A Still and Quiet Conscience

In stock


Pope Francis has spoken of his desire for pastoral bishops--shepherds who have “the smell of the sheep.” Raymond G. Hunthausen, archbishop of Seattle from 1975-1991, was a bishop who epitomized this style, embracing the Vatican II spirit of renewal, reaching out to the laity, women, and those on the margins.

Hunthausen was also a courageous witness for peace, gaining national attention when he became the first American bishop to urge tax resistance as a protest against preparations for nuclear war—no small gesture for a pastor with a U.S. naval base in his diocese. As John McCoy shows, in doing so, Hunthausen ran up against the Cold War policies of the Reagan administration—and also came into conflict with Pope John Paul II’s desire to reshape the America episcopacy.

A Still and Quiet Conscience is an absorbing account of one man’s prophetic stance –and the steep price he paid—rekindling the vision of a more inclusive, prophetic, and compassionate church as “people of God.”

Reporter, editor, and journalism professor, John A. McCoy first covered the story of Archbishop Hunthausen as a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. McCoy has headed the communications departments of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and World Vision International. Currently, he teaches writing at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

Book Details

A Still and Quiet Conscience
The Archbishop Who Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church
John A. McCoy
index, b/w photos
This is an excellent book, a real page turner. Personally, I have long been deeply involved in the peace movement/resistance to nuclear weapons. I watched during those years as Abp. Hunthausen tried to use his position to help focus world attention on the very real likelihood that these weapons would be used and bring an end to life as we know it. I had no idea, however, of the depth and breadth of the reach both the Vatican and the Reagan administration took to thwart Hunthausen's critically important efforts and that of the US Bishops’ peace pastoral to stem just such an eventuality. Clearly, as part of its collusion with the Reagan administration, the Vatican contrived issues to distract them from their efforts and chill any similar thoughts and actions by the other bishops and their staffs. From McCoy’s telling, the Vatican and Reagan administration were most successful

I did have one very real criticism of the book, however. In the chapter entitled "Farewell," McCoy glosses over the cause of the first Gulf war and inadvertently, I assume, lends credence to the US government narrative that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was unprovoked and that the US and its allies were merely stepping in to restore international order. Perhaps McCoy did not have the time, energy or resources to correct this narrative but the US government narrative fosters, even now, the myth of American exceptionalism which allows the US to continue, if I might be so bold to say, its war crimes. Please allow me to explain as briefly as I am able the real context for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

The US and its Western allies have long sought unlimited access to and control over oil because it is the lifeblood of the world economy. This is especially true of Middle East oil which is the treasure trove of this resource. Because it had little or no oil of its own, Great Britain was totally dependent on Iranian oil to fuel, not only its economy at home, but also its great navy which plied the world protecting its economic interests. (“The sun never sets on the British empire,” so the saying goes.)

In the early 1950s, the democratically elected government of Iran, under its new president Mohammad Mosaddegh, nationalized its oil resources in order to provide for the needs of the people. In response, Great Britain persuaded the US to overthrow Mossaddegh and reinstalled the Shah of Iran who led a 30 year reign of terror against his own people.
Finally, in 1979, the Iranians overthrew the Shah, took control of the US embassy, out of which the overthrow of Mossaddegh was originally orchestrated, and held the embassy staff hostage to thwart any likelihood of another US coup.

This “Iranian revolution” drove deep fears into western nations that Iran might move into other parts of this oil rich region, including Iraq, and threaten Western access to and control over this black gold. As a result, these nations coached Iraq to invade Iran in 1980 to put a stop to such a threat. The resulting 8 year Iran-Iraq war took the lives of up to three million persons and decimated both countries. Western powers armed both sides. Henry Kissinger, then US secretary of state, famously said, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”

Shortly after the war, Kuwait did three things. It demanded that Iraq repay the $14 Billion it “loaned” Iraq to conduct the war to protect western interests, it began slant drilling across the border into Iraq’s oil fields, and maintained a significantly high level of oil production which drove down the price of oil thus putting greater strain on Iraq’s oil based economy. Given Iraq’s devastation from Iran-Iraq war, Kuwait’s action were seen as an attack on Iraq. When Saddam Hussein, who at the time was a US ally, consulted the US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, as to the US position on this situation, she responded that the US had no position on the Iraq-Kuwait border dispute which, in diplomatic circles, was taken to mean that the way in which Iraq responded was up to Iraq.

Thus, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait which, from a geopolitical point of view, was quite defensible. In response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the US and its allies not only further decimated Iraq infrastructure but it conducted total and comprehensive sanctions against that country for 13 long years which took the lives of over 2 Million Iraqis, one-half million of whom were under five years of age.

This is the context during which McCoy recounts in his book that the mayor of Seattle called upon local public leaders to speak out against possible riots resulting from protestors who wanted to “shut down the city” in opposition to the US war against Iraq. Clearly, perceived threats to public order were more important than the devastation that was, yet again, being unleashed against the already devastated people of Iraq.

Finally, you should know that in 2003, the US prepared for war against Iraq once again under the false pretense that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Even the Vatican and other mainline church bodies condemned this move to invade Iraq because the conditions for same did not meet even the minimal international standards for going to war. Mass protests against the pending invasion occurred throughout the world. Four thousand persons turned out in Chicago alone where I was one of the speakers.

I write all this to set the record straight on this problematic portion of McCoy’s otherwise most excellent book. Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my points.

McCoy's biography of the extraordinary man stands as a testament to what could have been if the Catholic church had fully embraced Vatican II, and is a must read for fans of Pope Francis.
McCoy is an able guide through the intricacies of Hunthausen's struggles.
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.
No Catholic collection should be without this powerful account of not only the archbishop's life and times, but the methods he used to defend and maintain his beliefs against all odds and systems.
A fitting tribute to a brave, faithful man of the church who suffered the familiar lot of the prophets....A story of a church that can heal your soul and break your heart.
This stellar biography shows a truly courageous and holy man but also deeply unjust and humiliating actions by some church officials.
My brother recommended this book. It is amazing. I have several thoughts: It's unusual for me to go straight through a non-fiction book. I like stories - this was an incredible story! It put the goings-on of the Church in the 1980's in perspective. I was deep into kids at that point & missed just about everything described in this book. It underlined the authoritarian and very successful effort of the post-John 23 popes and their minions to destroy Vatican II.
It shed light on the differences between the Pacific Northwest & the East Coast - an ongoing conversation I have with myself.
If Vatican II had been implemented the world would be a different place - thinking mainly of the place of women, gays, and the poor - really, anyone not male-with-power - in the eyes of the Church. The focus on sex & sexuality has really tripped up the hierarchy - they not only don't know what the majority of people in the world know, they've blocked it out of their comprehension completely. The book is an indictment of the leaders of the Church from the mid-70's to today.
One irony is that the hierarchy is still confronting the same issues. Read anything on Francis's latest meeting of the bishops on the family - the authoritarians are still trying to control the world while the pastoral-types have figured out that real, adult life is never black/white.
I was intrigued to learn about the Vatican's coordination with the Reagan administration. Interesting re the Soviet Union, fascinating re Latin America.
Write a review