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Vatican Tells Its Side in Dispute Involving Seattle Bishop

October 27, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Vatican publicly disagreed Monday with a liberal Seattle archbishop’s contention that church authorities ordered him to give up his authority in several controversial areas last month.

The Vatican statement was sent to the United States’ more than 300 Roman Catholic bishops, setting the stage for what is expected to be a heated private discussion of the matter at the bishops’ annual meeting next month.

Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen said in his own statement that his view of the matter ″differs significantly″ from the Vatican version, but he did not elaborate.

Recent Vatican actions against liberal Catholics in the public eye - Catholic University theology professor Charles Curran, for example - have raised little public outcry among U.S. bishops, although some are known to disagree with what they see as a counterproductive crackdown.

The action against a fellow bishop, however, appears to have stirred a more emotional reaction.

″You’ll see it come out in November here in Washington,″ the Rev. Richard McBrien, chairman of the University of Notre Dame’s theology department, said recently in a reference to the annual meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Making its case in advance, the Vatican told the bishops in a four-page letter than Hunthausen had agreed to share his authority with a Rome-appointed auxiliary bishop in areas where he had been found lacking, then went back on the deal.

Told to go ahead and make the changes, Hunthausen did so, the Vatican letter said, but then, in early September, he ″made the announcement that they were mandated by Rome.″

″In fact, a more precise description would have been that this was the agreement reached between Archbishop Hunthausen and the Holy See after much discussion and effort to support him.

″Regretfully, the surprise announcement made by Archbishop Hunthausen ... was interpreted as portraying this whole process as a one-sided affair,″ the Vatican said.

Hunthausen has been in the public eye for such controversial stands as withholding part of his income tax payment as a protest against military spending.

However, church officials have said the investigation over the past several years, culminating in the naming of the auxiliary bishop, had to do only with such church matters as liturgy, marriage annulments, sterilization at Catholic hospitals, ministry to homosexuals and dealings with ex-priests.

Conservative Catholics in the Seattle area have petitioned the Vatican to do something about what they saw as too-liberal policies by Hunthausen in such areas. However, this week’s letter to the bishops said such complaints had little to do with the final decision to appoint Auxiliary Bishop Donald Wuerl to take charge in those areas.

Hunthausen, in a statement read by an aide in Seattle, said it would take much more than four pages to fairly describe even the context for the events and decisions described in the Vatican letter, which was prepared by Archbishop Pio Laghi, the Vatican’s top envoy to the United States.

″I prefer not to attempt to do this, at least not at the present time or in this particular forum,″ Hunthausen said. ″For the present, I will simply let it suffice to state that my understanding of a number of statements, interpretations and conclusions that are set forth in Archbishop Laghi’s chronology differs significantly from his.″

A proper forum for a fuller response, he suggested, ″may be the executive session of the forthcoming meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops where I have been given an indication that I will have an opportunity to speak.″

That session was confirmed by the conference’s president, Bishop James Malone of Youngstown, Ohio, who said in a brief note accompanying the Vatican letter: ″I hope this documentation will prove to be helpful background material for a discussion we will have at the executive session of next November’s plenary assembly.″

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