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'Tensions in the Church'

November 21, 1986

As a Catholic, I'd like to commend The Times for its coverage (Nov. 11-14) of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and, in particular, for its reports on the case of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, who was deprived of a substantial part of his pastoral charge by Pope John Paul II.

Your editorial (Nov. 13), "Tensions in the Church," points out (correctly, I think) that "the fundamental issue" involved in this case "is authority." More precisely it is the possible abuse of authority, for, if Hunthausen is to be believed, the proceedings in Rome, which restricted his pastoral activities, were secret and did not allow him to respond to the charges against him.

The Times reported (Nov. 11) that Bishop James W. Malone, the outgoing president of the conference, proposed that a delegation of American prelates request a meeting in Rome with the Pope to discuss the Hunthausen case and the undesirable effects it might have on the morale of American Catholics.

Judging from The Times of Nov. 13, this suggestion was ignored and the bishops of the conference, through the same Bishop Malone, simply affirmed their loyalty to the Pope while at the same time expressing their brotherly concern for Hunthausen.

This evasion of the problem was rationalized on the ground that the laws of the church gave "the conference of bishops no authority to intervene in the internal affairs of a diocese or in the unique relationship between the Pope and individual bishops." Why it was assumed that the proposed delegation necessarily represented such an intervention was not explained. At any rate, the bishops gave Hunthausen a Judas kiss and came down on the side of arbitrary application of the law, rather than on the side of justice and concern for the state of Catholicism in the United States.

As your editorial suggests, the troubling root of the conference cop-out is the matter of papal primacy when it is considered not as a primacy of honor, of dedicated pastoral service, and of spiritual inspiration, but as a personal authoritarianism that identifies the church with the dictatorial will of one man.

Throughout the centuries this concept of papal primacy has been a constant irritant in the church. It has stifled the development of the church and has been a contributing cause of all the major schisms the church has suffered, including the divorce of the present Orthodox and Protestant churches from the Roman communion. It is now the chief bar to the reunion of these Christian churches.

Yet the assumed historical and scriptural basis for such a concept of the primacy is not accepted by most scholars or most Christians, and according to the Vatican II General Council it does not represent the official Catholic view of the papacy.

The solution of this problem does not, of course, lie in yet another schism. It lies in a change in church procedures that will assure a just hearing to clerics charged with deviations from acceptable church beliefs and practices.



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