Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, who attended the Second Vatican Council and became a pioneer in the ecumenical movement and later offered a pacifist voice to war and the production of nuclear weapons, died July 22 at his home in Helena, Mont. He was 96.
The retired archbishop of Seattle had fans and critics, who took varying views of his often-controversial stances on nuclear disarmament, broader roles for women in the Church and outreach ministry to gays.
He was the last living American bishop who participated in all four sessions of the council, which convened from 1962 to 1965. He attended the first session of the council within weeks of his Aug. 30, 1962, episcopal ordination as bishop of Helena.
In remarks during an interfaith service at St. James Cathedral in Seattle marking his retirement in 1991, he said the council was “a watershed moment in my life.” At the council’s close, he said, he felt “born again” into the life of the Church.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, in a statement, credited Archbishop Hunthausen for “his pastoral leadership and his development of lay leadership, many programs of outreach to the poor, and other pastoral programs” that contributed to the vibrancy of the Seattle Archdiocese.
Born in Anaconda, Mont., he was the oldest of seven children. He received a chemistry degree from Carroll College in Helena, but felt called to the priesthood and began studies at St. Edward’s Seminary in Kenmore, Wash. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Helena in 1946.
As a priest, he returned to Carroll College to teach. He pursued graduate studies in chemistry at the University of Notre Dame, Fordham University, The Catholic University of America and St. Louis University.
At Carroll, he also served as athletic director and coached football, basketball, baseball and track. In 1966, he was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame.
In February 1975, Blessed Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Seattle, where he continued to implement Vatican II reforms, training and equipping lay people for ministry. Five years later, he wrote what is widely believed to be the first pastoral letter by an American archbishop identifying steps the Church could take to “value the gifts of women equally with those of men in its decision-making and the carrying out of its mission.”
Archbishop Hunthausen became an outspoken proponent of peace and justice issues. He raised moral questions about the nuclear weapons buildup that the United States undertook in the 1980s and questioned the need for the nuclear-armed Trident submarine and its West Coast base in Bremerton, Wash., across Puget Sound from Seattle.
By 1983, his pastoral practices and stances came under scrutiny of the Vatican, which directed then-Washington Archbishop James A. Hickey to conduct an apostolic visitation. Although the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. announced the case closed in 1985, the Vatican appointed then-Father Donald W. Wuerl as auxiliary bishop of the Seattle Archdiocese.
The next year, the Vatican ordered Archbishop Hunthausen to turn over some authority to Bishop Wuerl, including responsibility for liturgy, the archdiocesan Church court, seminarians and priestly formation, laicized priests and moral issues of health care and ministry to gay Catholics. The Vatican named a commission of three U.S. bishops to review the situation.
In 1987, the Vatican followed the commission’s recommendations that Archbishop Hunthausen’s full authority be restored, Bishop Wuerl be assigned to another diocese, and a coadjutor archbishop be named.
Archbishop Hunthausen retired in 1991. He was succeeded by Coadjutor Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy.
In his final years, Archbishop Hunthausen lived in a nursing home in Helena with his brother, Father Jack Hunthausen, where the two celebrated Mass daily. The archbishop is survived by another brother, Tony, and sisters Jean Stergar and Sister Edna Hunthausen, a Sister of Charity.
Archbishop Sartain presided at the Funeral Mass Aug. 1 at St. James Cathedral in Seattle. Interment was in the cathedral crypt.