What (Who?) they are preaching at "St Mary's in Exile"

It is always a bit of an education to take a squiz at the Catholica Australia website. A link from their discussion board took me here, to the St Mary’s Community in Exile South Brisbane website, and a post entitled “Greg Latemore – Homilist October 30- 31 2010”. What was Mr Latemore preaching at St Mary’s on “Reformation Day”? Or rather “Who” were they preaching? Not Christ, it appears, but Hans Küng. And to make his point, Mr Latemore drew up the following table contrasting Prof. Küng to his archnemesis, Prof. Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI. To assist us in the grasping of his point of view, Mr Latemore provides us with the following table (I have reproduced it as it appears on the Catholica website)


Not a completely helpful comparison, because it isn’t completely accurate, is it? I won’t argue about Mr Latemore’s description of the positions of Prof. Küng, but I would argue about his characterisation of the Holy Father on a couple of points, viz.:

1) “Apparent vision”: Mr Latemore describes Hans Küng’s vision as a vision for “an ethical world” and Pope Benedict’s vision for the world as “A Catholic World”. His description of Küng’s vision as an “ethical” vision is true enough, but does beg the question of what “ethical” means in this context. Whose ethics? What standard of ethics? Be that as it may, I think it would be more accurate to say that Pope Benedict has “a Catholic vision for the world”, rather than “a vision for a Catholic world”. I am sure you understand the difference.

2) “Apparent time scale of interest as a Christian”: Mr Latemore says that while Prof. Küng’s interest ranges from “biblical origins and the early church to today”, Pope Benedict’s interest is limited to “from Augustine & Nicea to today”. That seems rather bizarre. Has Mr Latemore not read any of Pope Benedict’s works, many particular studies of particular biblical themes and passages, and especially his most recent and continuing study of the Gospels? Has he not been paying attention to the Holy Father’s long running series on the saints of the Church, from the apostles right up to the current series of the great women saints? To say that Ratzinger has not always been deeply engaged in biblical and early church studies seems to show a total ignorance of any standard bibliography of Joseph Ratzinger. AND I would say that in fact Prof. Küng’s focus actually extends beyond “today” to the next generation and perhaps the generation after that. In just the same way the Holy Father’s interest in ecclesial eras goes beyond “today” – even further beyond “today” than Prof. Küng’s. The Holy Father’s teaching and preaching is always focused upon the Eschaton, the end of days, the coming of the Lord, the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. When you take that into account, I think that you will see how limited is Mr Latemore’s appreciation of Pope Benedict’s “time scale of interest”.

3) “Apparent Focus”: Mr Latemore’s “homily” declared that Prof. Küng’s focus is “Christianity” while the Holy Father’s focus is “Christendom”. Again, he get’s Ratzinger entirely wrong. Ratzinger’s real focus is Christ. One need only read the first paragraphs of his first Encyclical to get that. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The teaching and preaching of Pope Benedict is entirely focused on the encounter with the person of Christ. It is true that he is also concerned about what might be called “Christian culture”, but only because he believes that the encounter with Christ is not just for individuals, nor even for the Church, but God’s intention for the whole of society. In this way, society itself undergoes much the same transformation that takes place when the individual encounters Christ.

4) “Apparent idea of the Church’s vocation”: According to Mr Latemore, Küng’s idea is “To be partners with the world” and Ratzinger’s is “To convert the world”. I can’t really argue with that. I think he is quite right. I just ask you which you think is closer to New Testament Christianity.

5) “Apparent attitude to other religions”: Again, I can’t really argue with Mr Latemore’s characterisation of Küng’s attitude to other religion as “valid paths to salvation”, whereas the Pope believes that the Church is the “path to salvation”. But I will argue that he is wrong in saying Pope Benedict “recognises but does not value” other religious traditions. He does value them, precisely as the Church does, namely as containing something of the true human yearning for God, and something of God’s revelation. He is simply being true to the witness of the apostles in saying that they are not complete or perfect sources of revelation.

6) “Apparent idea of the role of theologians”: Again, Mr Latemore is more or less correct when he says that Küng’s idea is that theologians are “answerable to scholarly research & conscience”. I don’t think Ratzinger would argue with that as an important and indispensible element of the work of a theologian. But, as Mr Latemore says, the Pope does believe that (in the final analysis) Catholic theologians are “answerable to the Church’s magisterium”. I think that says more about the difference between these two men in their understanding of the purpose of theology. Küng believes that theologians should BE the “magisterium”. The Ratzinger recognises a higher authority beyond the theologian’s own scholarship and conscience. Küng does not.

7) “Apparent attitude to celibacy”: I think the Holy Father is just as aware as Küng and Mr Latemore that celibacy is “Church law” rather than “Divine law” – otherwise how could the Pope recognise the tradition of the Eastern Churches as valid? What the Holy Father understands, and Küng does not is that there is a benefit to the Church in the discipline of celibacy, that it is a “Divine vocation” rather than a “law”, which befits the calling to the priesthood. Basically, Küng sees it as a negative and Ratzinger as a positive.

8 ) “Apparently opposes”: There are lots of things both Küng and Ratzinger would agree on opposing, but if you want to single out a couple of items, it is true that Küng opposes what he (and Mr Latemore) calls “clericalism & dogmatism” whereas Ratzinger has opposed “secularism & relativism” all his life. I guess the question is: which is the greatest danger to the world today?

This little exercise is indeed, as Brian Coyne says on Catholica, a pleasant “distraction [from] the Melbourne Cup” and other things going on in the world, but I ask you whether it is the stuff that homilies should be made of? In the end, who are we supposed to be preaching: the ideas of this or that theologian, or the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?

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6 Responses to What (Who?) they are preaching at "St Mary's in Exile"

  1. PM says:

    You have critiqued this piece of puffery admirably well. My one comment is that you miight have referred to Kung’s tendency to demythologise away those bits of the NT that don’t suit him.

    The tendency among some Catholics (or should that be ‘Catholics’?) to condemn the Pope without reading him is depressing but not surprising. Any victim of 1970s RE will recall that reading books wasn’t ‘meaningful and relevant’ and was an offence against the all-infallible super-magisterium of me and my feelings. But I fear their influence lingers in the Catholic school system.

  2. Bear says:

    I would have to disagree with Brian Coyne – nothing in the Catholica website is particularly diverting, or even insightful.

    Give me horse racing any day!

    • Gareth says:

      At the end of the day, websites like Catholica are mnot genuinely interested in ‘dioalogue’ but are doing the work of the Devil.

  3. Peter Golding says:

    The activities of St.Mary’s in exile can be summed up in two words-Who Cares?

  4. Christine says:

    Oh dear. This sounds so deja vu.

    Years ago when I first read some of Küng’s material I was not yet Catholic but wondered to myself why he still considered himself such.

    As to his secularized Catholicism, no thanks.

    • Schütz says:

      I read him too in Seminary, where one lecturer recommended him. I think there were some Lutherans who hoped that this would be the future direction of the Catholic Church – of course, they hoped the same for the Lutheran Church, and they were right to an extent, but developments in the LCA and LCMS have shown that at least some Lutheran Churches have stood their ground with the historical Lutheran positions.

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