Raymond Hunthausen, the consummate 'Vatican II bishop,' dies at 96
So-called Catholic liberals lionized him while traditionalists bemoaned him as the epitome of a 'wishy-washy' type of Catholicism
Robert Mickens, Rome
No prophet is welcomed in his own country…
And Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen experienced that in two countries, actually – the United States (his place of birth) and the Roman Catholic Church (his spiritual home).
Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen, who died on Sunday in his native Montana, earned the prophet’s reward (or curse) because of his radical Gospel stance of inclusivity and non-violence.
He was just one month shy of his 97th birthday.
Hunthausen was best known from his time as Archbishop of Seattle (1975-1991), a period that was marked by dramatic ecclesial and political changes around the world.
Commonly known as “Dutch” by friends and colleagues, he was the last surviving U.S. bishop to attend the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In fact, he attended all four sessions of that monumental gathering, having been appointed Bishop of Helena (Montana) in the summer before the council got underway.
Just 40 years old, he was the youngest American bishop at the time and the last ever to be appointed in the pre-Vatican II era.
He would say that attending Vatican Council II changed him, calling the experience “liberating… challenging and exciting.”
It was, he said, “a grace and a blessing.” By the time he was Archbishop of Seattle, his name had become synonymous with the council, especially as Pope John Paul II began curtailing the great synod’s reforms.
So-called Catholic liberals in the United States lionized Hunthausen as the pre-eminent “Vatican II bishop,” while traditionalists bemoaned him as the epitome of a “wishy-washy” type of Catholicism they believed the council had produced.
As John Paul began to reshape the U.S. hierarchy by appointing more doctrinally rigid bishops to major dioceses, Hunthausen came increasingly under pressure from church conservatives for offering the sacraments to divorced and remarried Catholics, welcoming gays and lesbians in his cathedral, allowing general absolution and promoting greater ecumenical and interfaith collaboration.
And during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the height of the Cold War, it was his pacifism and staunch resistance to nuclear weapons that drew the ire of the Republican leaders in the U.S. capital.
The archbishop joined protests in the early 1980s when the first Trident nuclear submarine arrived in Puget Sound just 20 miles from downtown Seattle. He became a cause célèbre when he announced he would withhold half of his federal income tax until the nukes were removed.
Reagan appealed to other more conservative American cardinals and officials at the Vatican to lean on the Seattle archbishop. It is believed the U.S. president’s interventions actually helped convince John Paul that Hunthausen needed to be reined in.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, drew up “charges” in 1985 that accused the archbishop of deviating from the Catholic faith.
Shortly afterward the pope appointed a Pittsburgh priest named Donald Wuerl as the archbishop’s auxiliary bishop, secretly giving the newly ordained prelate special powers over several areas of pastoral governance in Seattle.
But Hunthausen was no pushover. He became resolute when he perceived Bishop Wuerl had overstepped his mandate and threatened to publicly disclose the full details of the Vatican’s arrangement to curtail his authority. The archbishop prevailed.
“Wuerl was like a boy who had been sent to do a man’s job,” the late Bishop James Hoffman of Toledo (Ohio) once told me. Dutch was still the archbishop and he knew his rights.
In the end, a compromise had to be worked out. Wuerl was sent back to Pittsburgh less than a year and half after he began his Vatican-backed mission. He served briefly as seminary rector before taking over as the Bishop of Pittsburgh in early 1988.
Meanwhile, Hunthausen was saddled with a coadjutor bishop and finally stepped down in 1991 at age 70, five years prior to the normal retirement age.
I met Archbishop Hunthausen only once. It was in the midst of the Vatican’s attempted takeover of his archdiocese and he had come to give a talk to faculty and staff at St. Meinrad College.
He spoke mostly of his conviction that peaceful resistance was the only Christian response to war. He was unwaveringly anti-war and anti-nukes.
Afterwards in the question and answer period some of the students pilloried him for being naïve. He only smiled, patiently withstanding the barrage.
He had put up with much more from people with greater authority in the church, those who should have shown gratitude for the work he did for humanity and all believers.
Indeed, Raymond Hunthausen was a prophet. May he rest in peace and may others carry forward his legacy.
I had the great pleasure of having a long telephone conversation with Archbishop Hunthausen one evening when he was being persecuted by the Vatican and others.
I rang him to give my support and the promise of my prayers.
He warned me to be careful about what I said because his telephone line was being listened to.
At 97 he has gone to his reward.
His prophecy will be gloriously rewarded.
THE IRISH PROBLEM
One gets the impression that sexuality activity among priests is more common in some diocese more than others.
Armagh is in the First League.
As in Meath - and now they are getting Uncle Tom - not Uncle Ted :-)
Plenty of stories from Dublin, Cork, Cloyne, Kerry, and Galway too.
Are bishops involved?
I have heard credible stories about three currently serving Irish bishops.
The story is getting bigger and bigger.
Let readers keep us informed.
ARMAGH IS THE ONE TO WATCH THESE DAYS.