Raymond G. Hunthausen, a retired Seattle archbishop whose outspoken support for nuclear disarmament, gay rights and an expanded role for women in the Catholic Church made him one of the most controversial U.S. bishops, died July 22 at his home in Helena, Mont. He was 96.
The Archdiocese of Seattle announced the death but did not provide a cause.
Archbishop Hunthausen, who was born in Montana, served as the bishop of Helena from 1962 to 1975 and as archbishop of Seattle from 1975 to 1991. He was the last living American bishop to have participated in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, called by the pope in the early 1960s to modernize the church, the archdiocese said.
Archbishop Hunthausen led protests near a base for nuclear-armed Trident submarines at Bangor, Wash. He withheld half his federal income tax in the early 1980s in protest of nuclear weapon stockpiling, and he urged others to do the same. The IRS garnished his wages.
Conservative critics accused him of deviating from Catholic doctrine by allowing a group for gay Catholics to celebrate Mass at Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, by allowing divorced or remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments, and by permitting Catholic hospitals to perform contraceptive sterilizations.
A Vatican investigation led to the appointment in 1985 of an auxiliary bishop — Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, now archbishop of Washington, D.C. — who took over many administrative functions. Archbishop Hunthausen’s authority was largely restored two years later.
The archdiocese said that under Archbishop Hunthausen’s leadership, it became in 1988 one of the first dioceses in the nation to implement a policy to address child sexual abuse by priests and church employees.
Advocates for sexual abuse victims say Archbishop Hunthausen could have done more to protect young parishioners, but they also credit him with being more proactive than his predecessors or other bishops around the country. The archdiocese has paid out tens of millions of dollars to victims of child sex abuse, including many cases that stemmed from Archbishop Hunthausen’s tenure.
In 2009, Archbishop Hunthausen became one of the highest-ranking Catholic officials in the United States to testify at a sexual abuse trial, one that pertained to a priest who had been transferred from Spokane, Wash., to Seattle for deviancy treatment. Archbishop Hunthausen granted the priest, Patrick G. O’Donnell, full powers of ministry without the documentation usually required for transferred priests.
He testified that he was never informed why O’Donnell had been sent to Seattle.
“It was a breach on my part,” Archbishop Hunthausen said. “It’s hard to acknowledge that now. It hurts me.”
Archbishop Hunthausen also testified that he made mistakes in his handling of one of the archdiocese’s worst sexual predators, James McGreal, after learning of the abuse in the late 1970s. He reassigned McGreal to a parish where he would have access to children, against the recommendation of a psychologist who was treating him for pedophilia.
“I think Archbishop Hunthausen would have admitted that he could have done more to protect children in the Archdiocese, and to his credit he eventually admitted he had made some mistakes,” attorney Jason Amala, who has represented victims in dozens of cases stemming from Archbishop Hunthausen’s tenure, wrote in an email.
“He was the Seattle Archbishop when the Catholic Church finally started to address the problem of priests abusing children in the mid-to-late 1980s,” Amala wrote, “and I think he tried to put the Seattle Archdiocese on a path to protecting kids and not covering-up for abusive priests.”
Archbishop Hunthausen’s legacy also includes support for the needy, including the Hunthausen Fund in Helena at Good Samaritan Ministries and the Hunthausen Fund at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, which support the working poor and homeless.
Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen was born in the copper-smelting town of Anaconda, Mont., on Aug. 21, 1921. His parents owned and operated a grocery store.
He graduated in 1943 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Carroll College, a Catholic school in Helena. He attended St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, Wash., was ordained in 1946 and became Carroll’s athletic director and later president.
Survivors include two brothers and two sisters.
Archbishop Hunthausen retired in 1991 at age 70 and returned to Helena, where he sometimes helped at the diocese by celebrating Mass and hearing confessions.