About fifteen years ago while studying with the Benedictines of St John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota, I was privileged to be in the last Patristics (early church history) class taught by Father Godfrey Diekmann. Although his infectious good spirits made his class a real treat, Father Godfrey’s reputation was due to his role in twentieth century progressive Catholic history more so than as a professor.
As a young priest spending four years in Europe while studying for his doctorate in Rome, he heard Hitler speak to a youth rally.
He had a demogogic power to influence people. Within two minutes the entire crowd was ready to give their life for him. Of course, I was caught up in it, in spite of myself, and leaving the stadium I had to shake myself to get rid of the evil miasma. He had a terrible, terrible gift.
Later, as a worker in the civil rights movement, he was on the grandstand in Washington, not far from the podium, as Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech. Godfrey characterized the experience as “one of the great moments of truth in my life.”
But Godfrey’s greatest contribution was as a progressive reformer in the liturgical movement of Roman Catholicism that resulted in the reforms of Vatican II. It was here that Godfrey crossed paths with a young professor from the University of Tübingen, Germany, named Hans Kung. In fact, they were two of the four blacklisted by Catholic University of Washington for their progressive Catholic views in the days leading up to the Council. The backlash from the blacklisting probably kept Godfrey from receiving an invitation to the Council, but it also helped sway public attitude away from the conservatives towards the reformers. From his base in Collegeville, Godfrey was a force behind the scenes of Vatican II, drafting many of the important documents.
Father Godfrey passed away in 2002 at the age of 93, but professor Kung carries on, even though the Vatican has long prevented him from teaching at Catholic institutions. In fact, December 18th is the thirtieth anniversary:
of the day when Pope John Paul II revoked the ecclesiastical right to teach (missio canonica) of Prof. Dr. Hans Kueng because of his proposals for reform in the Catholic church. In his book ‘Infallible? An inquiry’ published in 1970 after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and equally prompted by the encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ from 25 July 1968 Kueng raised the question if the papal ministry is indeed infallible. With this Kueng, like nobody else in our time, raised the question of truth in Christianity and kept it alive ever since.
In 2005, Kung published a scathing criticism of Pope John Paul II.
This Papacy has repeatedly declared its fidelity to Vatican II, in order to then betray it for reasons of political expediency. Council terms such as modernization, dialogue, and ecumenicalism have been replaced by emphasis on restoration, mastery, and obedience. The criteria for the nomination of Bishops is not at all in the spirit of the Gospel … Pastoral politics has allowed the moral and intellectual level of the episcopate to slip to dangerous levels. A mediocre, rigid, and more conservative episcopate will be the lasting legacy of this papacy.
Kung continues to be a progressive Catholic voice crying in the wilderness about obligatory celibacy, the role of women in the church, papal infallibility, and ecumenism. Carry on, Herr Doktor.