BERLIN — Hans Kueng, a Roman Catholic theologian who was an early colleague and friend of the future Pope Benedict XVI but later fell foul of the Vatican for challenging church doctrine and became a vocal critic of the pontiff, has died. He was 93.
Kueng died Tuesday at his home in Tuebingen, according to the Global Ethic Foundation, or Stiftung Weltethos in German, which he established in 1995.
Though forbidden by the Vatican to teach theology, Kueng was an influential voice for liberal Catholics and a prolific author, challenging Catholic doctrines on papal authority, birth control, divorce and other issues.
“He never evaded the important dispute over the right path to peace and understanding,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. “Hans Kueng is a lasting role model of a scholar, a brilliant thinker with a sharp mind who, at the same time, was an alert political observer and a committed fellow-citizen.”
Kueng’s career was lived in opposition to Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, but in retirement Kueng was delighted by “the new reform-friendly atmosphere” inspired by the election of Pope Francis.
The career of the Swiss-born Kueng intertwined with that of Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict. Kueng, then a professor at the University of Tuebingen, urged the university’s theology department to hire the young Ratzinger in 1966.
The pair participated in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s as “periti,” or advisers. Kueng later wrote that he and Ratzinger were known there as the “teenage theologians,” though they were then in their 30s.
Later, they took different paths.
Ratzinger left Tuebingen in 1969 after left-wing student upheavals rocked the campus, and his classes were at one point interrupted by sit-ins. Kueng was stripped of the right to teach Catholic theology at Tuebingen in 1979 after challenging Catholic doctrine — most significantly papal infallibility, which holds that the pope can never be mistaken when he makes “infallible” pronouncements.
Ratzinger, by then a cardinal, was the Vatican’s chief guardian of orthodoxy from 1981 to 2005. While Benedict was not at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at the time Kueng was disciplined, he was reportedly involved in the decision in his role as archbishop of Munich and Freising.
Ratzinger defended the Vatican’s treatment of Kueng, saying in his 1997 book “Salt of the Earth” that he respected the path Kueng had taken but that Kueng “should not then demand the church’s seal of approval.”