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Theologian Küng seeks reconciliation with Rome

The prominent Swiss theologian Fr Hans Küng wants to convince Rome that he is a loyal Catholic despite their disagreements, and believes that he and the Vatican could achieve a "pragmatic reconciliation".

Küng, who turned 75 on 19 March, said he hoped that his right to teach at Catholic universities, which was revoked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1979, would be restored. "Rome would not have to adopt my positions: it would be enough if they were just tolerated", he said. "In spite of the unsolved problems, one could simply recognise what is already recognised in the community of Catholics: that I am a loyal Catholic theologian."

Fr Küng was one of the youngest advisers called to the Second Vatican Council, and his brilliance was widely recognised. But he was very critical of Pope John Paul II, and when he questioned the understanding of the doctrine of infallibility he was forbidden to teach as a Catholic theologian.

Küng recently told the German magazine Der Spiegelthat his past could be an obstacle to reconciliation with the Vatican, although lately he has praised the Pope for his firm stand against war on Iraq.

A prolific author and celebrated professor, Küng was widely honoured on his birthday by Germany's political and religious leaders. Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Archbishop of Mainz, president of the German Bishops' Conference, praised the Swiss scholar's contribution to ecumenism and theology. Recalling the conflict over Küng's 1970 book, Infallible?, which was largely responsible for his falling-out with the Vatican, the cardinal said that could not be allowed to cancel out everything he had achieved during decades of committed work.

Küng's desire for reconciliation was "a remarkable expression of will", Cardinal Lehmann said, and the CDF was certainly ready to consider it. Many bishops would welcome a reconciliation if it were possible, he continued, but compromise was needed on both sides and should not be motivated by mood but rather by truth.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and a former colleague of Küng's at the University of Tübingen in Germany, has also voiced his support for a reconciliation. Cardinal Lehmann remarked that it was good that Cardinal Kasper could act as a mediator between Küng and the CDF.

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