Embattled Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen accepted his new coadjutor with grace and good humor Wednesday and pledged to work with the Vatican to assuage concerns about the orthodoxy of his ministry.
“My overall reaction and response is positive,” he said after the church formally announced the full restoration of his powers and the appointment of a coadjutor--an assistant with the right of succession. “The result is a good one and I have no trouble accepting it.”
Many of his supporters, however, expressed dismay that a coadjutor had been appointed for the 300,000-member Seattle archdiocese, which under the liberal Hunthausen has been at odds with the Vatican on such issues as divorce, birth control, general absolutions of sin and homosexuality.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said John LaRussa, deacon at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Seattle. “I wanted his full powers restored and an indication that anything that was wrong (in the archdiocesan administration or doctrine) was corrected long ago.
“It looks like they are going to continue to watch us,” LaRussa added, “and we don’t need to be watched.”
Hunthausen critics also believe that the coadjutor will be in a position to watch over the controversial archbishop. “The Vatican has taken the logical next step,” said Erven Parks, editor of the conservative Catholic Truth newspaper in Kelso, Wash. “If he continues to act as he has--if there continues to be a schism in the church--they have a successor already there and it is just a matter of removal.”
Nonetheless, the Vatican action Wednesday, including the reassignment of an auxiliary bishop placed over Hunthausen last year to control five key pastoral areas, is expected to ease tensions between the Holy See and the liberal elements of the American church.
This was seen by many as particularly significant because of the Pope’s 10-day visit to the United States planned for this September.
In Good Spirits
Hunthausen, who appeared in good spirits, said at a press conference here that he was unaware that the Pope’s impending visit played any role in the decision.
However, he did say he is eager to put his differences with the Vatican behind him, even though he said he has not altered his personal views on any controversial matter and still is not certain why he alone was disciplined among all of the so-called liberal American archbishops.
“Essentially I am the same person” as before the controversy, he said. “But I am willing to address . . . those concerns as expressed in the Ratzinger letter.”
That letter, from Cardinal Joseph A. Ratzinger, chief of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the product of an investigation of Hunthausen and his archdiocese by Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic pro-nuncio to the United States.
Letters Prompted Investigation
The investigation apparently was prompted by a letter-writing campaign organized among conservative lay people in Hunthausen’s archdiocese who were unhappy with him taking part in demonstrations against nuclear weapons and allowing a homosexual group to use St. James Cathedral for a Mass.
Hunthausen said Wednesday that he will not forsake either cause. “I assure you, we will continue to be in dialogue with that group,” he said when asked about Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics.
The Ratzinger letter was the basis for the assignment to Seattle last October of Auxiliary Bishop Donald Wuerl, a highly unusual move that rallied large numbers of American Catholics to Hunthausen’s defense. Hunthausen called the division of authority with Wuerl “unworkable” when he addressed a closed-door meeting of U.S. bishops last November. His colleagues expressed sympathy, but said they could not interfere.
‘Must Be Addressed’
“There are a certain number of issues (that Ratzinger raised) that already have been addressed; we can document that,” Hunthausen said Wednesday. “There are others that still must be addressed and we will in good faith try to do that.”
Hunthausen was particularly pleased with the new arrangement because, he explained, it clearly puts him back in charge. “It has been unquestionably agreed upon that there are no special arrangements” with his coadjutor, Bishop Thomas Murphy, 54, of Montana.
Murphy, who was silent for most of a 45-minute press conference, nodded his head in agreement.
Earlier, Murphy had read from a prepared statement: “I pledge my respect, loyalty and commitment to Pope John Paul II and the Holy See. I pledge my support and service to Archbishop Hunthausen and the Archdiocese of Seattle.”
Hunthausen, 65, denied rumors that the new arrangement indicated that he might soon retire. Church officials usually serve until they are 75, but Murphy’s appointment as coadjutor rather than as a simple assistant was interpreted by at least some local Catholics as a sign Hunthausen may soon be asked to resign his position.
“It says to us they want to replace him, and we don’t want him replaced,” said Jan Barrett, the assistant parish administrator of St. Benedict’s Church in Seattle.
Hunthausen was firm in his stand.
“I have no intention of retiring or resigning,” he said. “Bishop Murphy and I have committed ourselves to work with the people of this archdiocese as long as the Lord will allow.”