Seven colleagues of Hans Kung at the University of Tuebingen this week reversed their earlier support for the theologian.
The seven theologians issued a six-page statement in which they maintained that "in the long run," a teacher could not remain on the school's Catholic theological faculty if he did not have the Vatican's approval.
Kung, 51, lost that approval on Dec. 18, when the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that he could no longer be considered a Catholic theologian.
Initially, the Catholic faculty at Tuebingen had unanimously supported Kung.
While deploring the loss of some of his colleagues' support, Kung pointed out that there are 18 members of the school's Catholic theological faculty and "still there is a majority with us," he said.
Kung was censured by the Vatican for his writings that challenge papal infallibility and for his restatement on the traditional doctrine on Christ.
Kung called the action of his colleagues "a very sad thing" and charged that it was "certainly done under the influence of pressure from ecclesiastical circles."
On Tuesday, the day after the statement was made public, he canceled his final lecture of the academic term because, he said, "I didn't want to polemicize against my colleagues."
The Kung censure has become an international cause celebre and outsiders, including members of the press, have begun flocking to his classes and pressing him for latest developments in his case. It was to avoid such questioning over his colleagues' statement that he canceled his lecture.
The University of Tuebingen is maintained by the German state of Wurtemberg-Baden, but under a 1933 church-state agreement, the Catholic Church has the right to veto members of its Catholic theological faculty. A similar agreement exists between the state and the Protestant Church.
Because of this church-state concordat, the Kung controversy has reached the floor of the Wurtemberg-Baden parliament.
The bishop of the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, in which the university is located, has asked the education minister of Wurtemberg-Baden to remove Kung from the Catholic faculty. So far the minister has refused.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Kung said he is negotiating with the education minister, the bishop, and the president of the university.
"There are a lot of legal complications," he said.
He said he expects to meet with his classes as usual when the next academic term begins in April. "There are more students than before" in his classes, he said.
"I shall never lose my chair (teaching position)," he said, because he is a tenured professor. "The only question is, will the chair remain in the Catholic faculty."
Kung said he is continuing to work to get the Vatican's decision reversed. "I would like to get back my canonical mission (the authorization to teach theology for the church)," he said.
Kung has charged that the German Bishops' Conference and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith failed to follow its own rules in moving against him.
Kung said the Diocesan Council of the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese has adopted a resolution "advocating (that) real procedures according to the law" be applied to his case.
Asked if he was hopeful about getting the judgment reversed, he said, "It depends very much on the negotiations, on whether the German bishops are ready to re-examine the question and give me a fair trial."
In their statement, Kung's colleagues praised him for doing much to renew the Christian faith through his best-selling books that interpret difficult theological themes in language understandable to lay Christians.
They said the books had sent shock waves through the church hierarchy and had fanned sentiment for reforms, but that chances for changes will be lost if this leads to a "total confrontation" between progressives and conservatives.