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The Hunthausen Scandal Revisited

July 16, 2015 Frontpage No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Gary Bullert is a political science professor and the author of The Hunthausen File.)

John McCoy, A Still and Quiet Conscience (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2015), 344 pp.

On June 15, 2015, Seattle’s St. James Cathedral hosted a presentation and book signing by John McCoy, former public affairs director for Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. (1) In this capacity, he was “the chief spokesman for the archbishop” (p. xiii). By publishing a worshipful biography of Hunthausen years after his retirement, McCoy has clearly reappropriated this role.
Since the book actually maligned successor bishops for abandoning Hunthausen’s vision of the Church, the apparent acquiescence of the Seattle Archdiocese in promoting the book is somewhat peculiar.
However, the pastor of St. James Cathedral is Fr. Michael Ryan, who served as Hunthausen’s primary and most militant advocate, consultant, speechwriter, and catalyst for several mass mobilizations of priests, nuns, bishops, and laity to condemn the Vatican investigation authorized by Pope John Paul II and conducted by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI).
Despite Ryan’s intimate collaboration, the book claimed that Hunthausen “gave no encouragement to letter writing and signature campaigns on his behalf” (p. 234). This statement manifested a pervasive pattern in the book. Witness Hunthausen’s incredulous remark: “The last thing I want is anything against the Holy Father. We are not drawing up sides” (p. 247).
In 1986, the National Federation of Priests Councils repudiated the Vatican intervention by anointing Hunthausen with its highest honor, President’s Award (p. 223). They later passed a resolution demanding the full restoration of Hunthausen’s powers.
Heavily reliant upon private notes compiled by Ryan with respect to the ecclesiastical politics of the investigation, McCoy beatified Hunthausen as a martyr of a modern Inquisition to the point of analogizing Archbishop James Hickey, who conducted the initial visitation, to “Pontius Pilate” (p. 187). His celebrity status was magnified by People magazine listing him as number seven among the top 25 most intriguing figures in 1986. Was he a prophetic voice who customized the birthing of a new, insurgent Church?
McCoy declared that, “under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we became a church that censured, excluded, and punished to protect what was defined as universal Catholic truth” (p. xiv). Along with the Humanae Vitae controversy, the Hunthausen rebellion was perhaps gravest internal crisis of the American Catholic Church in the last century. Pope John Paul II reportedly informed John Cardinal O’Connor that he feared a schism within the Church (p. 253).
In October 1976, Hunthausen attended a Call to Action conference in Detroit. Hoping that this gathering was a historical turning point for the American church, he adopted its agenda as the blueprint for his archdiocese (p. 141). Ann Savard, national spokesman for Call to Action, acknowledged in a radio interview that their proposed transformation of the Catholic Church would result in its being indistinguishable from the Episcopalian Church. (2)
While Hunthausen persistently stonewalled about doctrinal abuses in the archdiocese or claimed that they were trivial, Cardinal Ratzinger delineated several — including failure to accept the definitive teaching authority of the Magisterium, misunderstanding the sacred mission of the Church, lax policies on divorce, violation of sacramental rules, improper training of priests, politicizing the issue of women priests, and falsely portraying the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. (3) These abuses would hardly qualify as trivial.
What was the primary catalyst for the investigation? Religious News Service correctly maintained that “he[Hunthausen] has been a leader of unilateral disarmament and has urged tax resistance to protest the arms race, but it is thought to be his support for homosexual rights that aroused Vatican concern.” (4) In 1977, quickly conforming to Seattle’s dominant political culture, he endorsed Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman’s Gay Pride Week resolution (p. 160).
Also in 1977, Hunthausen launched his consistent sponsorship of the homosexual rights agenda through an “anti-discrimination” statement. (5) He argued that “many people have physiological or psychological sexual orientations which are not consonant with the majority and which are beyond their free choice.” Hunthausen neglected to distinguish those who were treatable who engaged in homosexual acts and those had “some kind of innate instinct or pathological condition.” All should affirm their sexual identity.
The book mentions the 1975 Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (p. 158) in which the second group’s “culpability should be judged with prudence.” Both Hunthausen and McCoy omitted the next sentence in the Declaration:
“But no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God.”
Hunthausen and McCoy also excluded the Declaration’s reference that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
In 1983, Hunthausen held a special mass at St. James Cathedral for the homosexual group, Dignity. Cardinal Ratzinger specifically cited this action as “ill-advised.” He directed Hunthausen to terminate sponsorship of Dignity masses. Hunthausen refused to implement this directive for three years — and then only after a protest in front of the chancery office.
He never followed the instruction to base the ministry to homosexuals on Church teaching. Initially, he contended that “I must admit that my knowledge of Dignity is limited.” (6) Since the archdiocesan newspaper published a three-part series in 1978, entitled “Homosexuals and the Church,” his disclaimer defies credulity.
Fr. Kirby Brown, a Dignity chaplain, contributed an article insisting that homosexual celibacy was unsound and same-sex marriage should be morally “equivalent to heterosexual marriage.” Norman DeNeal, president of Seattle’s Dignity chapter, reiterated that the homosexual act was not “inherently sinful” (p. 161). In the midst of the Dignity mass, Frank Scheuer, National Dignity president, declared that their policy consisted of celibacy or promiscuity being simply “a matter of individual conscience.” (7)
In 1985, Hunthausen maintained that “I did so [teach authentic doctrine] with special clarity, I think at the time the Dignity group held their national convention in our city.” (8) Later, at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting (November 13, 1988), he defending his sponsorship of the Dignity mass as “my own, conscientious, carefully studied pastoral judgment was made, a judgment by the way, which I shared very openly with the Holy See in a timely way.” (9)
Was he suggesting that the Vatican actually agreed or acquiesced in his decision? McCoy revealed that Hunthausen actually believed all along that homosexuality was simply “God’s gift to some people” (p. 159). Why shouldn’t they be allowed to consummate this blessing?
The book neglected to mention a well-publicized incident involving a priest, Jim Jorgenson, who openly announced that he was a homosexual and appeared on local television. He analogized this self-disclosure to the “resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Homosexuality was not a disorder but a divine grace. He resigned from the priesthood in order to devote himself fully to advancing the homosexual agenda.
Another priest, Fr. Bill Heric, wrote a letter to The Progress, stating, “I stand with Fr. Jim Jorgenson, Dignity, and many other Catholics who challenge the church’s official teaching on homosexuality given our experience of the beauty and grace of gay and lesbian love.” (10) Hunthausen subsequently appointed Heric to the homosexual ministry. He praised Jorgenson and offered to welcome him back into the priesthood — if Fr. Jim desired. (11)
McCoy identified Hunthausen as an authentic “Vatican II Catholic” incarnating the message of Gaudium et Spes. But what does this document articulate with regard to marriage and the family? Part II, Chapter I: Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family, contains the following representative passages:
1) “For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes….By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for procreation and education of children and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love ‘are no longer two but one in flesh’” (Matt. 19:66), 2) “The God Himself Who said ‘it is not good for man to be alone’” (Gen. 2:18) and “Who made man from the beginning male and female” (Matt. 19:4).
McCoy’s exegesis extrapolated as follows: “the document [Gaudium et Spes] redefines the purpose of marriage as a loving relationship open to the possibility of procreation” (p. 88). Not even one hint of anointing homosexual relationships is detectible in the document.

Lobbying For Women Priests

When Cardinal Ratzinger criticized politicizing the issue of women priests, Hunthausen replied that “the Archdiocese of Seattle has made and continues to make the commitment to share the teachings of the church regarding the role of women in the church.” (12)
McCoy disclosed approvingly that Hunthausen deployed his role as bishop to lobby for both women priests and married priests. Hunthausen confessed, “I cannot believe in a God who has instituted a priesthood that is this magnificent and then denied it to half of the human race” (p. 154).
While the Pope ruled that women’s ordination was a closed issue, Hunthausen initiated “listening sessions” on the Women’s Pastoral orchestrated to depict popular support for the idea. This tactic backfired due to persistent opposition by the laity and Hunthausen closed the “listening sessions” to the public.
Priests, nuns, and diocesan staff overwhelmingly advocated ordaining women priests. This dissent wasn’t the effect of a “climate of permissiveness” in the archdiocese but the surrogate channel for Hunthausen’s own convictions. In a similar fashion, he sent Fr. Mike Ryan and Fr. Joe Kramis to the National Priests Conference in order to promote married priests (p. 124). His policy agenda entailed inducing a priest shortage crisis as a pretext for ordaining women priests and married priests.
The book disclosed a political and doctrinal asymmetry on the abortion issue and nuclear strategic doctrine. Hunthausen chastised other bishops who deny pro-abortion politicians, like Nancy Pelosi, Communion. In 1980, Fr. Peter Chirico, official archdiocesan theologian, drafted a document, “The Morality of Being a Single Issue Person,” upon Hunthausen’s request. Chirico insisted that emphasis on abortion “‘is to erect an idol’ replacing God with a cause” (p. 151).
Meanwhile, Hunthausen held that “how a Catholic voted or whether a woman had an abortion was a matter of personal conscience” (p. 152). While he claimed to prioritize the “informed conscience,” the Vatican Instruction on Theological Dissent declared: “argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one’s own conscience cannot legitimate dissent.”
By contrast, Hunthausen’s espousal of pacifism and unilateral nuclear disarmament functioned as a litmus test of what it meant to be a Christian. Pacifism was selectively applicable to the United States, not the Soviet Union and its allies — like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Support for nuclear deterrence was condemned as “profoundly anti-Christian” (p. 39).
Ported in Bangor, Wash., labeled “the Auschwitz of Puget Sound” by Hunthausen, the Trident nuclear submarine was depicted as first-strike weapon system. A nuclear doomsday was imminent (p. 11). While specifically condemning civil disobedience as a means to protest abortion, Hunthausen preached civil disobedience in behalf of “Live Without Trident.”
He sent a letter out to all of the diocesan priests instructing them to address the issue from the pulpit (p. 13). Alleging that the United States was preparing for nuclear war, Hunthausen deemed this to be “the global crucifixion of Jesus” (p. 28). Defenders of deterrence were possessed by the satanic worship of “nuclear idols” and must be exorcised. (13)
While the Soviet Union implemented a protracted policy designed to acquire strategic superiority, Trident actually augmented the United States’ second-strike capability by expanding the range of our nuclear submarines helping to ensure their retaliatory capability. Hunthausen also opposed President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative which was non-nuclear, intended to reduce civilian casualties, and deter war by undermining the viability of a successful first-strike.
Indeed, Reagan’s policy convinced the Soviets that their attempt at strategic superiority was futile — they couldn’t compete with the United States technologically or economically. This helped to facilitate the Soviet collapse, ending the Cold War, and diminishing dramatically the threat of a nuclear exchange. In 1982, Pope John II’s World Day of Peace Message reaffirmed that the pacifists’ “deceptive hopes” for permanent peace “lead straight to the false peace of totalitarian regimes.”
As a titillating story-line for the radical left, McCoy advanced a conspiracy theory involving the Pope and the Reagan administration seeking to punish Archbishop Hunthausen. The Vatican explicitly denied that this was a catalyst for the investigation. This issue centered upon what was tantamount to the comprehensive doctrinal subversion of the Catholic Church.

Jason Berry’s Account

Hunthausen was portrayed as responsible, caring, progressive administrator establishing the policy “gold standard” for addressing the sexual abuse scandal (p. 287). In November 1914, Hunthausen’s former Diocese of Helena declared bankruptcy, drowning in $15 million of pending lawsuits. As of 2003, 47 priests in the Seattle Archdiocese were named for sexual abuse. McCoy did not fully disclose Jason Berry’s account in Lead Us Not Into Temptation (1992) of the Fr. McGreal case.
For years, McGreal was shuffled from parish to parish in the Seattle Archdiocese. Even after his long history of pedophilia was revealed to Hunthausen, he was kept in residence at St. Theresa Parish in Federal Way with continued access to children.
Adele Doran wrote a letter to Hunthausen requesting that he remove McGreal in order to prevent him from victimizing any more children. He responded by threatening to sue Adele if she publicly disclosed the information.
Seven months later, with McGreal still in residence, a KING-TV special, Good Company, blew the whistle on the case and Fr. Joe Kramis announced to his parish that McGreal was a pedophile.
Adele Doran and Maryalyce Ebert (whose older brother was one of the victims) met with Hunthausen. No apology was forthcoming. Instead of a letter to be read by diocesan priests expressing remorse for priests’ sexual abuse, Hunthausen replied with “I have nothing to apologize for and will not write such a letter.” (14) The McGreal case alone cost the archdiocese $8 million. Jason Berry identified the real hero of the McGreal case to be Adele Doran, not Raymond Hunthausen.
The book bypassed completely the Fr. Patrick O’Donnell case that was aired in the local television. O’Donnell was transferred to Seattle by Hunthausen’s longtime mentor, Spokane Bishop Bernard Topel.
Testifying in court in 2009, Hunthausen asserted that Topel never told him about O’Donnell’s sordid background. He couldn’t explain why he allowed O’Donnell to become a priest without the required documentation. Not surprisingly, Fr. Michael Ryan offered the rationalization that Hunthausen’s style was “more pastoral and less by-the-book.” (15)
Sr. Fran Ferder, who was head of the TARA Center of Archdiocesan Ministerial and Counseling Services, was employed in the McGreal case. While espousing a full-throated denunciation of Church doctrine on women in the priesthood, homosexual celibacy, and depicting reparative therapy for homosexuals as “anti-Christian,” she ridiculed Cardinal Ratzinger as “an embarrassment to the Biblical Commission” who was “woefully ignorant of recent findings of human sexual development.” Despite her public prominence, she was airbrushed entirely out of the book.

Celebrating Dissent

Archbishop Hunthausen and his apostles pursued the contradictory strategy of proclaiming that he was totally orthodox and loyal to the Holy Father while heralding him as an enlightened visionary who was liberating the Church from outmoded doctrines and institutions.
For example, Hunthausen warned that mean-spirited critics were “making certain allegations which create the impression that the Archdiocese of Seattle is disloyal to, or out of touch with, the teaching of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and the universal church. As Archbishop of Seattle, I categorically deny these allegations.” (16)
Bishop Nicholas Walsh, who served as an auxiliary bishop of the Seattle Archdiocese from 1976 to 1983, explained to other bishops that “I think he’s [Hunthausen] the best friend of the Holy See. He never allows anything to be said against the Holy Father or the Holy See.” (17)
Finally, Hunthausen announced: “As archbishop, it is of course, my task and duty to do all I can to see to it that our people have no question as to what is the authentic doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. This is a solemn duty that I accept with the upmost seriousness.” (18)
McCoy acknowledged that “The Wanderer would play a significant role in undermining Hunthausen’s credibility and spurring a Vatican investigation” (p. 16). The Wanderer was vindicated when apostolic pro-nuncio, Pio Laghi, told Hunthausen bluntly: “You know, of course, that you have no credibility in Rome” (p. 224).
Did a demonstrable pattern of duplicity undermine his credibility? McCoy’s biography didn’t absolve Hunthausen of dissent but celebrated it. Archbishop Hunthausen was neither still nor quiet.


1) In 1992, I published The Hunthausen File, provided extensive documentation confirming Cardinal Ratzinger’s allegations. McCoy completely ignored this evidence in his book. Specific page numbers from McCoy’s book are placed in parentheses.
2) The Hunthausen File, p. 39.
3) “Vatican Releases Cardinal Ratzinger Letter,” The Progress (May 28, 1987); 5.
4) The Wanderer (May 17, 1984): 1.
5) “Seattle’s Archbishop Supports Gay Rights,” Seattle Gay News (August 1977): 5. On this issue, see Robert R. Reilly’s excellent, Making Gay Okay (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), pp. 117-142.
6) The Progress (September 1, 1983): 6.
7) The Hunthausen File, p. 69.
8) “Hunthausen Interview,” The Progress (December 5, 1985): 5.
9) Hunthausen, “Statement to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops,” Seattle P.I. (November 13, 1986): A4.
10) The Progress (July 21, 1988): 6.
11) The Spearhead (July 24, 1988): 2.
12) The Progress (December 22, 1988): 13.
13) The Hunthausen File, p. 105.
14) E. Penhole and M. Rothschild, “Pedophile Priest Still Welcome, His Pastor Says,” Seattle P.I. (May 27, 1988). See Peter Miller, “Compassion, Secrecy and Scandal in the Archdiocese of Seattle,” Seattle Catholic (April 11, 2002).
15) “Notorious Priest Admits Additional Abuse,” Catholic World News (May 14, 2009).
16) Archbishop Hunthausen Press Release (June 15, 1990).
17) The Progress (November 13, 1986): 4.
18) “Hunthausen Interview,” The Progress (December 5, 1985): 4.

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