For seven hundred years popes have served until death, but Pope Benedict XVI is being a maverick and taking an early retirement. The Pope has a long and solid record of standing for, above all else, traditional Catholic values. It is fair speculation that it must be something big that is making this pontiff take the unconventional path. However, this blog does not have its finger on the Vatican pulse, and the speculation can be left to Dan Brown and others with better sources or better imaginations.
What is known is the Pope Benedict XVI (f/k/a Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) was the driving force behind the greatest Catholic controversy ever to visit the Seattle Archdiocese. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the Seattle Archdiocese had become one of the most liberal and forward thinking in the world. This was undoubtedly a result of the changes brought on in the 1960’s by Vatican II. However, just as the spirit of liberation and humanism was brought to a close, perhaps most symbolically, with the election of Ronald Reagan the Catholic Church similarly ended its embrace of liberty and humanism with the election of Pope John Paul II, and with a powerful doctrinaire Cardinal Ratzinger serving as the Pope’s top cop on the beat.
Seattle sometimes feels like a big city that supplies jet airplanes and a certain computer operating system to the world, but the city can just as easily feel provincial and far away, being tucked away in the Northwest corner of a vast country, and on the edge of a vast Ocean. A Seattleite might easily be surprised to be at the center of a raging reactionary purge to stamp out liberal, rational, humanitarian advances, let alone one emanating from Rome itself. Nevertheless, that was the case in the 1980’s and a Seattle Archbishop was considered one of the top two or three problems for the Vatican in America and there can, now, be no doubt that the Vatican intended to hound that Archbishop out of his post and the man in charge of accomplishing this was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The story begins with Raymond G. Hunthausen, Archbishop of Seattle from 1975 to 1991. Hunthausen was such a problem for the Vatican that he was dealt with through extraordinary measure. A letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger himself (now Pope Benedict XVI) to Archbishop Hunthausen summarized errant practices and policies of a bishop too liberal for the Vatican to tolerate. The letter resulted from an intense investigation, and eventually led the Vatican to appoint a ‘coadjutor’ or co-bishop, which was considered extraordinary and was clearly done to reign in the renegade bishop.
Hunthausen was a compelling figure and he received the People magazine treatment in a December 22, 1986 article. An excerpt from the article about his origins follows:
A storekeeper’s son, born in Anaconda, Mont., Hunthausen was the oldest of seven children in a traditional Catholic family: sister Edna became a nun; brother John, a priest. “Our parents taught us that truth was all-important,” says John. Nicknamed’ Dutch, Raymond was shy, smart and, above all, respectful as a student at St. Paul’s parochial school. He was a favorite with the Ursuline nuns, who pushed him into making welcoming speeches when the Bishop came to town.
Being nudged into an unexpected role became a theme in Hunthausen’s life. A gifted athlete with wartime dreams of becoming a pilot, he was majoring in chemistry at Carroll College in Montana when his spiritual director suggested that he consider the priesthood. He was still uncertain about his calling when he entered Seattle’s St. Edward’s Seminary in the fall of 1943. But when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, his fascination with P-38s gave way to a broadened social consciousness. “From that moment on, I could never accept the bomb,” he said later. “I could never accept its use again. Why couldn’t we have warned [the Japanese]? We did not have to drop it on people the first time around.” By the time Hunthausen was ordained, he says, his doubts about the priesthood had disappeared.
Until 1957 Hunthausen lived quietly as a chemistry teacher and coach-of-all-sports at Carroll, where his football and basketball teams won eight conference championships. His promotion to the college presidency that year was as unexpected as his appointment as Bishop of Helena in 1962.
He became a bishop at a propitious time. 1962 was the year that Vatican II began. As much derision as the Catholic Church surely deserves this conclave was a sincere attempt to embrace modern society and to acknowledge changes. The Wikipedia page on Hunthausen states that, “[a]s bishop of Helena, he was a council father at all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. He was the newest and youngest American bishop at the start of the Council.” Hunthausen’s attended, but more importantly he carried forward the spirit of Vatican II in his leadership positions as bishop. In a letter signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Cardinal writes, “There are many indications that you have striven with heart and mind to be a good bishop of the Church, eager to implement the renewal called for in the decrees of the Vatican Council II.” The letter praises Hunthausen’s work following Vatican II, briefly, and then proceeds to lay waste to so much of the good work the Archbishop had done. The letter serves as strong evidence that a full-blown reactionary Vatican crackdown on the Archbishop was underway and that his offenses were a ministry embracing humanity, dignity and reasonableness. Before getting to the letter, it is important to understand what Hunthausen had done to become the nemesis of reactionary traditionalists.
Consider this excerpt from a letter written by Hunthausen and published in the Seattle Gay News, May 1, 1977, where the Archbishop responds to a move by mayors throughout the U.S. calling attention to injustices suffered by ‘homosexuals’,
It is the responsibility of every Christian person to work toward the establishment of a society that is based on love and which expresses this love in its laws and customs. We should all pray earnestly that Christian love — and its minimal requirement, justice — will characterize the relationships of all men, women and children with one another.
It is almost unthinkable in 2013 to think of a Catholic leader promoting love, dignity and justice for the gay community in 1977. In the introduction, at History Link, to the foregoing article, it states, “Archbishop Hunthausen had many disagreements with the Vatican over gay rights, women’s rights, and other social issues.” One of the most famous of those social issues was a strong and total objection to nuclear warfare. The Archbishop’s stand on nuclear weapons was the opposite of Reaganesque. Imagine the response at a reactionary Vatican when they learned the following (again from People):
In 1982, Hunthausen withheld half of his income tax to protest the stockpiling of nuclear weapons and the Trident missile program which had a base nearby, in Puget Sound. In a speech, he said, “Trident is the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.” This tax resistance prompted the Internal Revenue Service to garnish his wages. This angered members of the U.S. military and the Reagan administration, as well as politically conservative Catholics.
The Archbishop’s cutting edge ministry was not going unnoticed in reactionary, hard-liner circles as People reported, “[a] small Washington State group called Roman Catholic Laity for Truth had been peppering the Vatican with angry letters,” and these letter were finding eyes in the Vatican to read them. The Vatican responded with an intense investigation. As this LA Times article reports reports, “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.” The Vatican was responsive to the complaints. The Wikipedia page for Raymond Hunthausen states:
As a result of the complaints . . ., in 1983 the Vatican authorized Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to launch an investigation. Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Hickey of Washington, DC was named apostolic visitor to the archdiocese of Seattle. Hickey’s delegation met with Hunthausen and others to investigate his administrative and pastoral practices. The result of the visitation was a 1985 letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to Archbishop Hunthausen which summarized recommended changes to be made in the Seattle Archdiocese, . . .
The letter that came from Ratzinger was a complete reactionary smack-down on points large and small. The letter was written in 1985, and it remains a clear indication of how progressive Hunthausen was and how far he had gone in leading the Catholic Church into the modern era. In fact, the Archbishop was putting the Church at the forefront on key issues rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into modernization. Reactionaries always kick and scream, and they detest threats to ‘tradition.’ Ratzinger’s letter shows that the Church was finished with its experimental post-Vatican II phase, and that it was time to put women back in their place, to return the mystery to the mass, and to tell gays to lead a life of celibacy. The letter is republished at this site and for it is presumed to be the real thing. The following excerpts from the letter are interspersed with commentary.
First Ratzinger describes the process leading up to the writing of the letter.
I am writing to bring to a close the Apostolic Visitation process, which was assisted by the visit of Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, DC, to the Archdiocese of Seattle from November 2-8, 1983.
. . . the Visitor conferred with at least sixty-seven members of the clergy, religious and laity. In addition, he examined many pertinent documents, statements issued by the Archdiocese, and letters. Principally, though, Archbishop Hickey spent some four to five hours of intense discussion with you. That interview, taped and transcribed, was later reviewed by you and approved. Archbishop Hickey, with a model sense of cooperation and collegial concern, filed a lengthy and exhaustively documented report with this Congregation, and with that, his involvement with the Apostolic Visitation process ended.
Cardinal Ratzinger himself describes the investigation as intense. The letter moves on to several points where the Cardinal tells the Archbishop, without equivocation, to comply with Church doctrine. Some of the raised concerns are over seemingly mundane things such as blanket Absolution, which is a quick way to get everyone in the Church ready to take Communion.
[T]he use of general Absolution must be strictly limited . . .
Furthermore, passing out bread and wine to heathens who show up for wedding and funerals is worth an admonishment.
Routine intercommunion on the occasion of weddings or funerals, wherever it is the practice, should be recognized as clearly abusive and an impediment to genuine ecumenism.
Evidently the Cardinal does not see any reason to let non-Catholics feel warmth of inclusion when they are attending a mass. The Cardinal is prepared to get much nastier. In the letter he is concerned that divorced people are being allowed to return to the sacraments without first submitting themselves to a Tribunal:
It appears that there has been a rather widespread practice of admitting divorced persons to a subsequent Church marriage without prior review by your Tribunal, or even after they have received a negative sentence. Catholics have been advised that after divorce and civil remarriage, they may in conscience return to the Sacraments.
Cardinal Ratzinger is chastising Archbishop Hunthausen for not running tribunals to sit in judgment of divorced Catholics. How dare Hunthausen not sit in judgment of people emerging from failed relationships? The Cardinal expected him to determine if divorces were justified under Church doctrines. Not only was Hunthausen supposed to oversee the tribunals, but those who ran afoul of Church doctrines were to be excluded from participation in Sacraments, which is tantamount to shunning. This was nasty stuff.
Also, the Church is not to be placed in the context of an institution within a larger society. The social sciences are to be placed well below the ‘Divine Origin’ that applies to the Church. Ratzinger wants the flock to be mystified, not well informed.
The Church should be understood as more than a merely social entity, governed chiefly by psychological, sociological, and political processes.
The same goes for those damn sciences too.
An anthropology which is dominated by the tentative conclusions of the human sciences could well undermine many pastoral initiatives, however well intentioned.
Ratzinger is still holding a grudge against Galileo. All of this social science and rationality endangers the mystic Catholic brand. In the letter Ratzinger’s is very clear that there will be no polling and no opinions from the flock.
It has been noted that in 1976 and in 1979, the Archdiocese of Seattle devised questionnaires to obtain information useful for the formation and conduct of Archdiocesan programs. Some, unfortunately, understood these questionnaires to be a kind of voting process on doctrinal or moral teachings. The questionnaires did reveal certain deficient doctrinal understandings and the results point to the need for a more careful and extensive catechesis for both children and adults.
Hunthausen clearly screwed up by trying to understand his congregants and to take a sample of their opinions. This was too close to democracy, and clearly a direct threat to the authority of the infallible. After all, these poor souls might expect someone to read and consider their opinions. However, the supremacy of Church doctrine over science, society and the need to sit in judgment of divorced people is just the start. Ratzinger is clear that the time has come to put women back in their place and out of control of their reproduction.
As per your letter of March 14, 1984, we realize that you have taken steps to correct the practice of contraceptive sterilization which had been followed in local Catholic hospitals. Such procedures are clearly and explicitly forbidden in all Catholic institutions.
And Ratzinger wants to be clear about women’s role in the Church.
With regard to the role of women in the church, the teaching of the Church regarding their God-given dignity and importance should be given full weight. The current fierce politicization of this issue must not impede the Church’s efforts to vindicate the rights of all.
The exclusion of women from Sacred Orders was dealt with at length in this Congregation’s 1975 Instruction, Inter Insigniores and should be explained unambiguously.
With women safely back in their place it is time to address homosexuality.
It is important that clear and firm guidance be offered to those in the Archdiocese who seem reluctant to accept the Magisterium as capable of giving definitive direction in matters of faith and morals.
. . .
A final question of pastoral practice pertains to ministry to homosexual men and women. The Archdiocese should withdraw all support from any group, which does not unequivocally accept the teaching of the Magisterium concerning the intrinsic evil of homosexual activity
A compassionate ministry to homosexual persons must be developed that has as its clear goal the promotion of a chaste lifestyle.
Ratzinger is willing to acknowledge that homosexuality exists, but he wants to be clear that it is only tolerable if it involves a life of celibacy. The letter is crystal clear in showing Ratzinger reintroduce nastiness into Catholicism.
Hunthausen was to be subjected to extraordinary measures straight from the Vatican hierarchy. The letter was just the beginning as this May 28, 1987, LA Times article relates:
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.
The Wikipedia page on Raymond Hunthausen explains the events that eventually ended with Hunthausen’s retirement.
In January 1986, Pope John Paul II appointed Donald Wuerl as auxiliary bishop of Seattle. Bishop Wuerl was told he was being given faculties in five liturgical and administrative areas over and above Archbishop Hunthausen; the Archbishop was informed differently. By May 1987, the irregular situation had become untenable and Bishop Wuerl was removed from his position.
Shortly after, in a more traditional model, the Vatican appointed Bishop Thomas J. Murphy of Great Falls, Montana as coadjutor archbishop of Seattle. Upon Hunthausen’s retirement four years later, Murphy succeeded him as archbishop.
The appointment of a coadjutor was endorsed by the reactionaries in the Archdiocese at this May 28, 1987 article published in the LA Times [ http://articles.latimes.com/1987-05-28/news/mn-3248_1_seattle-archbishop-calls ] relates:
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.”
Despite the reactionary backlash, Hunthausen remained committed to his positions, as the same article relates:
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 reactionary campaign spearheaded by Ratzinger was far bigger than Archbishop Hunthausen, as the excerpts from the following article report:
Conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instructed bishops to stamp out pro-homosexual views within the Roman Catholic Church and to oppose any attempt to condone homosexuality through legislation or other means.
Ratzinger, in a letter endorsed by Pope John Paul II, reiterated the church’s view that although “the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin,” homosexual acts are “an intrinsic moral evil,” “intrinsically disordered” and “self-indulgent.”
. . .
Ratzinger’s letter was interpreted by several respected Roman Catholic scholars here as another in a series of warnings to the American and Northern European churches, several of whose theologians and bishops have been punished in recent months for their liberal views.
“For the Americans, it completes a Bermuda Triangle of condemnation,” said one liberal theologian, citing Vatican condemnation earlier this year of Father Charles Curran, an American Catholic theologian at Catholic University in Washington, and Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle, both of whom were accused by Ratzinger of holding unacceptably liberal views on human sexuality, including homosexuality. “It’s a triangle of Hunthausen, Curran and Ratzinger,” he said.
Hunthausen, an archbishop since 1975, was stripped of much of his authority in the Seattle archdiocese in September because of liberal practices that included allowing the first-ever homosexual Mass in a Catholic cathedral. Curran was banned from teaching moral theology after he refused to disavow views that included respect for homosexuals who develop stable sexual relationships.
Another Catholic scholar here accused Ratzinger, a German, of being “like the Red Baron, shooting down people who are different from him.”
Church scholars and others contacted for reaction to the Ratzinger letter agreed to talk only on condition that they remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“Ratzinger’s letter means that in his and the Pope’s view, all homosexuals are predestined by nature to perpetual virginity since acting out their inclinations is reprehensible, while heterosexuals are free to enjoy sexual relations in marriage,” said another critical priest.
The preceding article can leave no doubt that the Vatican was engaged in a reactionary purge to keep the ideals of Vatican II from causing the Catholic Church to march proudly and forthrightly into the modern world. The 80’s in the Catholic Church were a time of returning to arch-conservativism in the form of what are perceived as traditional values, even the warped values that destroy human dignity. Pope John Paul II is a beloved figure, but if episodes like the investigations and actions taken toward Hunthausen and many others remain unforgotten, then John Paul II will ultimately be identified as a reactionary who failed to lead and to stand for humanitarian values and human dignity. Undoubtedly, Cardinal Ratzinger was his pit-bull enforcer, and Ratzinger will not be remembered fondly and stands a good chance of tainting the preceding Pope’s legacy too.
In a March 6, 1993 article published in the LA Times, the perspective on what had happened in the mid-1980’s had become clear. The headline read, “1986-87 Called Turning Point for Future of U.S. Catholics : Books: ‘Holy Siege,’ a work by religion specialist Kenneth A. Briggs, lists a series of Vatican actions at the time that tamed the American church.”
NEW YORK — Sometimes a past cluster of events casts its pattern on the present and raises signposts of the future. Religion specialist Kenneth A. Briggs points to 1986-87 as such a defining period that shapes U.S. Roman Catholicism today.
“Looking back on that period, it’s so predictive of what has come afterward,” he said. “It was a turning point in so many ways.”
In a book, “Holy Siege,” recently published by Harper and subtitled “The Year That Shook the Catholic Church,” Briggs holds an illuminating mirror to the period from August, 1986, through September, 1987.
“It set the pattern of what has happened since,” he said in an interview. “It’s an explanation of how things got the way they are right now. It’s how the Vatican tamed the American church.”
Briggs, who teaches contemporary Catholicism at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and who for a decade was religion editor of the New York Times, said the period set the “agenda for American Catholicism.”
Since then, he said, Pope John Paul II and his Vatican cabinet have left Catholics with only two alternatives, “either to accept or reject” official church teachings–unconditionally and without exception.
“You see it in many ways,” Briggs said. “You could see it nationally dramatized in the level of utter futility reached by American bishops in their collapsed efforts to write a pastoral letter on women.”
Under pressure from the Vatican, the bishops could only “give it what it wants,” he said, or give up saying anything–all or nothing.
Consequently, they were left silent on a subject of keen modern concern–the role of women. After nine years of work and four increasingly restrictive revisions, the bishops last fall abandoned the project.
In rejecting the final draft, which had become stiffly traditionalist under Vatican nudges, the bishops for the first time failed to concur on a planned pastoral letter, their most authoritative form of teaching.
In addition to this obstacle, Briggs said, “a shadow also has been cast over the whole question of how scholars are to conduct their work or pursue lines of inquiry.”
Briggs, 51, of Easton, Pa., a Methodist with a divinity degree from Yale University, added: “It’s very safe to say there has been less theological exploration. The whole climate says that when in doubt, don’t do it. The effect is chilling.”
When the reactionary retaliation against Liberation Theology is added to the mix the purge takes on a nauseating level of disgust. This Wikipedia link [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_theology ] describes Liberation Theology as, “a movement within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1950s–1960s. Liberation theology arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region.” Check the link out to discover how very involved Ratzinger was in diminishing the Theology and driving it from prominence. Ratzinger’s actions are interpreted by some as a move friendly to authoritarian governments everywhere.
It is hard not to wonder what was lost in the purge of the 80’s. It is so long ago now that it is hard to care. For Catholics that grew up in the Seattle area in the 70’s and 80’s it is confusing to have experienced an enlightened religious upbringing only to be surrounded in adulthood by stern reactionary conservatism. The Church is a total joke now, but it was once on the cutting edge. Had it been allowed to stay there the Church may have accelerated the advances of gay and transgender rights in America by decades.
Hunthausen was and remains an inspiration, but he may not receive high scores on the handling of priest abuse. Here is a link to explore that angle. In spite of the dark gray and black shades explored in the article, it is still reasonable to expect that if anyone could have been open minded to change and to facing reality it would have been Hunthausen, but good history must be fair, and whatever mitigating factors may exist in Hunthausen’s case, the facts must not be hidden, and they may tarnish his otherwise sterling reputation. It is beyond this writers time constraints to open this up, but the link is there and comments are welcomed.
The retelling of the saga of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen serves to remind us of how far liberal, humanitarian, peaceful and freedom loving concepts progressed in society, even in the Catholic Church and to remind of how these forces of human progress were stopped and suppressed. As Pope Benedict XVI shuffles off the terrace at St. Peter’s it must be remembered that he is the embodiment of reactionary Catholicism. He embodies the type of the Catholicism that would have a women die from infection while doctors wait for their miscarried fetus’s hearts to finally stop beating. He embodies the type that would have women stay in the pews and off of the dais. He embodies the type that creates sadistic and contradictory expectations for how homosexuals live their lives. He is the type that tells the disenfranchised to smile and wave at the dictator and wait for heaven.
If Hunthausen and what he stood for had been embraced the Catholic Church of today would be much more complicated, and in a good way. It would undoubtedly be scandal ridden, and still carrying the heavy weight of reactionaries with their ‘traditional values,’ but Hunthausen and his humanitarian concerns with society would have caused pause and kept people from declaring the Catholic Church to be a monolithic failure.
Joseph Ratzinger left his mark on the Church and on society, and it should never be forgotten. It should never be forgotten who stood for humanity, for liberation of oppressed people, for freedom from nuclear annihilation, for sexual freedom, for equality of women and should never be forgotten how hard Cardinal Ratzinger worked to set the causes back by decades in the name of outdated Church doctrines.