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Archbishop Hunthausen, 1962

Then Bishop Raymond Hunthausen is featured in the middle of this 1962 photograph. On his left is Monsignor Anthony Brown; at right, Monsignor J.J. O'Connor.

Editor's note: portions of this appreciation were originally published by seattlepi.com.

Archbishop Raymond “Dutch” Hunthausen, who died Sunday, went to Rome in 1962 as the newly minted, 41-year-old Roman Catholic Bishop of Helena, Montana. The Second Vatican Council was a life-shaping experience, in a life very well lived.

The Archbishop of Seattle, as he was from 1975 to 1991, loved to talk about pack trips into the Chinese Wall of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. He came from a big family, and as nieces and nephews came of age he delighted in passing down the skills of fly-fishing and head-clearing experience of having the sound of a river for company.

But Hunthausen was blessed with a commanding inner life. Prayer brought him inner peace, but conscience made him take controversial public stands, and plunked him into a kayak to protest a base for Trident nuclear submarines in Washington’s inland waters.

He was a person who could not be dissuaded, disturbed or intimidated, even when the Vatican investigated his ministry and sought to strip him of his pastoral authority. Hunthausen would make a lifelong friend of the bishop sent to take away his authority, but he steadfastly refused to yield that authority – and was supported by a flock that did not act like sheep.

Hunthausen exemplified the truism that power often is best exercised, not by those who relentlessly seek it, but by those who are sought and chosen for tasks to which they rise.

Archbishop Hunthausen will be buried out of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, but in life he loved Helena.

The early 1960s were an era of "aggoiornamento" or "bringing up to date" of the Catholic Church. It was "on-the-job training" for a young Helena bishop just named by Pope John XXIII.

Hunthausen drew the wrath of the Reagan Administration, and the Vatican, as Archbishop of Seattle between 1975 and 1991.

He was viewed in Washington, D.C. and Rome as a radical, an impression contradicted by the quiet, low-key bishop seen by the faithful in Western Washington. But, as noted by Fr. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, in a National Catholic Reporter appreciation, "at the heart of Raymond Hunthausen was a steely conscience formed in the crucible of prayer."

The dictates of conscience were famously displayed in a 1981 speech at Pacific Lutheran University, in which Hunthausen declared: “Our security as people of faith lies not in demonic weapons, which threaten all life on Earth. Our security is in a loving, caring God. We must dismantle our weapons of terror and place our reliance on God."

Hunthausen paddled a kayak in protest at arrival of the Trident nuclear submarine in Puget Sound. He refused to pay the portion of his taxes going to the military, and had his modest bishop's salary garnished by the Pentagon.

Still, while sometimes disagreeing with him, the faithful loved Hunthausen, and so did many outside the Catholic faith.

"One can only wish that every community in our country had an Archbishop Hunthausen: He was an ecumenist before it was popular," former King County Executive Ron Sims, a Baptist who often attends Sunday mass at St. James said.

"Social justice, environmentalism, services for the poor, the rights of immigrants and seeking peace -- not war -- are his legacy."

Tom Campion, a Catholic layman and co-founder of Zumiez, reflected: "Hunthausen's faith kept many of us centered while the U.S. and the world around us changed dramatically and fast."

As archbishop, Hunthausen eschewed the trappings of authority. He lived not in the archbishop's mansion on First Hill, but at what was then St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary in Kenmore.

The Apostolic Nuncio's office in Washington, D.C., called one Saturday. They were told Hunthausen was not available. Where was he? The archbishop had ridden off across a field in the seminary's giant lawn mower, and "we don't know where he went."

As bishop in Helena, Hunthausen used horseback rides deep into Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness Area as clergy retreats.

In Seattle, the church showed unprecedented openness. "Archbishop Hunthausen showed us all what true faith is like — trusting in God while opening ourselves to other people, even people who are different from us," said Rev. Sandy Brown, senior minister at Edmonds United Methodist Church.

"He crossed lines like Catholic/Protestant, straight/gay, rich/poor. He reached out to Protestant leaders and helped us create 'one true church' in the Greater Seattle area."

Hunthausen crossed too many lines, in the view of the Vatican. He was investigated by Washington, D.C., Archbishop James Hickey, who sent a report to Rome that Hunthausen was not permitted to see.

He was made an example. In the icy language of the Vatican, Hunthausen had exercised "weak doctrinal leadership," e.g. allowing children to receive first communion without first going to confession, involving former priests in parish work, and letting a group of LGBT Catholics to hold mass at St. James Cathedral at the close of a conference.

An orthodox Rome-trained bishop, Donald Wuerl, was parachuted into Seattle, and Hunthausen was stripped of his authority.

He would not go quietly. Hunthausen made public the fact that the Vatican was investigating him. He delivered a defense of his actions to the National Council of Catholic Bishops. And his flock and clergy showed that they were not sheep.

"Our bishop has been evaluated improperly, inadequately and unjustly," said a clergy statement. The priests and nuns defended Hunthausen as "a faithful teacher and orthodox teacher" who was "compassionate, appropriately firm, and loving shepherd after the model of the Good Shepherd."

In Fr. Ryan's words, "The things he was ostensibly hung out to dry for were the very things many pastoral-minded, Vatican II-inspired bishops were known to do. They escaped the long arm of Rome while Hunthausen didn't."

Rome as made to listen, however. Hunthausen's powers were restored. Wuerl was withdrawn, and became Bishop of Pittsburgh. (He is now cardinal-archbishop of Washington, D.C.) A progressive assisting bishop, Thomas Murphy, was brought to Seattle from Great Falls.

Hunthausen retired in 1991 and went back to Montana, five years ahead of the mandatory retirement age for diocesan bishops.

He enjoyed the Montana outdoors and a big family. The archbishop would come back periodically, to be honored by the Washington Association of Churches or be present for the unveiling of a statue of Blessed (now Saint) John XXIII at St. James.

It is seemingly fitting that Hunthausen, named by John XXIII, lived to see another pastoral pope assume the Throne of Peter.

"Though he failed in some ways — failed to see the depth and importance of the abuse crisis — still he was a pastor, a Francis, if you will before Francis," said Fr. John Whitney, S.RJ., pastor of St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill.

Pope Francis recently gave a big promotion to a prelate associated with Hunthausen. He tapped Bishop George Thomas of Helena, a former vicar-general under Hunthausen in Seattle, as the new Bishop of Las Vegas. Las Vegas is the second most populous diocese (after Los Angeles) in the West.

Hunthausen was greeted at the John XXIII dedication by a packed cathedral which gave him a standing ovation. He was not greeted by the orthodox bishops who succeeded Murphy. They have allowed ecumenical cooperation to wither, largely in reaction to Protestant acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Funeral arrangements for Archbishop Hunthausen are pending. He has wished to be buried out of St. James Cathedral. Expect a house packed with God's people.

SeattlePI.com blogger/columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at joelconnelly@seattlepi.com

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