In 1976, Raymond Hunthausen, Seattle’s archbishop, formally instituted the Washington State Catholic Conference. Hunthausen was investigated by the Vatican in 1983 over doctrinal issues and was relieved of some of his duties as archbishop a few years later. In 1987 — the same year the Vatican dispatched a coadjutor bishop to the archdiocese as a consequence of that controversy — Hunthausen named Edward (Ned) Dolejsi as executive director of the conference.
Dolejsi took over as head of the Washington bishops’ conference at a time of great turmoil in the archdiocese. Just a year earlier, Hunthausen had been stripped of some of his authority, which was turned over to Donald Wuerl, named auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in January 1986. The Vatican’s concerns, summed up in a 1985 letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Hunthausen, included apparent departures from Church teaching regarding divorced Catholics, homosexuality, the liturgy, formation of seminarians and the role of women in the Church. In 1987, Bishop Thomas J. Murphy was appointed coadjutor of the archdiocese, and became archbishop in 1991, when Hunthausen retired at the age of 70.
Dolejsi served the bishops in Washington state for nine years until he resigned to become executive director of the California Catholic Conference in 1997.
Dolejsi was born in Seattle, attended Seattle University (Jesuit), and graduated with a major in English from Iona College (Christian Brothers) in New Rochelle, New York. When he was 21 he went to Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer, where he met Susan Hozack, also in the Peace Corps; Dolejsi and Hozack married in May, 1969 in Iran. When they returned to Seattle, they had three sons, one of whom later became a priest and serves in the Seattle archdiocese today.
In 1989, after an apparently amicable divorce, Dolejsi married Colleen Branagan, who at the time had three sons. Branagan was director of personnel for the Seattle archdiocese, and later served in a similar capacity for the Stockton diocese. In 2006 she took over as director of the Life Center in Sacramento. “The ‘seamless garment’ image has always been a wonderful metaphor for me,” said Branagan when she took the Life Center job, recalling the approach of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
According to a 2012 biographical sketch, Dolejsi was a high school teacher and director of religious education in the Seattle archdiocese. A 1991 edition of Caritas, which lists Dolejsi on the board of directors of the Sisters of Providence, states that he directed programs for Archbishop Hunthausen, including Faith and Community Development. He co-founded CHANNEL, a leadership program for young adults, which was a subject of discussion in Michael Rose’s Goodbye Good Men.
In 1997, an article titled “One of Hunthausen’s Boys,” written by Lesley Payne, was published in the San Francisco Faith. Here are some excerpts from that article:
Andrea Vangor, executive director of Washington Together Against Pornography, spoke about Dolejsi’s actions in Seattle.
“We ran a bill to protect minors from pornography,” says Vangor. “We ran it as an initiative. Bishop Wuerl… endorsed it. I spoke with Ned, who was the head lobbyist for the Washington bishops, to get their endorsement. We sent him the bill and all the analyses we had obtained. He told me they would endorse it, but then he released this half-baked statement on it, more negative than positive. He hinted that it might be unconstitutional, but he apparently did not read our constitutional law analyses and did no research of his own on it. He carried the water for some ugly people.”
A Catholic pro-life activist in Washington state believes Dolejsi was “just doing his job,” following instructions from the Washington bishops and their staffs.
“He is down there [in California] because there is a Hunthausen/Roger Mahony connection. This is one of Hunthausen’s boys. Archbishop Murphy has cancer [Murphy has since died]. We expect that our next bishop will be more like recent appointments – a strong conservative. This guy would have been out of a job soon. So they found him this job in California.”
The pro-lifer notes that the Washington Catholic Conference is aligned with the Washington Association of Churches, a strongly pro-choice organization. “They never wanted to offend the other churches by doing anything pro-life,” she complains. She says that the WCC took an officially “neutral” position toward a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to be killed by withholding food and water. “But statements made by Sister Sharon Park [WCC lobbyist] at the legislature were then anything but neutral,” she says.
“Sister Park is a liberal nun…,” says the pro-life activist. “The women are running the place. Back in the 1970s, Park was outspokenly pro-choice. Later, she toned that down, but not enough. There has never been any muscle coming from the Catholic Church on life issues in Washington. For example, we’re just now setting up a Right to Life Committee in this archdiocese, with the first meeting in September. Pro-life legislators – evangelical Christians – tell me, ‘I can’t understand why your church isn’t doing more on pro-life [issues].’”
“Bishop George [now Archbishop of Chicago] had run-ins with Ned when he was bishop of Yakima,” she notes. “George was able to stop the WCC from endorsing certain things, such as the Death with Dignity bill.”
A Seattle chancery insider recalls his misgivings about CHANNEL, a lay organization co-founded by Dolejsi.
“This was about the time Hunthausen came in. They were the diocesan Peace Corps. They were going to feed the poor and all that Catholic Action stuff. We never could figure out if they did anything besides collect money.” The source notes that, in the early 1980s, the archdiocese of Seattle leased its closed seminary building to the state. He recalls his embarrassment when giving state employees a tour of the seminary building, then occupied by CHANNEL. “They took the tabernacle off the altar and put a rug and a circle of cushions in the chapel. In the sacristy, all the chalices and vestments were in a huge pile in the middle of the floor.”
Next week: Part 4: blurred vision
To read previous parts of this series, click below:
Part 1: the years before