VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II met privately Monday with Auxiliary Bishop Donald Wuerl, whose appointment by the Vatican to assume some powers from Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen caused a furor among U.S. bishops.
The pope received Wuerl a week after a Vatican announcement that a special commission will investigate the troubled Seattle archdiocese. The Vatican transferred many of Hunthausen's powers as head of the archdiocese last fall to Wuerl, his auxiliary.
Hunthausen is known for his anti-war activities in an area where there is a heavy concentration of arms industries. He also came under attack from Catholic conservatives for his liberal views on homosexuality and liturgical practices and for not maintaining a tight rein on the archdiocese's Marriage Tribunal.
The U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the Vatican's action against Hunthausen.
The U.S. bishops, after two days of closed-door debate at a meeting in Washington in November, made clear in a carefully worded statement that U.S. church leaders were unhappy with the Vatican's action and the precedent it set.
At the bishops' meeting Hunthausen called the sharing of power with Wuerl 'all but unworkable.' He appealed to his fellow bishops for support.
The Vatican forced Hunthausen to relinquish his authority to Wuerl in major areas such as marriage tribunals, ministry to homosexuals, liturgy, priestly education, and seminaries. Hunthausen retains authority in all other spheres.
U.S. church officials said privately the Vatican is anxious to resolve the situation in Seattle quickly to ensure that the pope's visit to the United States in September is not marred by the controversy.
Vatican officials said the pontiff met with Wuerl for 15 minutes in his study overlooking St. Peter's Square. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls described the audience as 'routine.'
Wuerl declined to discuss the audience or the controversy involving his diocese. 'I'm just going to wait and see what the commission does,' he said.
Members of the commission are Cardinals Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and John O'Connor of New York and Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco.
Church sources said it is possible that, in an effort to rid the Seattle diocese of controversy, the commission would report that the problems had been resolved and recommend full authority for Hunthausen.
Bernardin, one of the United States's most powerful Roman Catholic prelates, had tried privately to mediate the Seattle dispute,church sources said.