Hans Kueng, Roman Catholicism's best known rebel theologian, is considering capping a life of challenges to the Vatican with a final act of dissent - assisted suicide.
Kueng, now 85 and suffering from
Parkinson's disease, writes in final volume of his memoirs that people have a
right to "surrender" their lives to God voluntarily if illness, pain or dementia
make further living unbearable.
The Catholic Church rejects assisted
suicide, which is allowed in Kueng's native Switzerland as well as Belgium, the
Netherlands, Luxembourg and four states in the United States.
"I do not
want to live on as a shadow of myself," the Swiss-born priest explained in the
book published this week. "I also don't want to be sent off to a nursing home
... If I have to decide myself, please abide by my wish."
championed reform of the Catholic Church since its 1962-1965 Second Vatican
Council, where he was a young adviser arguing for a decentralized church,
married priests and artificial birth control. The Council did not adopt these
A professor at the German university of Tuebingen since 1960,
Kueng was stripped by the Vatican of his license to teach Catholic theology in
1979 after he questioned the doctrine of papal infallibility and ignored Vatican
pressure to recant.
The university responded by making him a professor of
ecumenical theology, securing him a post from which he wrote dozens of books,
some of them best-sellers, and many articles.
NOT LIKE JOHN PAUL OR
In the third and final volume of his German-language
memoirs, Erlebte Menschlichkeit (Experienced Humanity), Kueng wrote that a
sudden death would suit him, since he would not have to decide to take his
But if he does have to decide, he said, he does not want to go to a
"sad and bleak" assisted suicide center but rather be surrounded by his closest
colleagues at his house in Tuebingen or in his Swiss home town of
"No person is obligated to suffer the unbearable as something
sent from God," he wrote. "People can decide this for themselves and no priest,
doctor or judge can stop them."
Such a freely chosen death is not a
murder, he argued, but a "surrendering of life" or a "return of life to the
hands of the Creator."
Kueng, who writes openly about his Parkinson's and
other medical problems in old age, said this death was compatible with his
Christian faith because he believed it led to the eternal life promised by
He cited the late Pope John Paul's public struggle with
Parkinson's and the silent suffering of boxer Muhammed Ali, also afflicted with
the disease, as models he did not want to follow.
"How much longer will
my life be liveable in dignity?" asked Kueng, who said he still swims daily but
is losing his eyesight and his ability to write his books by hand as usual. "A
scholar who can no longer read and write - what's next?"
repeatedly criticized the now retired Pope Benedict during his papacy, described
Pope Francis as "a ray of hope". He disclosed that the new pontiff had sent him
a hand-written note thanking him for books that Kueng sent to Francis after his
election in March.
It seems highly unlikely the new pope will include
support for assisted suicide among possible Church reforms he was discussing
with eight cardinals in Rome on Wednesday.
Speaking in Sardinia in late
September, Francis denounced a "throwaway culture" that committed "hidden
euthanasia" by neglecting and sidelining old people instead of caring for
A spokesman for Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, where Tuebingen is
located, said Kueng's views on assisted suicide were not Catholic teaching. "Mr
Kueng speaks for himself, not for the Church," Uwe Renz told Stuttgart radio