Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen turned 95 in August, and he was hailed by writers for the National Catholic Reporter and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a forerunner of the activist, pastoral, and socially-conscious style of church leadership that has been championed by Pope Francis. Not least among Hunthausen’s qualities that are similar to the pontiff was his readiness to offer words of welcome to LGBT people.
Hunthausen retired as archbishop of Seattle in 199o, leaving a long legacy of courageously speaking out on issues which sparked controversy such as nuclear weapons, LGBT equality, communion for the divorced/remarried, general absolution, and lay decision-making. In a 2015 article for the National Catholic Reporter, Kenneth Briggs summarized the proud history of stands that Hunthausen took, which eventually earned him the ire of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II:
“Thirty years ago, Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen was figuratively clapped in irons and thrown into the dungeon by now pope emeritus Josef Ratzinger, with the explicit approval of John Paul II. Not for committing crimes of theft or child abuse, which went unpunished then and mostly now, but for demonstrating values and practices that Pope Francis appears to approve in whole or in part.
“In his 1985 indictment of the Seattle archbishop, Ratzinger summed up accusations gathered in his investigation whose point man in the U.S. was Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C. Among the charges: that Hunthausen had allowed divorced Catholics without annulments to take communion; gave lay people unauthorized influence in shaping programs as “a kind of voting process on doctrinal or moral teachings”; permitted intercommunion at weddings and funerals, calling it “clearly abusive”; and supported a homosexual group to meet in the cathedral, which risked ignoring the Magisterium’s judgment that same-sex acts were “an intrinsic moral evil, intrinsically distorted and self-indulgent.” In addition to welcoming the gay group to the cathedral, he’d stood up for homosexual dignity in the Seattle Gay News in 1977.
“He was also chastised for giving the green light to general absolution.
“Not mentioned but clearly decisive in this offensive was the archbishop’s staunch protest against nuclear arms in general and the Trident submarine base near Seattle. He had joined anti-Trident demonstrations and refused to pay half of his federal income tax.”
America magazine ran a review of a biography of Hunthausen last year where they spelled out the upshot of the Vatican’s investigation of Hunthausen:
“The Vatican’s reaction was to appoint an auxiliary bishop with special faculties, Donald Wuerl. Hunthausen sought the advice of the Rev. James Coriden, the best canon lawyer in the United States, who told him he did not know what to advise because the Vatican seemed to be making up the rules as it went along. Bishop Wuerl gained final authority over six areas: liturgy, marriage, clergy and seminarians, ex-priests and any issues related to health care and homosexuals. In effect, the archbishop was symbolically stripped of office.”
Last month’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer article provided some important details on some of Hunthausen’s LGBT involvement:
“Hunthausen spoke for the human rights of gays and lesbians, in the pews and in society. Using an article in the Catholic Northwest Progress, he decried ‘the terrible impact that discriminatory patterns in society have upon individuals and the total community.’
“Hunthausen let the LGBT Catholic group Dignity close its annual conference, being held in Seattle, with a mass in his cathedral. It was one of the ‘sins’ that brought Cardinal Hickey of Washington, D.C., out here on a Vatican-ordered investigation. The investigation came under the auspices of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, who would become Benedict XVI.
“The long ago Dignity mass came to mind after the Orlando massacre. An anti-violence march wound from St. Mark’s Cathedral to St. James, with Mayor Ed Murray and young LGBT activists taking the pulpit of St. James for readings. The cathedral’s pastor, the Very Rev. Michael Ryan, served as chancellor of the Seattle Archdiocese under Hunthausen.”
One other detail about the Dignity mass incident was that Hunthausen had planned on welcoming the conference members to the Cathedral personally. However, he had been summoned to appear in Rome at the same time that the Dignity group was meeting. Undaunted, Hunthausen provided an audio tape recording of his welcome which was played at the beginning of the mass.
Briggs was explicit in comparing Hunthausen to Francis:
“His [Hunthausen’s] stands sound a great deal like the kind that harmonize with the church Pope Francis inspires, one which forgives, treats those who fall outside strict doctrinal with tolerance and bestows mercy on those who might be considered unworthy under other regimes. Openness to homosexuals, broader welcome to communion, a greater, equal role for lay people, a witness to faith determined by compassion and attention to suffering rather than law and order: the overlap between Francis and Raymond would appear to be astounding.”
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer article drew similar parallels:
“The advent of Pope Francis has brought back the virtues for which Hunthausen was beloved by Western Washington Catholics, so much so that the Vatican backed off from its effort at public humiliation and stripping the archbishop of his powers.
“As an example, Pope Francis has named a panel to explore letting women serve in the role of Catholic deacons, as they did in the early church. Under Hunthausen, the Archdiocese of Seattle halted ordaining new deacons until the role of women in the diaconate was addressed.
“Hunthausen was a pastor in his diocese, living simply and reaching out — always reaching out.”
When Hunthausen retired, he returned to his hometown of Helena, Montana, where he now lives in a retirement home with his brother Jack, also a priest, according to a biographical article in the Helena Independent Record. The article mentioned that he now needs 24 -hour physical care, but that his mind is still as sharp as ever. This sharpness is evident in a quote from Hunthausen about Pope Francis that America magazine reported last year:
“Francis is doing the things I tried to do!”
Archbishop Hunthausen, on many levels and for many issues, has been a prophet. It is more than pleasing to note that he sees his legacy finally being carried out at the highest levels of our church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry