WASHINGTON — Here is Wednesday's statement by Bishop James W. Malone, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, concerning Vatican disciplining of Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen:
In recent weeks all of us have felt much concern for those involved in the situation in Seattle. The pain of Archbishop (Raymond) Hunthausen and Bishop (Donald) Wuerl, our brothers in the episcopacy, the abuse directed at the Holy Father and the Holy See, the dismay and confusion experienced by many good people--these things are deeply troubling.
Not only is there suffering in the Church in Seattle, though; the controversy has spread via the media and in other ways and has affected Catholics throughout the country. It is unusual for the conference of bishops to address such a matter, but these are unusual circumstances.
The issues raised here touch on the relationship between the local churches and the Universal Pastor. Bishops exercise their office in communion with him and under his authority. On this occasion the bishops of the United States wish to affirm unreservedly their loyalty to and unity with the Holy Father.
The conference of bishops has no authority to intervene in the internal affairs of a diocese or in the unique relationship between the Pope and individual bishops. By universal church law and the conference's norms the conference is not able to review, much less judge, a case involving a diocesan bishop and the Holy See.
Based on experience, bishops are conscious that in such matters the Holy See proceeds carefully and charitably, employing procedures developed over many years to protect the rights of individuals and promote the common good of the Church. With specific reference to Seattle, while we are not authorized to judge the facts of the case, I believe it is clear that the process employed by the Holy See was in accord with general principles of Church law and procedures. The decision reached at the end of the process was made by proper Church authorities. As such, it deserves our respect and confidence. While there appear to have been misunderstandings at one point or another along the way, the need now is to look to the future, not the past, and carry out the decision. The best assistance I or anyone can give is to offer precisely this counsel.
We could address the issues involved in this situation all week, but we would deceive ourselves if we thought that such discussion would solve all the problems, heal all the hurt. We need to do some additional things.
It is paradoxically possible that what has happened in the Archdiocese of Seattle has given, and continues to provide, a vivid demonstration of the unity of the Church, perhaps the best demonstration we have seen in many years? I am deeply convinced that the degree of pain which has been felt and enunciated in Seattle, but far beyond Seattle, really is the kind of pain that can only be felt by members of a family. At least that is how it feels to me.
If my analogy is correct, it suggests some of the directions in which we must go. There are certain things that a family must do when it wants to resolve a problem.
A family comes together. Each member expresses the pain, the anxiety, the doubts they feel. These things are listened to with respect and sympathized with, deeply, and in the heart. Then support is expressed, for the persons as persons, and for the responsibilities they must bear. This we bishops have done together in these days. Archbishop Hunthausen and Bishop Wuerl have been given a job to do by the Holy See. We are prepared to offer any assistance judged helpful and appropriate by the parties involved.
A family also takes steps to see that, in so far as possible, a painful situation does not happen again. In our case, that means working to find creative ways of presenting the Church's teaching in the best light possible, but also seeking mechanisms of responding when confusion or error occurs. We must be seen as committed to hearing and solving the problems.
There is at least one more thing a family of faith does when it is in difficulty, and that is pray. We of all people cannot give short shrift to this. Let us bring our people together in prayer for the Church in Seattle, so that what has happened may be an occasion of grace and of growth, there and in the Church universal.