

Celibacy was "not a grace, more of a disgrace", Father Kung said, not least because it had forced a large number of would-be priests to renounce the priesthood because they wished to marry. He said that celibacy was not Christian dogma but only an 11th-century norm that could be suspended.

Father Kung was stripped of his licence to teach Catholic theology in 1979 after he rejected the doctrine of Papal infallibility, though he remains a priest. He surprised observers by having dinner at Castel Gandolfo with Pope Benedict shortly after his election as pontiff in 2005, a move which appeared to suggest that the two had been reconciled.


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