Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen, 1921-2018

  • Written by Terry McGuire and Greg Magnoni
  • Published in NW Stories
Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen. Photo: M. Laughlin Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen. Photo: M. Laughlin

A man of God, peace and the people

Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen, the last American bishop who attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, died July 22, 2018, in Helena, Montana, surrounded by members of his family. He was 96.

Soft-spoken, personable and known for his strong commitment to issues of peace and justice, Archbishop Hunthausen was also controversial among some Catholics as leader of the Archdiocese of Seattle from 1975 to his retirement in 1991.

The Montana native always said Vatican II was his “on-the-job training” for being a bishop, and he began his ministry as archbishop by holding a series of regional listening sessions to assess the needs of the local church.

“This, I felt, is how church needs to function,” Archbishop Hunthausen said, reflecting on the council in a 1996 interview with The Catholic Northwest Progress. “Church needs to draw on the talents and the insights and the spirit of all its people.”

His dedication to Vatican II’s principles of shared responsibility and inclusiveness brought the Archdiocese of Seattle into a new era marked by bold strides in ecumenism and multiculturalism.

Known for his “common touch,” Archbishop Hunthausen had little use for the titles or trappings of office, always preferring to walk among the people as one of them, a leader who was very much in touch with his people.

Being with the people was the greatest joy of his priestly ministry, he said in the 1996 Progress interview. “They are — after God — the cause of my life and my priesthood,” the archbishop said. “Together we’ve grown to love the Lord, I hope, a little more deeply. And we have grown to love one another in the Lord.”

Advocate for the marginalized

Archbishop Hunthausen’s leadership emphasized quality pastoral care for the people of the archdiocese, with particular emphasis on training and equipping laypeople for ministry.

Revered as an outspoken advocate for the poor and the marginalized, Archbishop Hunthausen was also a great advocate for women and their role in church and society, as well as for women religious. He encouraged women to use their gifts and talents in the church, and attended the sometimes stormy listening sessions held by the archdiocese’s Women’s Commission. In 1980, he wrote what is believed to be the first pastoral letter by an American bishop identifying steps the church should take to value the gifts of women equally with those of men.

He implemented the RENEW program in the archdiocese, part of a national effort to promote spiritual renewal at the parish level. He reached out to refugees from Southeast Asia and Central America, established ministries for gays and lesbians and for people with AIDS, and launched the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and the Archdiocesan Housing Authority (now Catholic Housing Services) to serve the homeless and disenfranchised.

Archbishop Hunthausen actively pursued ecumenical and interfaith efforts, including covenants with other Christian denominations and Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

Archbishop Emeritus HunthausenArchbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, known for his collaborative leadership, meets informally with a group of men and women. Photo: Courtesy Archives of the Archdiocese of Seattle

Under his direction in 1988, the Archdiocese of Seattle became one of the first dioceses in the nation to implement a policy to address child sexual abuse by priests and church employees.

The archbishop also spoke out on life issues. In 1984, he told University of Washington Law School graduates that the destruction of life in the womb was the “glaring exception” in practice to the principle that the law should favor the weak and the helpless. The same year, he decried the loss of low-income housing units, telling the Seattle City Council that all of society shared responsibility for addressing poverty and homelessness.

“Archbishop Hunthausen was a humble and loving servant of the Lord, and a man of peace,” Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said when he learned of the archbishop’s passing. “As his successors, Archbishops Murphy, Brunett, and I were the beneficiaries of his pastoral leadership and his development of lay leadership, many programs of outreach to the poor, and other pastoral programs that have made this such a vibrant archdiocese,” the archbishop said.

“Above all, he loved the Lord, and that stood out in every conversation I had with this loving and compassionate servant of God. May he rest in peace.”

Controversy brings Vatican visitation

But there was criticism of Archbishop Hunthausen’s ministry from some quarters. It resulted in the Vatican apostolic visitation beginning in 1983 that reviewed his ministry, including some of his pastoral practices and public positions.

Archbishop Emeritus Hunthausen
Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen. Photo: Courtesy Archives of the Archdiocese of Seattle

In concluding the visitation in 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, praised Archbishop Hunthausen’s efforts for peace and justice and his involvement of the laity in the church.

But he also listed several concerns in areas that included aspects of ministry to homosexuals, the use of laicized priests in the archdiocese, marriage for divorced Catholics without an annulment, seminarian training, the use of contraceptive sterilization in Catholic hospitals and practices related to the liturgy. The archbishop’s approach to the role of women in the church and doctrinal and moral teachings were also noted as concerns.

The following year, the Vatican appointed Father Donald Wuerl as auxiliary bishop, giving him authority over several of these areas. The arrangement sparked contention among priests and religious in the archdiocese and was short-lived. In May 1987, the archbishop’s powers were fully restored and Bishop Wuerl (now a cardinal and archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.) was appointed to lead the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Archbishop Hunthausen welcomed the appointment of Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy as his coadjutor in May 1987. Though difficult, the visitation served to highlight Archbishop Hunthausen’s unfailing trust in God, his prayerfulness, and his unswerving dedication to the church. In addition, it laid the groundwork to address some pastoral challenges in the archdiocese.

Upon his retirement in 1991, Archbishop Hunthausen told The Progress that he had a hard time understanding the need for the visitation, but he said he carried no ill will.

“When it descended upon us, with all its force, I was frustrated, I was hurt, but I nonetheless felt we needed to respond to it in the best way we could, and as a people we did,” he said. “I wondered sometimes if I had been the one who created these problems for the local church. … That was hard.”

The path to serving God’s people

Born Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen on August 21, 1921, in Anaconda, Montana, he was the oldest of seven children. His father, Anthony, was a mail carrier and later a salesman and a grocer; his mother, Edna, was from a family that operated a brewery.

A good student and also athletically gifted, he played football, basketball and baseball in school, quarterbacking his high school team to the state Class B championship in 1937. He attended Carroll College on an academic scholarship, leading the football team to the Montana Collegiate Conference title, and graduated in 1943 with a degree in chemistry.

While at Carroll, he took flying lessons and had ambitions of becoming a military pilot. He said in his 1996 interview with The Progress that he also was attracted to married life and a family. But his spiritual advisor, Father Bernard Topel, later bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, encouraged him to consider the priesthood.

“I could never really say, ‘It’s clear to me that God does not want me to be a priest,’” Archbishop Hunthausen recalled. “All the indications were that this is where I was supposed to go.”

He entered St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, near Seattle, after his college graduation, and was ordained June 1, 1946, in Anaconda. Assigned to Carroll College, he taught chemistry and coached football, basketball, baseball, track and golf. His teams won several titles, and in 1966 he was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame, the only member of the American hierarchy ever so honored.

During the summers, he pursued graduate studies in chemistry at the University of Notre Dame, Fordham University, The Catholic University of America and St. Louis University, earning a master’s degree from Notre Dame.

Archbishop Emeritus HunthausenThe archbishop confirms an inmate at the Washington State Department of Corrections facility in Monroe in March 1991. Photo: Courtesy Archives of the Archdiocese of Seattle

He later served as Carroll College’s athletic director and was appointed college president in 1957. He served until the summer of 1962, when Pope John XXIII appointed him bishop of Helena, three months before the start of the Second Vatican Council. He was consecrated at St. Helena Cathedral on August 30, 1962.

Thirteen years later, he was appointed the sixth bishop and second archbishop of Seattle. He noted in his homily at his Mass of installation that he was praying for unity so that the “polarization in today’s church and the discrimination practiced by Christians and others against each other” could be put aside “so that the entire human family will see that we are one body with the Lord.”

A voice for peace

Although soft-spoken, Archbishop Hunthausen was widely known for his outspoken advocacy for peace and opposition to nuclear weapons. He took part in protests and led retreats, publicly expressing his opposition to the presence of nuclear weapons at the Navy’s Trident submarine base on Puget Sound.

He set the tone in 1976, his second year as archbishop, when he wrote to his priests that fighting abortion and crime also meant fighting the “policy of violence” represented by the “totally indefensible” first-strike use of nuclear weapons.

Then, in a 1981 speech at Tacoma’s Pacific Lutheran University, he called the Trident base the “Auschwitz of Puget Sound” for its ability to deliver “the destructive equivalent of 2,040 Hiroshima bombs” from one submarine.

The next January, in a pastoral letter to the people of the archdiocese, the archbishop announced he was withholding 50 percent of his personal federal income taxes in protest. While he loved his country, the archbishop wrote, he could not in conscience “support or acquiesce in a nuclear arms buildup which I consider a grave moral evil.”

The government responded by garnishing part of his wages.

His peace efforts drew criticism, but also praise. In 1984, he was honored by the Austria-based Bruno Kreisky Foundation for Service of Human Rights; in 1987, he received the Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Paul Beeson Award, given to a person “who contributed substantially to the cause of peace and the prevention of nuclear war.”

Strong family connections

Despite his enormous responsibilities, the archbishop always maintained a warm and close relationship with his family. Among his siblings and his beloved nieces and nephews and his great-nieces and great-nephews, he was affectionately known as “Dutch,” and his happiest times were those he shared with them at family gatherings. A natural athlete and lover of the outdoors, the archbishop took great delight in skiing, golfing, hiking, fishing and relaxing with family and friends at his humble mountain cabin at Moose Lake.

Shortly after his retirement, he chose to spend more and more time with his family in Montana, but even so, he continued to help out in parishes and was much sought-after as a retreat director and confessor.

For the last several years of his life, he lived alongside his brother, Father Jack Hunthausen, in a Helena nursing facility, where they celebrated Mass daily and welcomed a steady stream of visitors. Keenly interested in the church and its mission to the last, he took particular joy in the election in 2013 of Pope Francis, whose vision and priorities in so many ways echoed his own.

The archbishop was preceded in death by his parents; his brother Art Hunthausen; and his sister Marie Walsh. He was also preceded in death by his sisters-in-law Donna Kane Hunthausen and Harriett Hunthausen; his brothers-in-law Pat Walsh and John Stergar; his nephews Pat Walsh, Ed Walsh, Jack Walsh and Ray G. Hunthausen; and his great-nephews Patrick Walsh Kelly, Robert Miller, Joseph Hunthausen and Walt Hunthausen. He is survived by his brothers Tony and Father Jack, both of Helena; his sisters Sister Edna, of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and Jean Stergar, of Anaconda; and his 34 nieces and nephews, 101 great-nieces and -nephews, and 64 great-great-nieces and -nephews.

Click the image below to view a timeline of Archbishop Hunthausen's life.

Make a memorial gift

Contributions in honor of Archbishop Hunthausen may be made to the Hunthausen Fund at St. James Cathedral in Seattle and the Archbishop Hunthausen Fund at Good Samaritan Ministries in Helena, Montana.

Northwest Catholic - September 2018