Local author details life of retired archbishop

  • Written by Louis McGill
  • Published in Local

SEATTLE – John McCoy followed the tumultuous story of Seattle Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen for years, as a Seattle journalist and later as an archdiocesan spokesman.

Now McCoy has written “A Still and Quiet Conscience: The Archbishop Who Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church,” a biography of the man he considers the “quintessential Vatican II bishop.”

“I think he’s a remarkable religious leader and a key person in the history of the Catholic Church in America,” said McCoy, who is a member of St. John Vianney Parish on Vashon Island. “He was committed to the church being relevant to the world.” 

But McCoy said he felt people had begun to forget Archbishop Hunthausen, who retired in 1991, and the issues he confronted, many of which remain relevant today.

John McCoy details the life of retired Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen in a new book. Photo: Courtesy Orbis Books

“I wrote the book to rescue him from obscurity,” McCoy said. 

He interviewed Archbishop Hunthausen for the biography in 1992 and 1993 and maintained contact over the years, visiting the retired archbishop in his Helena, Montana, nursing home as recently as April 2015.

Seattle Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen was a humble man who became controversial because he followed his conscience and the Gospel, biographer John McCoy says. Photo: Courtesy Maryknoll Seattle

McCoy’s book tells the story of a Montana native who became bishop of the Diocese of Helena and shortly after was called to attend the Second Vatican Council (Archbishop Hunthausen is the only living American bishop who attended all four sessions).

He returned to Helena with a passion for the reforms of Vatican II, McCoy said, and worked to make his diocese a more inclusive place that involved the laity in the decision-making process. He brought that spirit with him when he became archbishop of the Seattle Archdiocese in 1975.

In Seattle, McCoy said, Archbishop Hunthausen confronted issues of ecumenism, the role of women in the church, minority discrimination, refugees, sex abuse and more. With Trident II ballistic missiles housed near Seattle, McCoy said, Archbishop Hunthausen also made headlines for speaking out against nuclear weapons and withholding part of his income tax to protest the nuclear arms race.  

While he was popular among the laity, McCoy said, Archbishop Hunthausen’s passion for Vatican II led him into conflict with what McCoy characterized as a reinterpretation of the council’s reforms by Pope John Paul II. That ultimately led to an investigation by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and early retirement in 1991.

The title of his biography, McCoy said, comes from a soliloquy in Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII,” when the character of Cardinal Wolsey finds comfort in a clear conscience after being dismissed by the king.



Meet the author


John McCoy

John McCoy will discuss his biography of Seattle Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen at an event beginning 7 p.m. June 15 in Cathedral Hall, 803 Terry Ave., Seattle.

The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session and book signing (books will be available for purchase).

The event is co-sponsored by St. James Cathedral and Maryknoll, Seattle.