Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Last Living American Bishop Who Was At VII---And My Personal Hero

Current Helena Bishop George Leo Thomas has a private moment with Archbishop Hunthausen during the dedication of the Hunthausen Center of Peace and Justice at Carroll College.

Controversial former Seattle archbishop celebrates 50-year anniversary as bishop

Fifty years ago, Raymond Hunthausen, a popular Montana priest who was barely 41 and widely known to all his friends and colleagues as "Dutch," was ordained sixth bishop of Helena, Mont.
Less than six weeks later, Oct. 11, 1962, he went to Rome as the youngest U.S. bishop at the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
Now retired, Archbishop Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen of Seattle, 91, is the only living U.S. bishop who participated as a bishop in all four sessions of Vatican II.

To Catholics who lived through the early 1980s and the growing opposition of the U.S. bishops to nuclear deterrence as a policy with no end in sight, Hunthausen was one of the most prominent, forthright and vigorous opponents of that nuclear policy.
He was the only bishop in the country who intentionally withheld half his income tax in 1982 to protest the U.S. stockpiling of nuclear weapons and the then-growing U.S. reliance on the Trident-submarine-based mobile nuclear missile program, which included a Trident submarine port in Puget Sound, in his own backyard in the Seattle Archdiocese, where he became archbishop in 1975.
"Trident is the Auschwitz of Puget Sound," he said in 1981. The IRS garnished his wages to recover its lost 1982 income. (In my mind I can not separate Archbishop Romero from what happened to Dutch.  Both of these men were victims of Ronald Reagan's alliance with JPII.)

Anti-nuclear talks and activities by Hunthausen and fellow Bishop Leroy Matthiesen of Amarillo, Texas (where a Pantex plant produced many of the nation's nuclear weapons), were among key catalysts in the process leading to the bishops' 1983 peace pastoral, which condemned nuclear deterrence as a permanent state of international relations, saying it could be morally justified only as a temporary policy on the path to global nuclear disarmament. (This is a time period in which the USCCB was an organization to be proud of.  They were the 'nuns on the bus'.

Hunthausen led in many other post-Vatican-II changes in the church, making Seattle one of the most progressive dioceses in the nation.
His stands on nuclear deterrence and other issues also led to a sharp conservative Catholic backlash, however, that led to a Vatican investigation in 1983. (While there is truth in the conservative witch hunt, some of those conservatives also stood to make big bucks building Trident nuclear submarines.)

In that year, Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington, the Vatican's chief investigator, concluded that the Seattle archbishop had exercised weak doctrinal leadership in a number of areas.
These included archdiocesan accommodation to a homosexual Catholic organization that did not clearly accept Catholic teaching on the immorality of all homosexual activity, admission to the sacraments for some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who had not obtained church annulments of their first marriage, and admission of children to First Communion prior to first reception of the sacrament of penance (then a burning issue in church discipline around the world and still today a question of appropriate pastoral practice, though later clearly settled in church law).

Hunthausen's anti-nuclear stand was not his first or only salvo against then-standard views in the U.S. church or general field of public opinion.
In October 1980, he openly questioned the church's denial of priestly ordination to women, asking in a pastoral letter whether the church is drawing women "to the fullest possible degree" into "all forms of [church] service, especially in the uniquely ecclesial areas of word and sacrament."

In September 1983, he let Dignity, an unofficial Catholic organization of homosexuals, use St. James Cathedral in Seattle for a liturgical service.
It has never been clear what precipitated the Vatican's 1983 investigation of Hunthausen's leadership of the Seattle Archdiocese, apart from the fact that his views and activities provoked numerous complaints on many fronts from conservative Catholics in the archdiocese.

Whatever the case, in late 1983, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), asked Archbishop (later Cardinal) James A. Hickey of Washington to make an official Vatican visitation.
Hickey concluded, according to the subsequent Vatican report, that apart from exaggerated conservative Catholic criticisms of Hunthausen, there were "a number of other basic doctrinal problems" in the archdiocese. (This report, written by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, represents serious double dealing.  'Oh, those conservatives, they were exaggerating and yet we found these 'other' errors.' All these 'errors' were going on in Europe at the same time, but not a problem.  It was just a problem for the man who objected strongly to the Trident nuclear base in his particular archdiocese and ticked off President Reagan.)

Those problems -- widespread in U.S. Catholic dioceses in those years -- included not only Catholic teaching on issues of homosexuality and other questions of sexual morality, but also on sacramental issues such as use of general absolution and admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion and whether women should be eligible to be ordained as priests.
Questions on a number of those issues, then still arguably subject to open discussion in the church, were ruled out of the question in later Vatican declarations.

After Hickey's visitation, in 1985, the doctrinal congregation found Hunthausen's pastoral leadership wanting and appointed a Pittsburgh priest with long experience in Rome, Fr. Donald Wuerl, as his auxiliary bishop with special powers over liturgy and several other areas of jurisdiction. (A step which more or less bombed as Wuerl lasted 17 months.  Wuerl came in with one agenda and one understanding of his mission, while Dutch was given to believe something very different. In this case both were victims of Vatican double dealing and double messaging.)

Wuerl, now cardinal archbishop of Washington, told NCR on Wednesday that he and Hunthausen have maintained a long friendship despite conflicts they faced in the 1980s over the Vatican decision and said he had just talked with the retired archbishop shortly before.
Since his retirement in 1991, Hunthausen has lived in Helena, where he grew up.
"His spirits are great," even though "he has a hard time walking," Wuerl said.
"I've always had a high regard" for the former Seattle prelate "as a person of great integrity," he said.
Hunthausen, he added, always "took very seriously the support that bishops owe one another" and has always been part of a quiet team of prayer and mutual support within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Readers of this blog know I think the world of Archbishop Hunthausen.  My opinion is not based on a lot of personal contact with him, I can only remember two occasions, but I did have contact with a number of priests who truly loved his pastoral attitude towards them.  I will also be the first to admit his handling of abusive priests more or less fell in line with all other Catholic bishops.  The sexual abuse crisis is an achor that drowns almost all of them irrespective of progressive or conservative labels.  Until the Church is willing to face up to this fact of it's hierarchical exclusivity, and seminary formation, we will get no where.

Having said that, the Hunthausen conflict with the Vatican was essentially between two personalities, Archbishop Hunthausen and by proxy for JPII, Cardinal Ratzinger.  This same conflict is getting deeper and deeper and louder and louder with in the Church.  The following is an excerpt from a thesis on the conflict between Hunthausen and Ratzinger.  It is taken from the doctoral thesis of Peter Shilling of the University of Utrecht. It was written in 2003 and available online for readers to take in his analysis of this entire conflict.  It's well worth reading for a number of reasons.  It's like a free Kindle book with lots of insight into how Roman Catholicism actually works on the 'big boy' level.  More than that it's about how one vision of Church conflicts astronomically with another vision of Church.  Oh yea, and how that played out between Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Hunthausen---as well as the right wing political conservatism of JPII/Ronald Reagan and the social justice American Catholic Church. 

Here's the excerpt:  Keep in mind this is playing out even more and more and more.

The chief difference between the argumentation advanced by Rome and by Hunthausen may
well have been the discrepant ecclesiological visions at hand. What Rome saw as
Hunthausen’s main weakness, his flexible and tolerant leadership style (his lack of
“firmness”), was in Hunthausen’s view a necessary and valuable component of Church
leadership. Hunthausen presented himself as treating Church members as adults, making room
for participation and tolerating the unavoidable failures that accompany participation as an
acceptable cost. Hunthausen also showed a higher comfort level with intraecclesial diversity.
The Vatican position (expressed most concisely by Ratzinger), however, saw in this approach
of toleration a threat to the full realization of the Church’s own ideals. Toleration might make
Hunthausen popular in his own archdiocese, but it could also interfere with those same
people’s ability to face up to the difficult challenges that God has placed before them. In
simple terms, Hunthausen’s ecclesiology of forgiveness and charity clashed with the Roman
emphasis on the demands of the cross. Both are central and fully orthodox perspectives within
Christian theology: they are theologically inseparable but not always easily reconciled.


  1. "Trident is the Auschwitz of Puget Sound"

    That reminds me that the RCC denial of effective planning is similarly "the Auschwitz of marriages."

  2. Oops! I meant to say "effective FAMILY planning."

  3. Interesting post! Unfortunately the link to 'doctoral thesis of Peter Shilling' does not work. I'd be interested to read the thesis!

  4. I love that man!
    He's never been anything but kind and supportive of me personally- a gentle and inspiring pastor, passionate and smart. He didn't just attend Vatican II, he lived it- and lives it still, God bless him.
    I wonder if he'll be invited to the big celebration.....

    1. dgsmith, I think a lot of us love that man. He was utterly wonderful with a couple of priest friends of mine and with a whole host of other folks I know--and one time way back in the day, with moi.

  5. Thank you for an inspiring post about a wonderful ArchBishop who lived the gospel and carried his cross.

    God Bless

    1. You are welcome Chris. I also believe AB Hunthausen's tenure in Seattle, and the battle his preaching precipitated, is not over. History will see this conflict as the first salvo in the tussle over the underlying philosophical direction of Catholicism. Too many of the actors, like Wuerl and Ratzinger have attained great power, but the fact they lost to Dutch is a prophetic message about the future of Catholicism.

  6. A copy of Schilling's book is going for $1117.98 on Amazon. May have to save up a bit for that one... (the link to the paper itself is working now.