The Vatican conducted a visitation and review of the Archdiocese of Seattle in 1985. At the conclusion of the evaluation, Pope John Paul II appointed the Reverend Donald Wuerl as an interim bishop with broad powers over the pastoral functions of the archdiocese. This was an unprecedented and controversial decision – one that created much discord within the Archdiocese of Seattle and throughout the United States. Ultimately, the Vatican, in consultation with Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, concluded that the current situation was not workable. A new solution was required to return the Archdiocese of Seattle to calmer waters.
Pope John Paul II formed a special commission consisting of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco to develop a new path forward. The three prelates, after consulting with and receiving the approval of Archbishop Hunthausen, forwarded the name of the Most Reverend Thomas J. Murphy, Bishop of Great Falls-Billings, Montana, to the Vatican for consideration. Based on the recommendations of the special commission, Pope John Paul II restored full pastoral power over the Archdiocese of Seattle to Archbishop Hunthausen and appointed Bishop Thomas J. Murphy as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Seattle.
The term “coadjutor” means right of succession. At the time of Archbishop Hunthausen’s retirement, Archbishop Murphy would succeed him.