John A. MCCOY. A Still And Quiet Conscience: The Archbishop Who Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church: A Life of Raymond G. Hunthausen.  Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2015. Pp. 344. $26.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-117-1. Reviewed by Ann S.F. SWANER, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL 33161.

 In telling the life story of Raymond G. Hunthausen, John A. McCoy takes the reader on a retrospective journey through the American Catholic Church of the twentieth century. Hunthausen was born in 1921 and grew up, attended Catholic schools, and was ordained a priest in Montana in the pre-Vatican II Church. He was ordained a bishop just before the Vatican II Council started and was the youngest American bishop to attend all four sessions. He returned from the Council “with a vision of church in which all its members – in fact all people of good will – worked together to build the kingdom of God in this world.” (p. xii) He set out enthusiastically to fully implement the reforms of the Council in his diocese of Helena, Montana. He immediately established consultative bodies such as a Priest Senate, a diocesan Pastoral Council, and a Congress of Parish Councils. He actively participated in the regional bishops’ group of the Northwest. He reached out to Protestant denominations in his region. Hunthausen’s enthusiasm for the reforms of Vatican II was not shared by all the priests or parishioners in his diocese but he persisted. In 1975 Hunthausen reluctantly left his beloved Montana and his family and friends to become Archbishop of Seattle.

McCoy starts his narrative, before he talks at all about Hunthausen’s background, with an account of his opposition to the Trident nuclear submarine, which Hunthausen described as “the Auschwitz of Puget Sound,” and his decision to withhold half of his federal income tax as a way of non-violently protesting the destructiveness of the arms race. Hunthausen’s understanding of Vatican II’s exhortation to involve the church in the problems of the modern world challenged him to speak out on the implications of the nuclear arms race in his own area. His diocese, McCoy reports, was one of the most militarized regions in the nation with per capita military spending twice the national average; Hunthausen could not ignore that. Hunthausen called for unilateral nuclear disarmament; he urged the American bishops writing their peace pastoral to take that position. These actions led the FBI to start a file on him and drew the ire of President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II.

McCoy describes Hunthausen as “persecuted” by John Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger. “His nuclear pacifism, heightened by the civil disobedience of his tax protest, was imperiling the pope’s anti-communist alliance with Reagan.” (205) Besides interfering with John Paul’s political program, Hunthausen’s insistence on the primacy of conscience on issues around women, gays, the divorced, and the otherwise alienated was “compromising Rome’s demands for unequivocal adherence to church teaching.” (205) The main tools of this persecution were an “apostolic visitation,” the results of which were never shown to Hunthausen, and the appointment of a coadjutor bishop with “special faculties” to overrule Hunthausen in certain areas.

This is a book with a very strong point of view and a controlling argument. It has heroes and villains and victims. Archbishop Hunthausen as the “quintessential Vatican II bishop” is the hero, along with Monsignor Michael Ryan and Pope Francis. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and the American bishops are villains who blocked the reforms of Vatican II and mired the church in scandal and culture wars. The victims are the reforms of Vatican II, the Catholic people who are being pushed away, and Archbishop Hunthausen who “was investigated, humiliated, and pressured from office so that the U.S. bishops would understand that the pope reigns supreme.” (p. xii)

Despite the strong point of view the book is meticulously researched by an experienced journalist and is a fair telling of a sorry, even infuriating, story. McCoy says that he did most of the research for the book twenty-five years ago but did not publish it because he was discouraged at that time by the state of the church, maybe particularly the church in Seattle which seemed to be trying to completely dismantle Hunthausen’s legacy. With the election of Pope Francis he thought the time was right to tell the story of a man who he thinks was very much like Francis himself and like the kind of bishop Francis wants to see in the church today.

McCoy credits two of his friends and one of his sisters with advising him on how to write the book. They suggested “finding a theme that builds tension and makes an argument,” and using fiction techniques to weave a compelling narrative around that theme. He put that advice to very good use – the book is a real page-turner! It is a worthy tribute to Archbishop Hunthausen and a fascinating account of the twentieth-century American Catholic Church, warts and all.