Capturing stories, building connections

The Cardinal Cody Story

Posted by on Oct 22, 2011 in Bill's journalism

Uncovering The Cardinal Catholic Church scandal in Chicago magazine 12-2002I grew up feasting on stories, pretty much every kind of story–but the ones that always moved me most were the stories about people’s lives. I was a quiet and inward-turned kid (born in 1962), and I loved hanging around my Mom and Dad and their friends–a group of smart and funny and engaged people–and soaking in their conversations. My Dad, an investigative newspaper reporter, was a particularly robust listener and talker, always focused in on real stories.

Listening to and telling people’s stories is what I’ve done best in my career as a writer, interviewer and journalist. And so it’s no wonder then that the most intimate and personal story I’ve published so far is about my Dad and my family and a series of investigative stories he and two colleagues wrote in 1980 and 1981–and how my Dad died not long after.

Uncovering The Cardinal Catholic Church scandal in Chicago magazine 12-2002

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Cardinal John Cody was the long-time and powerful Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, then the largest diocese in the United States. My Dad was the top investigative reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. My Mom was a much-loved fourth-grade teacher at St. Luke School, the grade school from which my sisters, brother, and I had graduated. Both my parents were deeply religious–my Mom was then and is now a daily Mass-goer. The pastor of St. Luke back then was a personal friend of both my family and Cardinal Cody.

The Cody series was a jaw-dropper: The stories accused Cody of stealing money from the church to support a woman and her son–and it intimated that Cody was the father of the son. The Sunday after the series first hit, Mom and Dad and my brother, Mike (the youngest and only kid still at home), attended Mass at St. Luke as usual. But this was not a normal Mass–the pastor, our family friend, denounced the stories and my Dad personally from the pulpit that morning.

In August of 1983, my Dad died suddenly at age 50. My Mom and sisters and brother and I have always believed the enormous stress of the Cody series contributed mightily to Dad’s much-too-early death. And what I still grieve is the voice we lost the day Dad died–the stories and ethics, his unrecorded (though remembered) legacy.

So that’s why nine years ago, as I was turning 40 and the church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests was blasting into our national consciousness, I proposed a story on my family’s experience to the editors at Chicago magazine, which I’d written for previously, and they liked it. The story ran in the December 2002 issue. I moved to the Twin Cities two months later.

And now I’m launching this venture to record people’s stories, because my life and my gut tell me that preserving those stories is a vital service.