In September 1981 the Sun-Times published a daring expose of the country's most powerful clergyman, Cardinal John Patrick Cody, archbishop of Chicago. The series charged fiscal impropriety and hinted at sexual scandal. Behind the scenes were Andrew Greeley, Joseph Bernardin, and a pack of competing newsmen chasing a Byzantine tale of ecclesiastical machination. The reporters, editors, and churchmen who then occupied center stage have since gone their separate ways. This is the story they tell today.
At the headquarters of the Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C., one afternoon in March 1980, a reporter named Carlton Sherwood found himself between assignments. He was winding down after an investigative series on a group of Pennsylvania monks who belonged to the Polish-based Pauline Fathers. The monks had collected funds to build a shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa, and had instead spent the money on European vacations, fancy cars, expensive stereos, and a life-style that didn't quite accord with the order's vow of poverty. A church investigation determined that the monks had collected $20 million in loans and contributions, much of it from Polish-American Catholics, and after eight years had assets of $1.3 million and debts of $8 million to show for it. The whole American church had been called upon to raise money to bail them out. In an 18-part series, Sherwood and colleagues John Hanchette and Bill Schmick—all Catholics—exposed the monks' profligate spending, the church's attempts to cover it up, and the government's repeated failures to investigate or prosecute. The series impressed many: the church thought the reporters deserved censure and labeled them anti-Catholic, while the journalism profession thought they deserved high honors. On that day in March 1980, Sherwood and his comrades were a few weeks away from winning the Pulitzer Prize.
Sherwood recalls that afternoon as follows: He was called into the office of Bob Dubill, the executive editor of the Gannett News Service. In the course of the Pauline series, Sherwood had come upon John Patrick Cody, head of the Chicago archdiocese and a huge contributor to the Paulines' salvage effort. Now Dubill suggested that Sherwood look into Cody's operation in Chicago.
The reporter was reluctant; he did not want to be typecast as an investigator of Catholic affairs, and he told Dubill that he did not know where to begin. 'Dubill handed him a piece of paper on which a Tucson, Arizona, phone number was written in red ink. "Why don't you start with this guy?" he said.
The phone number belonged to Father Andrew Greeley.
In September 1981, the Sun-Times did something no one in the nation had ever done before: it published an expose of the most powerful Catholic cardinal in the United States, the result of an investigation that lasted more than 18 months. After publication, however, the editors and reporters who worked on the story declined interviews about the process. Carlton Sherwood's story never saw the light of day. Father Greeley issued a press release to clarify his role, but that clarification conflicted with the stories of other principals in the drama.
The cardinal died on April 25, 1982, and the story pretty much died with him. The reporters, editors, and clergymen who were then on center stage have since gone their separate ways. This is the story they tell today, five years after the end of the affair.
The story starts with Father Greeley. In the mid-1970s, Greeley, a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, was an outspoken campaigner for Cardinal Cody's removal. His primary platform at the time was his newspaper column, which was syndicated nationwide by the Universal Press Syndicate. Greeley believed that Cody was a terrible administrator and a compulsive liar; that he suffered from an antisocial character defect which prevented him from entering any relationships of trust or loyalty; and that he had alienated huge sections of the Chicago clergy and laity. Greeley was by no means alone in his opinions, and there was evidence to support some of his charges.
How Greeley joined forces with Gannett is not entirely clear. Carlton Sherwood and his former editor Bill Schmick recall that the prodding of the news service was done directly by Greeley, but the story the priest tells in his autobiography, Confessions of a Parish Priest, would lead one to believe that it all happened very casually. Greeley says he talked with Jim Andrews, head of the Universal Press Syndicate, about the possibility of a journalistic investigation of the cardinal, and adds that a couple of years after that conversation, Andrews told Gannett that there was a good story to be done in Chicago. Andrews is now dead. Bob Dubill, the Gannett editor who assigned Carlton Sherwood to the story, declined to answer my questions on the matter. Greeley declined to be interviewed because of pending litigation, the cause of which will be explained below.
What is certain is that Sherwood met Greeley in Tucson in late March 1980. At that time, Greeley was either working on or finished with The Cardinal Sins, a novel about an archbishop who has a relationship with a woman who he falsely claims is related to him by blood. Sherwood says that Greeley gave him an earful about archdiocesan finances and a woman friend of Cardinal Cody's, as well as a list of possible sources throughout the church. The editors at Gannett were pleased with Sherwood's prospects, and the reporter made plans for a trip to Chicago.
The trip was delayed by the Pulitzer and the promotional tour that followed. "I came to Chicago in late May, early June," Sherwood said in a recent interview, "and I set up at the Hilton out at the airport, figuring that was a safe place to be—Chicago has a great reputation, reporters in Chicago, if it moves they shoot at it—and I didn't want anybody to know that I was there. Especially fresh off the Pulitzer circuit, I figure Jesus Christ, if anybody knows I'm here lookin', I'm gonna have five reporters trackin' me around. I set up a secret shop out there, sort of a safe house. Nobody'd ever look out there. Then I began doing interviews with people.
"It soon became clear to me that everybody and their mother knew I was in Chicago. [Sun-Times religion editor] Roy Larson called me and we had lunch down at the Cape Cod Room at the Drake, and it was common knowledge that I was in town snooping around. The person who spilled the beans was Andy Greeley. Andy went to Roy Larson, and said, 'You got a hotshot investigative reporter coming into town, he's gonna eat your lunch, he's gonna make you guys look stupid, he's gonna get Cody,' and so on and so forth."
Larson says that he heard from many sources that his turf would soon be invaded, and that he was already working on Cardinal Cody himself. At that point, Larson, formerly a Methodist minister, had been religion editor of the Sun-Times for 12 years and was widely respected.
"I personally was probably responsible for keeping Cardinal Cody in Chicago for as long as he was here," Larson told me. "I say that with a smile, but there is an element of truth in it. There were constant rumors about the Vatican bumping Cody upstairs, giving him a miscellaneous portfolio in Rome, but they will never do this when a man is under fire, and it is hard to remember a time when Cody was not under fire. And I think I was the one who was chiefly responsible for reporting the stories that kept him under fire.
"One of the things that I very strongly believe as a churchman is the New Testament thing: Judgment begins with the household of God. If the church's own house is not in order, it really is not in a moral or ethical position to be proclaiming righteousness to everybody else. And what appalled me was that this self-corrective, which is anchored in the biblical vision of the church, was not brought into play. The system did not work."
Larson says that he heard stories of the cardinal's strange administration and behavior for years. "Priests loved to talk about this kind of thing," he recalls. "Catholic laypeople loved to just chatter about it. In many ways the talk was pretty promiscuous, told in jest. People kind of enjoyed it privately. Nobody ever seemed to want to pin it down. Eventually the stories over a period of time begin to collect, and you begin to wonder, 'Is there something to it?' We decided to just check out the stories and see if there was anything there."
In the beginning, Larson was sorting out the stories on his own. The arrival of Carlton Sherwood, however, gave Larson some internal leverage that resulted in the paper's decision to assign Bill Clements and Gene Mustain to work with the religion editor on the story. Mustain, then 32, had just finished an investigative series tagged "The Accident Swindlers," an expose of insurance fraud, that would be runner-up for a Pulitzer in 1981. Clements, 49, was one of the senior investigators on the paper, and had already been advising Larson. "Bill found it hard to believe some of the things I told him," Larson says. "Bill was a very faithful Catholic, it was really in his bones. But the other thing that was in his bones was investigative reporting."
And so a race began between the Sun-Times and Gannett. In this case, journalism and the public were not well served by the competition.
In the spring of 1980, the cardinal was 72 years old and had been head of the Chicago archdiocese—the largest in the nation—for almost 15 years. In his book, Power and Authority in the Catholic Church: Cardinal Cody in Chicago, the Dominican priest Charles Dahm reports that when Cody moved to Chicago after four years as archbishop of New Orleans, he arrived with a reputation as a financial wizard and a social liberal, the latter being the result of forcing integration on the New Orleans Catholic school system. Dahm also reports that Cody's rapport with the priests of the New Orleans diocese was such that they sang a Te Deum, a solemn hymn of thanksgiving, upon their archbishop's departure.
Under Cody's reign in Chicago, the archdiocese began a program in which wealthy parishes contributed to poor ones. Cody also instituted a pension plan for priests; provided $40 million for inner-city schools and parishes; quietly approved weekly masses for Catholic homosexuals; and disciplined none of the priests who publicly took issue with Pope Paul VI's controversial encyclical on birth control.
From the first years of his reign, however, Cody had not enjoyed widespread popularity. In 1966, conservative whites protested his encouragement of open housing marches in certain white Chicago neighborhoods, while blacks objected when Cody later called upon Martin Luther King to terminate some of those demonstrations. In 1968, Cody further angered local blacks by refusing to appoint the Reverend George Clements pastor of Saint Dorothy Church. Clements was assistant pastor and had the support of his parishioners; ultimately the four black priests in the diocese criticized Cody, one of them calling the cardinal an "unconscious white racist." Not long thereafter, Cody spent $3 million renovating Holy Name Cathedral; liberal critics believed the money would have been better spent on the poor. In 1975, the cardinal ordered the closing of four black schools in Englewood, an action that was denounced by the archdiocesan school board and won him no friends in the black community. By that time, the cardinal had become a very remote figure. In an interview with columnist Bob Greene in 1973, he said that he had no close friends.
The malaise that resulted from Cody's authoritarian style of management did not escape the attention of the Vatican, and there were unconfirmed reports of two Vatican-sponsored investigations of the Cody administration in the late 1970s. At some point in that period, Pope Paul VI came to believe that Cody and Chicago should part company, and there were recurring rumors that the cardinal would be transferred to a post in Rome.
Ed Wall, editor of the Chicago archdiocese's newspaper from 1976 to January 1984, was a close associate of the cardinal during the waning years of his regime, and was questioned by the Curia during one of the Vatican investigations of the cardinal. Wall says that the inquiry was conducted on a wide scale. "The question was whether Cardinal Cody would be removed from office," Wall told me in a telephone interview, "or whether Joe Bernardin would be sent in as coadjutor archbishop with right of succession, much like what happened with the archbishop of Seattle." Seattle archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, who lives in a two-room apartment, drives a Volkswagen, and eats at McDonald's, fell out of favor with Pope John Paul II for his liberal approach to marriage annulments, the liturgy, and homosexuality, among other things. In December 1985, an auxiliary archbishop was appointed to take over some of Hunthausen's duties.
"It is very hard, almost impossible, to remove a cardinal from office," Wall says. "I don't think a cardinal has ever been removed from office in modern times. But it would be possible to do what they have done to Hunthausen. Cody really thought Paul VI was going to bring in a coadjutor archbishop who would share power and make Cody a ceremonial figure."
There was never any formal announcement that the man the Vatican had in mind was Joe Bernardin, then archbishop of Cincinnati, but Wall says that Cardinal Cody assumed that Bernardin would be the Vatican's nominee.
"Cody hated Bernardin," Wall told me. "I don't know why. But there were a lot of people on his list, and Bernardin was one of them. And there were some other bishops and of course Pope Paul VI. It was a distinguished list.
"The cardinal threatened to create a lot of trouble if he was removed from office. He said he would not go quietly, that he knew where the bodies were buried, and that if they tried to remove him from office they would regret it." Cody told Wall that he would write a book, and he expected the editor to help him write it; with that in mind, the two met regularly on Monday mornings to discuss church politics and the cardinal's administration.
"The question was what he would say in the book," Wall says, "whether it would be a book of scandals about the church, which he would write, he said, if he was thrown out, or whether it would be a more benign kind of autobiographical work if he were allowed to retire.
"Cody knew that Paul VI was really lowering the boom on him, and the death of Paul VI was what saved Cardinal Cody." Pope Paul VI died on August 6, 1978. He was succeeded by Albino Luciani, who took the name John Paul I and died 33 days later. John Paul I was succeeded by the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who took the name John Paul II. According to Wall, Cardinal Cody felt he had reached an agreement with John Paul II, an understanding that there would be no coadjutor, that the cardinal would be allowed to retire gracefully when he turned 75 at the end of 1982.
As cardinal, Cody controlled a vast empire. According to Illinois legislation passed in 1845 and 1861, Cody was the "corporation sole," the legal owner of all land, buildings, and other assets belonging to the archdiocese. In 1911, the Vatican had advised all dioceses in the United States to adopt the system used in New York State, in which each parish controlled its own property and the archbishop had a vote and the power of veto, but not overall responsibility. The New York system was never adopted in Illinois, and as a result Cardinal Cody seemed all-powerful.
He kept a tight rein, financially and socially, on the diocese. He decided what financial information would be distributed, for example, and what he chose to release was inaccurate, incomplete, and full of conflicting information. He also ordered the administrators of Catholic colleges to forbid priests from outside the archdiocese to lecture at local colleges without the permission of the archdiocese.
"If somebody was giving a talk—maybe a theologian speaking at DePaul University, which was one of the devil's own as far as Cardinal Cody was concerned—he would often solicit somebody to attend the lecture and then report back to him, not only on the contents of the lecture, but on who was there," Wall recalls.
"He did a lot of checking up on people. He used to boast to me that there were members of the Chicago Police Department and even FBI agents who would do what he asked them to do. He could get people to do his investigative work for him, or threatening work, or in a subtle way to try to scare people off, to try to divert their attention.
"He had spies everywhere and he used to tell me about them, and then when I found out he had one planted in my own office, I thought, 'Well, I should have suspected, but I didn't.' I never did discover who it was. I just knew he was getting reports that could only come from somebody attending a staff meeting or talking to somebody who attended a staff meeting.
"It was just kind of characteristic of Cody's mentality, and I have to admit, his thoroughness. He would boast about being able to get his plane in—if he was coming in and planes were all stacked up, he could get the plane he was aboard landed ahead of all the others at O'Hare. He just took it for granted that the cardinal archbishop of Chicago was certainly the most powerful man in Illinois and if he wanted something he could always find people to do it. I don't have any reason to doubt that—people will fall all over to do something for a cardinal. Cardinals, governors, movie stars—people just break their necks to do things for them. So Cardinal Cody just always took that for granted, so if he needed something from a policeman, well, he knew lots of them and they were ready to do him favors. … If you think about it, there is nothing remarkable about that. It may not be right, but it is just human nature at work, people all wanting to do something for this holy man.
"He would say these things with kind of a laugh, that there were ways of dealing with people. He told me that in one of his difficult times, one of Chicago's leading criminals had volunteered to help him, had volunteered to wipe somebody out, and Cody thought this was very funny. He said, 'Of course I didn't do it,' but he didn't think there was anything all that odd about a Mafia figure offering to do whatever he needed to have done.
"But then again, Cardinal Cody was a great storyteller. It took me a long time to realize that some of the stories he told were more true than others. He once told me, in elaborate detail, a great story about how he did not own his residence, that the archbishop of Chicago lives in that residence, but that it was owned by an order of nuns. He told me the year that they acquired the property, and the names of the sisters, and he said that the legal provision was that if that house were not used as the archbishop's residence, the property would all revert to the nuns. Well, I told that story to Bernardin before he became archbishop of Chicago as just an interesting kind of a story, and I wrote something about it and had it in the paper. Well it's not true. Cardinal Cody made it up. And it was later that I realized that he made it up because people were critical of him for living all alone in that giant mansion, and so he made up this story, that if he ever moved out it would go back to the order of sisters, and so therefore he was doing a good thing by hanging onto this property for the archdiocese. I found out it wasn't true after it was published in the paper, and I got a call—I think it was Bernardin himself, but I really don't remember for sure—just wising me up that that story was not true. Of course then I wondered how many other wonderful stories he had made up through the years. But at least he was entertaining."
Wall, now 62, came to Chicago in 1976 after terms as managing editor of the Honolulu Advertiser and director of the National Catholic News Service. He signed on as editor of the Chicago archdiocesan paper (the New World, later known as the Chicago Catholic) with the understanding that Cody would maintain a respectful distance from the operation. Although it was the official newspaper of the archdiocese, some effort had been made to give the paper a degree of independence. It was organized as a separate corporation, for example, with its own board of directors, the cardinal not among them.
Wall discovered soon after taking the job, however, that the paper was nonetheless inseparably bound to the cardinal. The New World was owed tens of thousands of dollars by parishes, Wall says, and at the same time the paper itself owed a similar amount to printers and other creditors. The cardinal would not allow the paper to aggressively collect the money owed by parishes, and so soon after Wall's arrival, the New World had to be bailed out by chancery funds.
"Cody would often order things done that were very unbusinesslike and very costly to the paper and which no manager in his right mind would do," Wall told me, "but the implication was that he was paying for it, and if he wanted to do something that from a business standpoint made no sense, that was perfectly all right because he was going to cover the losses.
"The first real intervention he made in the operation of the newspaper occurred when the paper still occupied its own building at 109 N. Dearborn. It had been in that building for many years. That location and the building symbolized some degree of independence on the part of the paper, some separation from the central apparatus of the archdiocese. So he called me out to his residence one day. He had just bought a building on Superior Street and he wanted the New World to become a tenant in that building. And I was opposed to it for obvious reasons: I felt that the paper would lose some of its credibility if it were physically taken into the chancery office building. Also, the New World owned the building on Dearborn Street and it had some income from rents; to move into the chancery office would mean that we would have to start paying rent to the archdiocese, and pay whatever rent the archdiocese decided to charge. You don't negotiate something like that."
At about the same time, Wall says, the cardinal also decided that he disliked both the name of the paper (which it had borne for more than 70 years) and the sign outside its headquarters. The sign, which spelled out "The New World" in lights, was several stories high and had been installed years earlier at considerable expense. "It was curious the things the cardinal got involved in," Wall says. "That was one of his projects. He wanted that sign taken down, and I wanted it left up. So after some discussion, of course it came down. He told me he would pay for it. So I made all the arrangements and it was taken down. It cost several thousand dollars. And I got the bill, and I sent it to him. And I got a call back from his office saying that I should go ahead and pay the bill on the grounds that it is all Cardinal Cody's money anyway. All these different accounts, it was all his money, and so no matter how I paid for it, he was really paying for it. This seemed bizarre at the time, and today it still sounds bizarre, but that's the way it happened.
"Of course I lost all of the arguments on selling the building. I said to him something like 'This is a bad time to sell. The building is a good investment, and we couldn't begin to get the right price for it if we sell it as quickly as you want it sold.' His reply was essentially this: 'I don't care how much you sell it for, I want it sold right now.' This was a stunning proposition, but that's the way it happened. We called the real estate dealers and the building was sold very quickly and we were all whisked over to a building he had bought on Superior Street.
"He bought that building in a big rush because the archdiocese had been using rented property in another building and the lease was not going to be renewed and Cody wouldn't believe that he couldn't get them to renew the lease. Then when he finally discovered that he was really being thrown out of there, he had no place to go. So he bought this building, and again that is not the most advantageous way to make a business deal, but that's what he did. And of course he told me we would have all the necessary space, and of course there was never enough space. And it was just a bad thing, I felt, to be pulled into the middle of the apparatus. It damaged the credibility of the paper and it was bad for staff morale and it wasn't good business. But that's the way the church sometimes operates—one man can do whatever his whim suggests. He is not accountable to anybody really."
The cardinal did not merely interfere with the paper's name, location, and financial position; he also interfered with the content. "You may think there are other issues in the world," Wall says, "like hunger, famine, AIDS, and that kind of thing, but to Cardinal Cody, one of the biggest problems in the world was priests who appeared in public without the Roman collar. So he would send me little notes every once in a while if we had a picture in the paper of a priest without a collar—although we tried very hard to avoid it because it really wasn't worth the hassle with the cardinal. So one day he called me up and he was very angry and he said that you had Father So-and-so's picture in the paper, and he was not wearing his collar. What we had was an entertainment section that had a picture taken of a play being performed in which a priest played a part, appropriately costumed for whatever that part was. And I said to Cardinal Cody, 'You know this man is playing a part in a play,' and I started to laugh about it because I thought the cardinal had misunderstood. But he became more furious, and he said, 'I told you I don't want priests in the paper without their Roman collars.' That illustrates the way he thought about things and the utter impossibility of talking to him the way you would talk to a civilian publisher of a newspaper.
"He also interfered with advertising. He called me up to complain one time that we had carried an ad for a particular firm and he didn't want that firm to advertise anymore. So I of course immediately became anxious, wondering what was wrong with the firm—were they swindlers or what was it? And the cardinal said no, he just didn't like the people who ran it and therefore we should reject their advertising. He would get very upset about whole categories of advertising. It was the kind of thing where he would have a bad experience with a travel agent or an airline and decide that all travel advertising ought to be left out of the paper. And it was impossible to carry on any kind of a discussion about all this because he was already angry when he got onto me. He told me year after year that he was going to come in and call a meeting of the staff and tell them what he had on his mind. I always lived in horror of the day when he actually might get around to doing that because I had set myself up as a buffer between him and the staff and I didn't want anybody to know some of the things he had to say, because I knew they would have a terrible effect on morale and that they didn't really mean anything as long as the cardinal only said them to me and then I didn't do anything about them."
Wall absorbed much of this abuse in late-night phone calls from the cardinal and in the Monday morning meetings, which went on for several years. Wall tells a story of fighting his way through a blizzard to the cardinal's mansion one winter morning and ringing the bell, quite anxious for the warmth of the prelate's inner sanctum. "They had a PA system so you could talk to somebody coming to the door," Wall says, "and this scratchy voice came down saying not to bother today, just to be on my way. As long as you are running a tape recorder, I won't tell you my precise thought.
"But that is the way he was. He was a person of whim, and if he had hauled you out there in the middle of a blizzard and decided he was going to have a second cup of coffee instead of talking to you, he would send you on your way. Yet at other times he was very, very gracious and very helpful, and he did a lot of good things for people along the way. But he was a strange man. I mean literally a strange man. I don't think that he could have risen to a position of such power anyplace except in the Catholic church. You can be an eccentric and become a cardinal, and be kind of nutty and become cardinal, but anyplace else, you would have to inherit the business to have an equivalent position."
Reporter Gene Mustain recalls that the first piece of paper he saw when he was assigned to the Sun-Times investigation was a Roy Larson memo reporting that the Gannett chain was coming to town. The memo suggested that the Sun-Times might anticipate the Gannett story, perhaps by looking into a tale the religion editor had heard for years—that Cardinal Cody was steering insurance business from the archdiocese to someone in Saint Louis who might be a relative. Mustain, having just finished an investigation of auto insurance fraud, began looking into the archdiocese's various insurance policies.
"After about a month, Bill Clements and I had discovered quite a bit. I discovered some of the insurance was placed with a broker in Saint Louis named David Wilson, who was the son of a woman who had been variously described as the cardinal's sister, cousin, and niece. I called some people in Saint Louis, New Orleans, and Kansas City and found out yeah, David Wilson had gotten the business there too. So it began to look pretty interesting, but at that time we didn't have any idea of the monumental scope it might eventually be. To us it looked like one fairly decent story: the cardinal, wherever he had been in the church as the bishop or the one in control, had used David Wilson. In New Orleans he used Wilson, who had just gotten his insurance license a couple weeks before, who wasn't with a big company, who was a young guy, to do this very important deal. So that's interesting, how a church authority would use his influence to give business to a relative—exactly what relative that might be, we didn't know yet—when there would be a lot of companies here in Chicago that would do the business just as well and the commissions could stay locally and benefit the local Catholic insurance salesmen.
"As we began to get those kinds of facts, we were making calls all over the country and obviously people were reporting back to Cody and the church communications people about our inquiries, and that's when the pressure began. The first call came to Roy Larson. Peter Foote, who was in charge of their communications at the time, said, 'We're very unhappy. What are you doing? This is a witch-hunt. What is going on? You are asking questions about the cardinal's relatives.' Roy said, 'We're just working on a newspaper story. We don't know what we are going to have yet, but we are going to pursue this story. It's an interesting story.'" (Both Peter Foote and David Wilson declined to be interviewed for this article.)
The call to Larson was followed by calls to Ralph Otwell, editor of the Sun-Times, and Jim Hoge, who had just been promoted from editor in chief to publisher of the paper. The investigation was a significant test for Otwell, Hoge, and the paper. They were taking on the head of the Catholic church in a very Catholic town. If the paper were to print something that local Catholics could not stomach, it would be in very serious trouble. The archdiocese's calls, however, failed to intimidate the Sun-Times management, and the investigation continued.
In the meantime, Gannett reporter Carlton Sherwood was still plugging away. "I had gotten some financial records out of [the accounting firm] Touche Ross," he told me, "and by the beginning of July I pretty much had a handle on some land transactions in Florida, essentially what the Sun-Times later ran. But then something happened in July that stopped me cold."
The event that eventually blocked Sherwood began innocently enough. On July 7, James Winters, the 24-year-old managing editor of Notre Dame magazine, walked into the library at Rosary College in River Forest and asked to see Andrew Greeley's archives. Winters was writing a profile of the priest, and had interviewed him in Tucson at great length over the course of four days in March. Winters had liked Greeley, and the priest had liked Winters. Greeley had talked freely, perhaps recklessly (according to Winters, Greeley offered the theory that one former cardinal had been a homosexual and may have been murdered). Winters left Tucson with a list of people to interview and with permission to enter Greeley's archives, which were stored at Rosary College. What he had permission to look at is still under dispute. Winters contends Greeley placed no restrictions on access; Greeley contends that his intention was to limit Winters to looking at book manuscripts only. Because the dispute gave rise to a libel suit, Winters and Greeley would not be interviewed for this story; their sworn testimony in court depositions is the basis of my account.
Winters was surprised at the informality of the Greeley archives. They were not housed in a separate section of the college library, but in 18 cardboard file boxes of different sizes that were stacked in a conference room for Winters's convenience. The material was not indexed; the only way to determine what was in each box was to open it. Sometimes the contents were roughly organized and sometimes they were not.
While rummaging through the files over the course of several days, Winters found transcripts of daily memos and diary entries that Greeley had dictated into a tape recorder on his trips to Rome in 1975, 1976, and 1977, and ten microcassette tapes from a trip in 1978. When he left the library, the journalist took with him photocopies of the transcripts and the ten microcassettes. When he was later asked under oath why he had not informed the library staff that he was taking the tapes, he said, "It didn't occur to me that it was necessary."
Winters brought home a curious set of documents. In one entry, made in the fall of 1977, Greeley reported that he had had lunch with Archbishop Bernardin of Cincinnati, who was in Rome attending a synod of bishops. According to Greeley's recollection of the discussion, Bernardin told him that Cardinal Jean Jadot, apostolic delegate to the United States, had been investigating Cardinal Cody and had compiled a dossier of charges against him, but that the effort to remove the cardinal from his post had run out of steam, in part because Cody had friends in high places in Rome. Greeley's notes from the lunch also indicate that Pope Paul VI had been rebuffed when he offered the cardinal a job as head of the Vatican Financial Commission; that the Congregation of Bishops had asked Bernardin to compile a second dossier arguing for Cody's dismissal; and that Bernardin had agreed to do it.
Greeley concluded that Cody had too many highly placed friends to be removed by anything but "the worst kind of public scandal." Greeley also said that Bernardin, whom he referred to as "the great man," was the only one in the American hierarchy who could get rid of Cody. "He has to be the one to do it," Greeley said, "and he assumes that there are enough people around in Rome who have confidence in him that he will not be thought of as seeking personal promotion for himself. It's a very sticky business, though . . ."
Greeley went on to wonder why Bernardin had been so open. "I'm not sure why he's telling it to me, except I guess he values me as an ally in the fight against Cody."
Other transcripts in 1975, 1976, and 1977 had Greeley talking about the possibility of organizing a campaign for a liberal pope to succeed Paul VI, and throwing the resources of the Universal Press Syndicate behind a papal candidate. Greeley lamented the lack of effort by liberals within the college of cardinals to organize themselves, and he spoke to several prominent churchmen about it. He expressed these thoughts in Chicagoese, sometimes imitating Mayor Daley's enunciation ("We godda organize da voters") and referring to "rigging" and "wiring" the next papal election. The possibility of Greeley actually "rigging" the papal election was preposterous, but it was not impossible for someone within the college of cardinals to organize a liberal bloc of votes. Greeley's choice for the organizer's job was Joe Bernardin, who was not then a cardinal. The priest thought that the most likely path for Bernardin's entry into that select group was through Cody's departure, and that Cody's departure could be instigated by a newspaper expose. "We turn an investigative reporter loose on the archdiocese of Chicago, a really good one mind you, maybe some son-of-a-bitch from out of town, and tell him to blow the Chicago thing wide open . . ."
While Winters was going over this material back in South Bend, Greeley was staying in his home in Grand Beach, Michigan. Early in the morning of July 29, 1980, he went out to get a haircut, and when he came back, the phone started ringing. One call was from Archbishop Bernardin's press secretary, another from James Andrews of the Universal Press Syndicate, to whom the Roman memos had been addressed and whom Greeley had referred to as "co-conspirator." Winters wanted to interview the archbishop and Andrews about the effort to "rig" a papal election.
Greeley was stunned. He called Sister Candida Lund, the nun who had arranged for the Greeley papers to be housed at Rosary College. Greeley says that Sister Candida investigated and informed him that Winters had been given the key to the Xerox machine. The revelation, Greeley later recalled, "struck more terror in my heart."
"The days rush together in a kaleidoscopic nightmare," Greeley said of late July and early August 1980. He called Bernardin to express his "sorrow and horror and consternation and embarrassment," and found the archbishop "sympathetic but apprehensive."
Greeley also called his attorney and then wrote a letter to Winters saying that Rosary had had no right to let the writer read personal files, that all copies should be returned, and that Winters should give him a guarantee that he would not use the material.
On August 4, Winters wrote back, saying that he had at all times identified himself as a reporter, that he had informed Greeley of his intention to visit the archives, and that Greeley had placed no restriction on his access. The cover sheets of the Roman papers had been labeled "Personal, Confidential, Top Secret." Today Winters argues that whatever confidentiality or secrecy once accrued to the documents was no longer in effect: Greeley had, after all, sent the material to a library and once it got there it was very casually kept—the "top secret" mingled with the mundane. In his letter to Greeley, Winters cited First Amendment protection for his news-gathering efforts, and in his court depositions he stated his belief that the First Amendment also gave him the right to walk out of the library with the microcassettes.
Father Greeley appealed to higher authority. Early in August he drove to South Bend and had dinner with Father Theodore Hesburgh, then president of the University of Notre Dame. In Greeley's account of the meeting, Hesburgh indicated that he did not think anyone's personal files should be exposed by the university, and said that, while assuring Winters that no one was threatening his job, he had asked the journalist to return the material.
In Winters's version of his meeting with Hesburgh, the editor argued that returning the material would amount to a cover-up and a violation of journalistic ethics. He says that Hesburgh had talked to Greeley and Bernardin about the matter and offered three reasons for the return of the material, saying that "at Notre Dame, we do not hurt people"; that the magazine did not do exposes; and that Greeley was not well. Winters says Hesburgh handed him a column that the priest had allegedly written for distribution by the Universal Press Syndicate. In the column, which was never published, Greeley announced his resignation from the active priesthood because of the harm that his activities had done to his family and friends. (Hesburgh says he does not recall the column and prefers not to comment on his meetings with the two writers.)
Winters asked for a week to think about the problem. The next day, he returned his copies of the transcripts to the Rosary College library along with the tapes. Hesburgh wrote him a thank-you letter, and phoned Greeley with the news. He did not know that Winters had copied the copies and transcribed the tapes.
When the initial efforts to intimidate the Sun-Times failed, the cardinal launched a preemptive strike in the pages of the Chicago Catholic.
In an editorial published on July 11, 1980, the Chicago Catholic said that the Sun-Times was conducting "a journalistic inquisition," that the paper and its editors were not "proper judges of an archbishop, a successor to the Apostles, whose authority did not come from a board of election commissioners. No newspaper should try to boost its circulation at a chilling cost to the free exercise of a religion it finds foreign and unfamiliar."
The attack continued on August 22. In a page-one story, Peter Foote, archdiocesan director of communications, claimed that the people who had been interviewed by the Sun-Times said that the paper was not interested in the good works done by the church and that the reporters' questions impugned the administrative ability of the archdiocese. "As a religion editor, it seems Roy Larson is unhappy we are going good," Foote said.
The article, which gave Larson no chance to respond, was accompanied by an editorial that proclaimed, "The Chicago Sun-Times appears to see circulation profit in anti-Catholicism. … the Chicago Sun-Times is engaged in a program of clandestine character assassination that perhaps would win the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan."
The editorials were written by Ed Wall, who has since told me that he thought Roy Larson "is as good a man as you could find." I told Wall that I found it hard to understand how, as a professional journalist, he could argue that the Sun-Times had no business looking into the cardinal's operation; how he could with any conscience link the Sun-Times with the KKK; and how, knowing what he knew about Cody's administration of the diocese, he could accuse the Sun-Times of immoral behavior. Wall explained that at the time he was struggling with what he saw as the demands of his religion and his knowledge of the cardinal.
"I went to work for the archdiocese from being director of the National Catholic News Service. I was president of the International Federation of Catholic Journalists, and I later became a director of the Catholic Press Association. I was pretty close to being a religious fanatic. I never stopped to analyze it, and would have been horrified if I had, but I realize looking back that my attitude was that the Roman Catholic church was always right, and that cardinals were God's representatives. The cardinal was not like the chairman of General Motors, the cardinal was a prince of the church. He was God's man in Chicago. It may be a little hard for people to understand that point of view, but there were an awful lot of us who had that point of view. When I went to Chicago it was generally my feeling that if a cardinal asked me to stand on my head on top of a flagpole in the middle of the street, I would do it. And I would wonder why, but I would think, 'Well, God must want that.' It was a long, painful process to discover that cardinals are men wearing red clothes."
Given his religious fervor, Wall was incensed when he heard Cody's version of what the Sun-Times was up to. "He presented it as an attack on the church, an attack on freedom of religion, and I believed him," Wall told me. "It seemed to me at that time that Catholics understood that the Roman Catholic church is not democratic. It is hierarchical, and it has a prince, and it uses all the terminology and the paraphernalia of royalty, and it rejects the whole idea of democracy formally." Wall says that he believed, based on the cardinal's version of events, that the Sun-Times was attacking the structure of the church, that the paper was saying that the church should be democratic, that the cardinal should be as accountable to the public as the chairman of the school board. Wall, a fierce believer in the separation of church and state, admits he went after the Sun-Times with some gusto, only to realize slowly after the Sun-Times stories were published that the paper was instead saying, in his words, "that if you are claiming tax deductions under federal laws, you have to answer to those laws."
Even at the time, however, Wall had great qualms about the cardinal. He dropped his byline from the editorials, and he continued to feed material—some of which he had access to as a member of the Archdiocesan Finance Committee—to Archbishop Bernardin and the member of the Curia who had called him in during the Vatican's investigation of the cardinal years before.
After publishing his tirade against the Sun-Times on August 22, Wall sent the tabloid's editor a copy and asked for comment. "Public relations counselors for the Chicago Archdiocese have been given repeated assurances that official church representatives will be given opportunity to comment on any possible findings before they are published," editor Ralph Otwell said in his written reply. "We regret the Chicago Catholic did not adhere to this normal standard of journalistic integrity by contacting the Sun-Times before publishing an article based entirely on hearsay and apprehension."
The cardinal decided to escalate the attack against the Sun-Times two months later. He authorized Peter Foote to release a statement to the Tribune calling the Sun-Times investigation "an affront to all Catholics." The statement went on to say, "It's really incredible that the Sun-Times has been investigating a church of 2 1/2 million people for six months without a solid question that they can put to official sources." The statement, published on the Tribune's front page on Sunday, November 2, 1980, suggested that the Sun-Times was "attacking" the cardinal because "the Cardinal and the Church have enunciated a lifestyle opposed to that of the Sun-Times." Ed Wall was also quoted, saying, "Under the First Amendment, churches are to be free from harassment. And we are accusing the Sun-Times of harassment."
The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times also did stories about the cardinal's campaign against the Sun-Times, and Mustain says that the Catholic League, an antidefamation group, later determined that the Larson-Mustain-Clements investigation was one of the gravest threats against the church in 1980. What was extraordinary about the controversy was that the Sun-Times was more than nine months away from publishing a single word.
The Chicago Catholic's barrage continued through 1980 and 1981. "The attempted intimidation angered me," Roy Larson told me, "and yet it was so wretchedly done that the anger was curbed by a kind of amusement too. … You can kind of admire a kind of Machiavellianism when you see it done well, but [not] when you see it done in this stupid way. … It was crude, vicious, vulgar, inept, and journalistically shameless."
"It made it very difficult to develop sources," Gene Mustain recalled. "Those people who might be inclined to talk to you off the record, it made them nervous. A lot of people we had to talk to were important Catholics, some of whom have positions at the chancery and within the archdiocese, and some of them were reluctant to talk to us, afraid of retribution or afraid of just being involved or suspected of talking to us. So it created a climate of distrust among people we would go to see. They'd say, 'Hey, I'm not going to talk to you guys, you're out to get the cardinal.'"
While the Chicago Catholic's crusade may have frightened off some sources, it had quite a different effect on the Sun-Times newsroom. Mustain says that his editors were angered that their right to do the story had been questioned, that the cardinal's attack strengthened their resolve to go ahead.
The investigation took so long, Mustain says, because "we had to reconstruct Cody's entire life, beginning from when he was a small boy in Saint Louis, following him everywhere. We reconstructed his life over 40 years, 50 years, longer than that. I remember down in Saint Louis, we made three trips down there, I remember in July or August of that first year, lookin' through all these dusty birth and marriage records and divorce records on an unbelievably hot day in Saint Louis, and all the air-conditioning broke down in public buildings. We were up there about 12 hours, and the information we got was measured in single words sometimes. Everything was so old, and there were so many tentacles."
One of the tentacles was a woman named Helen Dolan Wilson, the mother of the young man who had been given church insurance business wherever Cody was posted. Helen Dolan was born in Saint Louis in 1907 and was four months older than the cardinal. Her mother was an Irish immigrant, her father a policeman, and as children, she and the future cardinal lived in the same neighborhood. Her mother died when she was four years old, and a year later, her father married Cardinal Cody's aunt. It might be said that the cardinal and Helen were then made stepcousins—though the Sun-Times later quoted experts who said that in legal or genealogical terms they were technically unrelated.
"Once we had the insurance story," Mustain says, "we got an idea of how much David Wilson had profited from his relationship with Cody. We began checking out who he was and who his mother was. And in doing that, we just found out a lot of interesting things about how wealthy they were. We found out that Helen Wilson spent a lot of time up here in Chicago and allegedly worked for the church, lived in Lake Point Tower—probably the most expensive apartment building in Chicago at the time. Had a lotta jewels, lotta furs, took a lot of European vacations, had fancy cars and kids in college, and lived quite well. Had a home in Boca Raton [Florida], apartment in Chicago, apartment in Saint Louis. A woman who had never worked in any other job besides secretary to her church, for which she was never paid more than a few thousand dollars a year."
The cardinal had told curious associates that Mrs. Wilson's money had come from her late husband, and so Mustain and Clements began checking that story. They found that Helen Dolan had married David Beam Wilson, a bookkeeper from Bardstown, Kentucky, on August 4, 1927, a few days before her 20th birthday. The Wilsons had two children, but separated after eight years of marriage. David Beam Wilson moved back to his hometown not long thereafter, and the Wilsons were divorced in 1939.
Mustain and Clements then began tracing David Beam Wilson. They spoke to his sister, cousin, and the daughter of his second wife (to get an idea of why Mustain speaks of so many tentacles, keep in mind that the reporters were interviewing the cardinal's stepcousin's husband's sister, cousin, and daughter, or, if you do not accept the term "stepcousin," the cardinal's aunt's husband's daughter's husband's sister, cousin, and daughter). The two reporters discovered that David Beam Wilson was related to those in control of the James Beam Distilling Company, but that because his father had rejected a role in the family business, David Beam Wilson had no fortune to show for his genealogy. When he returned to Bardstown after he and Helen parted company, Mr. Wilson took a production job in the whiskey business, but he enjoyed no special privileges and left within a few years to take a similar job in a Louisville dairy. David Beam Wilson died on May 1, 1969, his only asset a $150 car that he left to his second wife. To Mustain and Clements it seemed likely that Helen Dolan Wilson must have had some source of wealth other than her husband.
In the course of their work, the two reporters turned up other inconsistencies regarding Mrs. Wilson's background. They found her described as a widow in a 1942 Saint Louis directory, 27 years before her husband died. The same error turned up in newspaper accounts of the engagement of Mrs. Wilson's children in 1950 and 1959. The reporters found another Saint Louis newspaper story that listed the cardinal as the children's uncle, and a piece in a back issue of the Chicago archdiocesan paper listed Mrs. Wilson's grandchildren as the cardinal's nephew and nieces. Mustain and Clements also learned that the cardinal himself had told people that David Beam Wilson was dead years before Mr. Wilson breathed his last. On the face of it, it seemed that the cardinal and his friend Helen had not been entirely accurate in describing the history of the Wilson clan.
When I attempted to reach Mrs. Wilson for comment, her son told me she was out of the country "for a long time," and that she would not be interviewed.
While the Sun-Times was closing in on these details, Carlton Sherwood was also in hot pursuit. Sherwood says that Father Greeley would call periodically and tell him what the Sun-Times was doing: "'You're gonna have to get movin',' he'd say, 'because they've got the Boca Raton stuff.' Or 'they got Mrs. Wilson down pat.'" Sherwood believed that Greeley was also keeping the Sun-Times abreast of Gannett's progress.
In early August, however, Sherwood got a phone call from Greeley that sent him off on a different course. Sherwood says that Greeley told him that the Winters collection of Rosary College archive material could ruin the Gannett investigation. Greeley suggested that Sherwood might want to check out what Winters was up to.
Winters swears that Sherwood called early in August 1980, said they were both working on related stories, and suggested that if Winters reached a point where he could not publish his material in Notre Dame magazine, he might consider collaborating with Gannett. Winters said he was at precisely that point.
Winters met Sherwood at the South Bend airport at 8:30 the following morning. The two spent the entire day and evening together, and Sherwood returned twice in the weeks that followed. Sherwood says that when he arrived, Winters was distraught, still wrestling with the pressure from Greeley and the university to return the archive material and the pressure from his conscience that told him he would be participating in a cover-up if he did not write a story. Thereafter, the writers entered into a sort of alliance, and Sherwood said he would try to get Gannett to hire Winters so that the two could pursue the Cody and Greeley stories together.
In the course of their time together, Winters told Sherwood that Greeley had dreamed of felling Cardinal Cody by bringing about a public scandal, and that he thought the scandal could be produced by importing a tough investigative reporter. Winters later described Sherwood's response:
"Sherwood said to me, 'That is me.' And I said, 'Huh?' And he said, 'That is me. I am Greeley's hired gun. I am Greeley's investigative reporter.' And I said, 'You're kidding me.' And he said, 'No, I thought you had all this figured out.'"
Winters also told Sherwood that "Deep Purple," an unnamed source in Greeley's book The Making of the Popes, 1978, had in fact been Joe Bernardin. As Bernardin's role became clear to Sherwood, the reporter's view of his own story began to take an extraordinary turn. It was no longer just the story of the cardinal archbishop of Chicago; it was also the story of how the press was being manipulated by the church.
Sherwood eventually came to believe that Greeley had instigated the Gannett investigation; that Greeley was playing the Sun-Times and Gannett against each other; that Greeley was in turn being manipulated by Archbishop Bernardin of Cincinnati, who was carrying out the mission of Apostolic Delegate Jean Jadot. Sherwood developed the theory that Cody had too many friends in high places for him to be removed in any normal fashion, and so the Vatican had in fact approved the plot to defame the cardinal in a public scandal, the facts of which did not have to be invented.
The Pulitzer Prize winner decided it was time to confront Bernardin. This is his version of that confrontation:
"I flew to Cincinnati, checked into the Holiday Inn, called Bishop Bernardin. I was told he wasn't there. I said, 'Well, give him this message. I want to talk to Deep Purple.' Three minutes later, Bernardin called back. He said, 'What is it?' I told him who I was, and he knew of me because of the Pulitzer—I had raised bloody hell with the Catholic church with the stories I had done. I said, 'I want to talk to ya, I want to talk to ya about Deep Purple, I want to talk to ya about this whole thing.' I said, 'Do you want me to come in to your residence?' And he said, 'No no no no no.' He says, 'I'll come out to you.' It was a hot day, it was 85 degrees, I had to have the door open of my room. And he came dressed in an overcoat and civilian clothes and sunglasses and a hat, like some kind of character out of a spy book. Anyway, he sat down and we had an hour-and-a-half, two-hour conversation. I said, 'I want to know what the story is here with the Greeley tapes, I want to know what your involvement is with the Vatican investigations of Cody, and I want to know everything.' And he got real pale, and he gave this long speech about how he was resigned to the fact that if he had to remain bishop of Cincinnati for the rest of his life, he was going to be happy with that. He didn't give a damn about his career in the Vatican anymore, forget it, he might as well just tell the whole thing.
"So what he did, he sat there and gave me a half-hour, 45-minute confession. He led off the confession saying that even though he had been friendly with Greeley in 1974, 1975, and Greeley thought that he was very close friends with him, he actually despised Andy Greeley and couldn't stand to be in the same room with him; that he was ordered by the Vatican to befriend Greeley for two reasons: to keep a close rein on him—because Greeley caused Cody a whole bunch of grief in the early 70s, mid-70s, writing columns—and also to feed Greeley certain information that the Vatican thought would be useful to get out publicly. And he hated Greeley's guts, couldn't stand him, but he was under instruction from Rome. The apostolic delegate from Washington, which is like the Vatican ambassador, is a guy named Jean Jadot at the time, and he was taking his orders directly from Jadot. And he [Bernardin] said that he also helped compile two dossiers on Cody at various times, one in 1976, I think, and the other in 1978, and that he did indeed feed Greeley, he was Deep Purple, he fed Greeley all his information. And he confirmed that the Vatican had warned Cody, 'One more scandal and it's out the door.'
"It was the body language that really struck me. I just hit him right up front with the question. He stretches out his long legs, looks at me, lets out this long sigh, like unburdening himself, and—I'll never forget—he puts his hands on the table and opens them up, his palms flat up. Sort of like, 'You got me.' I've never seen anybody do that. It was disarming.
"It didn't just stream out of him. It came out very soft, very reasoned, he looked repentant, as though he was tired of this whole dirty mess. And he gave this speech up front, I know this is going to ruin me, ruin my career religiously, but I am happy where I am, so it's OK. Talk about laying guilt on people. It's like having your Jewish mother confess to you; you walk away feeling like a schmuck.
"His honesty was frightening. He never once copped a plea, never said, 'Hey, look, for the good of the church, for the good of America.' He never said, 'Hey, look, do me a favor' or 'Give me a break' or 'This is off the record' or 'Do you have to use my name?' or any of that crap. It was just straight out. It's never happened to me before and it hasn't happened to me since."
Many who know Bernardin describe him as a very circumspect man. In a recent New Yorker profile of Cardinal John O'Connor, Nat Hentoff wrote, "Bernardin speaks with great care. A Jesuit academician told me … 'Bernardin wouldn't even say grace without a text—and the most recently revised text at that.'"
I pointed out to Sherwood that his account of Bernardin's response seemed out of character. "I agree with you," Sherwood replied. "It stretches credulity. I was taking notes feverishly because I couldn't believe it myself. It threw me off guard, but it had the desired effect internally. It was like, 'Gee whiz, this guy is really a good guy after all. He's the best of a very bad lot.'"
Bernardin refused to be interviewed for this story. The sections of this article concerned directly with him were conveyed to the archdiocesan press office. Bernardin then chose to respond, but only to Sherwood's characterization of the meeting. The cardinal did not offer his own version of the meeting, but blasted Sherwood's: "When I review Sherwood's account of our meeting, I can't believe he is reporting the same conversation at which I was present. The statements attributed to me are grossly distorted and do not merit credibility. I made it clear to Sherwood that, although at times I was asked my opinion about church affairs in Chicago, I had never conducted an investigation or compiled a dossier on Cardinal Cody."
Sherwood told me that after his meeting with Bernardin, he called Greeley and told him what had been said. "It devastated Greeley. Really brought him to his knees. He started moaning, couldn't believe it. After that he got really pissed. It turns out, as I suspected and Bernardin confirmed, Greeley was being used, we were all being used. I was being used to get the Sun-Times on the story. Greeley was being used by Bernardin and the Vatican to get me or somebody else on the story to get the Sun-Times on the story.
"I came back to Washington, and I developed this rather bizarre outline for a series which would involve Cody's sins, and I said I wanted to put major emphasis on the fact that this was all an internecine Vatican plot, a byzantine effort to try to tip over a guy who was a senior churchman in the country whom they didn't know how to deal with, and the Vatican's use of various people—the apostolic delegate in Washington to use this good-guy bishop in Cincinnati to use a renegade priest to use a news service in Washington to use the Chicago press. And then in between you had sidebars—you had this kid Winters, who was getting screwed, blued, and tattooed; you got the two newspapers in Chicago; and I was like in the middle of all this stuff.
"In any case, my editors didn't want any part of this thing. No fucking way. I had said part of this is going to be our own self-confession. Here we are, blushing, still flushed with excitement from winning the Pulitzer, and immediately we throw ourselves headlong into this without really taking a hard look at it. I said we are as much to be criticized here, and they didn't want to hear it. First of all they said we got enough critics on the outside, we don't need internal critics. I said I am not talking about wearing a hair shirt. I said this is a great story, this is how the press gets used sometimes. That's not the entire story, that's just part of it. And they yanked me off the fuckin' story. They said no way, go do something else."
In retrospect, it seems to me that, Cardinal Bernardin's protest aside, Sherwood's theory has some holes in it. He claims Bernardin told him that after the second Vatican-sponsored investigation failed to dislodge Cody there was no holding Greeley back. Sherwood believes this amounts to a Vatican endorsement of Greeley's involvement with Gannett. It seems just as likely to me that Bernardin and Cody's detractors in the church hierarchy would have advised against going public if they had been consulted.
Furthermore, the Sun-Times crew does not subscribe to the Sherwood theory that Greeley was playing the Chicago paper and Gannett against each other. Mustain says that he and Bill Clements had no contact with Greeley after the start of their investigation. Larson says he cannot remember the timetable of contacts with Greeley, but says that early on, the reporters decided to keep a distance from the priest. Larson also believes that the kind of manipulation that Sherwood suggests would have been impossible, that the investigation had acquired a momentum and a life of its own that precluded such control.
Lastly, Bill Schmick, Sherwood's editor on the story, and a man who shared the Pulitzer with Sherwood and John Hanchette for the Pauline series, told me that he did not recall having heard Sherwood's press-manipulation theory before I mentioned it to him. (Hanchette, however, recalled Sherwood presenting it to Gannett's management and being rebuffed.) Schmick told me his memory was uncertain, but when pressed he came up with three reasons why Sherwood was pulled off the project. Schmick told me that he had met Greeley, and afterward became uneasy with the coincidence in timing between Greeley's desire to see a story and the forthcoming publication of the priest's novel The Cardinal Sins, although he admits the coincidence may have been entirely innocent. Schmick says he was also uncomfortable with the fact that some of Sherwood's information came from the Greeley papers, which were tainted by the controversy over whether they had been stolen. Ultimately, however, Schmick says there just wasn't enough documentation for the story. "We had lots of exotic theories," he said. "We didn't have the evidence for much of it, and we didn't have the confidence that we were gonna get it anytime. At some point you just simply say, 'Well, this is not goin', we're not gettin' it fast enough, let's do somethin' else.'"
While Sherwood was reaching his dead end, the Sun-Times was pursuing its story with increasing concern for security. The three reporters never talked openly about the story inside the newsroom, and when Mustain and Clements went to Saint Louis, they told none of their colleagues where they were going. At one point, Mustain felt he was being followed, and all three reporters had their home phones checked, fearing their conversations were being monitored.
"We had a few sources inside the church who, I won't say they were totally cooperative, but once in a while they would let us know about things going on because they considered some of the tactics the church was using to be despicable," Mustain says. "We found out that they had a communications meeting when people reported on their efforts to find out who Bill and I were. About me it was said that I was living in sin—I live with my girlfriend and I was unmarried—that I was the host of several wild parties, that drugs were used. I later found out that a Chicago cop had found out where I lived and had talked to some people about me. … I think it was someone in the church asking a policeman who they knew as a friend. I don't think it was [an] authorized [investigation by the police department]. … But it was stupid, I mean they talked to the wrong people and they made a mistake about where I lived. I lived in a coach house behind a mansion. The mansion, it's true, there were a bunch of single guys living there and they had a lot of wild parties. But I had never been inside the mansion. I lived quietly with my girlfriend in the back of the house. I lived a fairly dull reporter's life, and here I was being portrayed as an unethical, immoral person."
One of the memos Mustain wrote to his editors during that period reveals the course of the investigation. "Part of the original idea was to examine the finances of the Archdiocese and its major entities to determine whether money is squandered or misspent, as numerous Catholic groups have charged for years. Because of secrecy surrounding church funds and because the financial levers are controlled by one man, Cardinal Cody, it is difficult to obtain precise, irrefutable accounts of wasteful or improper spending. What remains, and what has been done, are charge-denial stories. … No one has been successful in penetrating the secrecy."
The memo goes on to say that there were no public records involving the church because its fund-raising entities were exempt from filing charity reports with the attorney general and because the church was required to file IRS reports only on non-church-related property that produced income, "only a sliver of the total pie." The annual consolidated financial statements published by the church in the Chicago Catholic, the memo says, "are full of contradictions from one year to the next. But the church has consistently and successfully stonewalled Catholic groups seeking explanation and illumination."
A member of the church's outside accounting team told the Sun-Times reporters that "the auditors, in several key areas, accept the church's account of income and expenses without question. That squared with what our expert-accountant told us: the financial statement is a mere compilation, not an audit, and that the church's outside accountants merely put in publishable form what the church gives them. So while the church publicly says it's telling all, it's really telling nothing. . . ."
"Another part of our original idea was to check out rumors and gossip involving the Cardinal himself—his secret travels, his personal spending habits, his relationship with a woman, his shipping Archdiocesan business to friends and relatives. In these areas we have been decidedly more successful and have developed explosive information that raises questions about his integrity and lifestyle. … We were successful in developing extremely high-placed sources—an indication, we believe, of how serious the concern among thoughtful church people over Cody's personal conduct since becoming archbishop of Chicago in 1965, and, in 1967, a Cardinal."
The rest of the 12-page memo does indeed deliver some disturbing questions about the cardinal. Some dealt with finances. Cody had set up unprecedented special accounts for his personal use, and between 1967 and 1973, he spent $977,000 through these accounts. The memo reported that there was a 1970 withdrawal of $69,000 at roughly the same time that Helen Dolan Wilson spent $68,200 to build a home in Florida, and that in 1971, there was a withdrawal of $30,500 at roughly the same time that Helen Dolan Wilson loaned $30,000 to her son so he could buy a home. It may be that the timing of Mrs. Wilson's expenditures and the cardinal's withdrawals were mere coincidence, but then the reporters had to wonder how it was that Mrs. Wilson could spend more than $100,000 in 19 months, given her relatively low paid career in St. Louis.
There would be nothing illegal about the cardinal giving his personal funds to anyone he chose to give them to. The cardinal's salary was $8,000 a year through most of the 1970s, and was later raised to $12,000, but that did not include gifts given to him. If he was giving away his personal funds, no crime was committed. If, however, he was diverting tax-exempt funds for personal use, he was breaking the law. Furthermore, tax-exempt funds are considered taxable income once they are diverted, and if the cardinal diverted money and failed to report it as income, he was committing a felony.
The memo also raised the question of whether the cardinal had had a sexual relationship with Mrs. Wilson. The reporters wrote that the music room at the cardinal's mansion had been redecorated in 1973; that Cody gave the impression it was being done in case Helen had to stay over, if it was raining or too late to return to her apartment. (This allegation and some of the others that follow were not included in the Sun-Times series; the memo was intended as a progress report and thus includes theories and allegations the reporters finally chose not to use.) The music room, the memo noted, was always locked, and "the room is adjacent to Cody's bedroom on the second floor. (We have diagram of layout.)" Mustain also reported that the doorman at Helen's Florida condominium said she listed the mansion's address as her summer home; that a Cody subordinate who questioned the nature of the relationship was transferred to an obscure post in Rome; that Cody visited Helen in Florida secretly, not telling chancery staff his true destination; and that the cardinal and Helen "have traveled together and dined alone at each other's homes."
The reporters suggested that the reason for the cardinal's deceit when it came to the subject of Mrs. Wilson was that he did not want it known that she was not a blood relative: "Otherwise he would not have been able to enjoy her companionship so openly and so frequently—since the issue of priestly celibacy involves the appearance one presents as much as the vow. We obviously do not know whether the Cardinal violated his vow. We do know that the deception and secrecy about Helen Wilson began in 1938, as she was divorcing her husband, and continues to this day."
The memo also showed that the reporters had an extraordinary collection of documents. They had accounts of David Wilson's insurance commissions—difficult records to come by. They had a copy of a chancery accountant's report on the cardinal's special accounts for the years 1966 to 1969, and additional data on those accounts for the years 1970 to 1973. They also had photos of the inside of Helen's home in Florida, revealing "expensive furnishings, crystal chandeliers, and hand-painted murals." (The home also included a sauna.) They also learned that a photo of the outside of Helen's home had had an interesting history. In May of 1972, the memo says, a top aide, "increasingly frustrated by Cody's behavior and increasingly suspicious, did something which he admitted to us only after several conversations. He said he mailed a photograph of the first Florida home (which had been secretly taken by a chancery priest) to 'His Eminence, John Cardinal Cody,' c/o the address of Helen's home. He said he did it out of spite, to upset Cody. The reaction in Florida was instantaneous. Within the same month, Helen Wilson listed and sold her home for $110,000 and purchased a smaller condo in an exclusive building in the same city."
After the Gannett editors decided there was no future in the Cody project, Sherwood had to tell Winters that there would be no Gannett job in his immediate future. In the months that followed, the Pulitzer winner's involvement in the story was minimal. He says he made "two or three" pitches to his editors to revive the investigation, all to no avail. He says that Greeley also withdrew, feeling betrayed by his friend Bernardin, fearing the consequences of his actions, and blaming Jim Winters as the source of his trouble. "Greeley's hatred is misplaced," Sherwood says. "He ought to be angry at Bernardin. But maybe he can't afford to be angry with Bernardin. Greeley predicted to me that Bernardin would become the next cardinal archbishop of Chicago, and then woe to Andy Greeley when that happens."
Winters had not been sitting idle all this time. He still had copies of the Greeley documents, and although he knew he could not do anything with them while he was employed at Notre Dame, he still thought the information might yet see the light of day. Between August and December of 1980, he approached both the Tribune and the Sun-Times and told them what he had, proposing that he be hired as a reporter to work the Greeley-Cody story.
Winters claims that one of the proposals the Sun-Times came up with was to pay him $200 not to publish his story for three months; Joe Reilly, then metro editor of the Sun-Times, says that the paper offered $200 for exclusive rights to the material for three months, with the understanding that if, after assessing it, the paper found it valuable, they would negotiate to buy it. Whatever the deal proposed, Winters turned it down.
Winters says that his offers from the Tribune were more substantial, but that they too would not give him the job he sought. After he rejected the paper's proposal that he pursue the story as a free-lancer for "a substantial amount of money," the Tribune came back with an offer of a six-month internship. Winters found the offer "demeaning" and turned it down.
Winters placed such a high price on the Greeley story because he so desperately feared losing his job at Notre Dame once the story was published. He almost lost his job anyway: in January 1981, Notre Dame officials learned that Winters had been pitching the story to the Chicago papers, and soon thereafter they accused him of misleading the Notre Dame hierarchy into thinking that all the Greeley documents had been returned to Rosary College. Winters says he argued, "I didn't do anything dishonorable last year. I did not lie to anybody. It may not have been as clean as I might have wanted, but I found that not much in life is." Winters claims that one of his superiors questioned the sincerity of a journalist who said his primary desire was to see the truth published when in fact he was using those facts to get a job. Winters says he replied, "I wanted to publish the story. I did not want to become a martyr to it."
Winters was allowed to stay on at the university. In his spare time he produced a 30,000-word manuscript, and he sent it to John Fink, editor of Chicago magazine, in July 1981. Fink told him the piece was "outstanding" and said he would plead Winters's case, but he warned the young writer that the magazine "was not a crusading journal, and he did not know what the reaction would be." In August, however, Fink told Winters that he had shown the piece to the magazine's lawyer, and that given the lawyer's opinion, he did not think he could push the piece through.
The Winters negotiations with the Chicago media are important, not just as a tale of the meanderings of a young man with some hot documents, but because they so plainly illustrate that all of the major players in that sector had a crack at the Cardinal Cody story. the Sun-Times effort had been exposed to the world by the Chicago Catholic, and the Tribune management, with the great resources they had at their command, could have started their own full-scale investigation at that point. They had a second opportunity with the Winters material; while it is understandable why they did not buy it (Winters's price was so high), it is interesting to note that having been shown that the harvest might be startling, the paper still chose not to enter the field.
Bruce Buursma, the Tribune's religion reporter, came to the paper from the Dallas Times-Herald in early September 1980 and recalls being interviewed for the job in the same week that the Chicago Catholic launched its preemptive strike. He says it did not take long for him to find out that the Sun-Times was looking at the cardinal's handling of money and insurance policies and his relationship with Helen Dolan Wilson and her son.
"There certainly was a sense of looking over your shoulder," Buursma says of his initiation to the paper. "It was pretty clear that no matter what the Tribune might do it was going to be too little too late, no matter how many bodies they decided they were going to throw at this. the Sun-Times had been working on this for a long time. At that point the Sun-Times had clearly superior investigative reporters and the Tribune was not doing much investigative reporting then. So we were basically just kind of keeping our fingers crossed, hoping that whatever the Sun-Times did, it wouldn't be too spectacular, knowing also that when you are dealing with the cardinal archbishop of Chicago you're probably not going to publish something unless you're twice as sure as you would be if it was a mayor of the city or an alderman, because emotions run very high with religious people."
In Chicago, major exposes are usually scheduled to break on a Sunday, the day of maximum circulation. In the case of the Cardinal Cody investigation, the paper's editors and publisher decided well before the stories were ready that it should start the series in the middle of the week, feeling that readers who bought the paper outside their church after Sunday Mass might regard a Sunday kickoff as a slap in the face.
The paper's editors also felt that the promotional advertising that normally accompanies an investigative series would, in this instance, be in very poor taste. "What we were about to reveal and did reveal about the cardinal, his life-style, and various facets of his operation of the archdiocese, we thought was a very somber and tragic story," Ralph Otwell, the paper's editor at the time, told me, "and a story that we didn't want to be seen rejoicing over or taking any kind of secret pleasure out of, so there was just no enthusiasm for any kind of explicit promotion." The promotional ban extended to postpublication interviews of the reporters who worked on the story.
The publication date was changed several times. "One time we were about ready to publish and Reagan got shot," Gene Mustain says. "One time we were about ready to publish and the pope got shot. And then one time we were ready to publish and someone looked at the calendar and realized that Prince Charles and Lady Di were gonna get married. We didn't want any headlines about princes marrying sweethearts—Cody is a prince of the church—you know that kind of thing. I think it was the fourth time it was scheduled when it was finally published.
"Our lawyers had approved everything about a week before we published. They didn't change one word. I wrote all of the stories, but I had been writing them for a long time, and they had been reviewed and read over many, many times, and discussed. We knew what we could say, based on the information we had. So we weren't worried about any legal consequences."
One of the final matters to be taken care of was getting the cardinal's response to the Sun-Times charges. Otwell says he approached Janet Diederichs, head of the agency that was handling the cardinal's public relations, and said that when the paper was certain exactly what it wanted to ask the prelate, they would like to sit down with him for an interview. He says that Diederichs replied that an interview would be fine with the cardinal, but that the public relations crew would videotape it. Otwell says that the idea behind the videotape suggestion was that "they were going to make sure that the whole world would know if there was any unfair or overaggressive questioning by reporters. They were trying to establish a framework to spare the cardinal any interview at all, because they thought that once we knew they were going to videotape it, that we would decide not to even try to interview him. That did not deter us because we never had any idea of getting tough or nasty with the cardinal. So we were quite agreeable to videotaping the encounter."
Diederichs says that throughout the course of the Sun-Times investigation, she was upset by the fact that the paper was not directing its questions to the archdiocese's official information channels, and said she wanted to videotape the encounter between the cardinal and the newspaper to make sure that the report of the interview accurately reflected what the cardinal had said.
The videotaping, however, never occurred. What happened instead was a rush to get to print, sparked, according to Ralph Otwell, by the reentry of Carlton Sherwood. A federal grand jury had been investigating Cardinal Cody's administration since the end of 1980, and Sherwood says that in late August 1981, he heard that indictments were about to come down. Sherwood says he called the U.S. attorney's office for confirmation and was given an appointment for Thursday, September 10.
Mustain says that the Sun-Times never heard anything that definite. They did hear, however, that Sherwood was back on the job, and realizing that they might be scooped, resolved to hit the street with their material as soon as possible.
At 2:15 PM on Wednesday, September 9, Roy Larson called the cardinal to get his side of the story. The cardinal was at a bishops' conference in Mundelein and declined to be interviewed, saying, "I don't need any chance for rebuttal." He referred Larson to his official spokesman, Peter Foote. Foote asked for written questions, saying he doubted that the cardinal would be available for an interview because he was out of the city and involved in meetings. Four questions were delivered to Foote's office at 4:50 PM. The aide to the communications director who accepted them was told that the paper hoped to receive the cardinal's reponses early in the evening. At 8 PM, the aide told the Sun-Times that he doubted there would be any response forthcoming.
The four questions were: What is Cardinal Cody's reaction to being under a federal government investigation for allegedly misusing funds belonging to the archdiocese of Chicago? Will Cardinal Cody and the archdiocese cooperate with the federal inquiry? What was the source of funds that Cardinal Cody provided in 1969 to Helen Dolan Wilson for the purchase of her home at 1251 Pepperidge Terrace in Boca Raton, Florida? What is the genealogical relationship between Cardinal Cody and Helen Dolan Wilson?
Mustain also tried to get a comment from Mrs. Wilson, but could not reach her in either Florida or Saint Louis. He did reach David Wilson, who said his mother was out of town and unavailable for comment.
As this was going on, the home-delivery edition of Thursday's Sun-Times was being put together. A handpicked crew of composing room employees were working on the crucial pages in the newsroom's art department, and about five hours before the paper was to be loaded onto the trucks, Otwell notified the circulation department that there would be a larger print run. The circulation department was not pleased: many people buy the Thursday Sun-Times just for the coupons in the food section, and with the extra print run, there were not enough food sections to go around. The circulation department feared the wrath of shortchanged consumers.
"I got a call from a friend of mine," Sherwood says. "I will never forget this. I was home and he was in the Sun-Times newsroom and they were gettin' ready to make up the front page, and he said if I expected to ever get this fuckin' story in print, I better do it that night. I called my editors at home. I said, 'Look, tomorrow morning the Sun-Times is gonna hit the street,' and I read them a headline. 'They were makin' up the front page in Chicago, we got an hour time lag, let me come into the office and at least file something, put something out, one fucking story so we can say we didn't get beat on this fucking thing. I can even tell you what is in their story.' My guys wouldn't even let me do a one-shot story, let me get in ahead of them."
Editor Schmick recalls Sherwood's late-night phone call: "He might have thought he had his story together. I didn't. I didn't want to go into print with part of a story. I didn't really give a damn what the Sun-Times did."
The morning headlines stunned the city: "Federal Grand Jury Probes Cardinal Cody Use of Church Funds—Investigation Centers on Gifts to a Friend." The stories revealed that the grand jury was investigating whether the cardinal had illegally diverted "as much as $1 million" in tax-exempt church funds to enrich Mrs. Wilson; that the cardinal had not replied to subpoenas issued eight months earlier; that Cody had provided the money for Mrs. Wilson's home in Boca Raton; that Mrs. Wilson's personal wealth grew from meager holdings in the mid-1960s to a value of $1 million; and that Mrs. Wilson and the cardinal were not blood relatives. The stories also described Mrs. Wilson's upbringing, marriage, divorce, career, personality, style of dress, and residences.
On Friday the paper reported that Mrs. Wilson had been paid a salary by the archdiocese from 1969 to 1975; that her wages were higher than the annual pay of most archdiocesan employees and almost all Catholic school teachers; and that no one had ever seen her do any work.
On Saturday, the paper hit with the news that David Wilson, Helen's only son, had received at least $150,000 in commissions on insurance premiums purchased by the Chicago archdiocese.
On Sunday, the paper proclaimed that Mrs. Wilson was owner and beneficiary of a $100,000 insurance policy on the cardinal's life issued in 1954; paying the premium that year would have required Mrs. Wilson's total salary from her job as a church secretary in Saint Louis.
On Monday, the paper led with a story saying that the grand jury was investigating whether the archdiocese was the real source of what appeared to be a personal loan of $30,000 from Mrs. Wilson to her son.
Six months later, there was one other major revelation. On March 7, 1982, the Sun-Times reported that falsified documents submitted by the archdiocese had allowed Mrs. Wilson to receive a monthly pension. The records claimed that she had been employed by the archdiocese from 1944 to 1968 and that her peak salary in those years was $12,000—which would have made her one of the highest paid employees of the Chicago diocese.
The series raised some very important questions about the ethics of the man whom many Catholics looked to for moral guidance and about Illinois' "corporation sole" law, the legislation that for legal purposes made the Catholic bishop of Chicago the owner of all land, buildings, and other assets belonging to the archdiocese.
Those questions, however, were overshadowed by the sexual question, which, while not posed as frankly as it was in the memos, was nonetheless present. The paper paid great attention to the confusion over exactly what the Cody-Wilson relationship was: a condo doorman thought they were brother and sister; an apartment manager thought they were uncle and niece; chancery employees thought they were cousins. the Sun-Times would not let Cody pass with the description 'cousin,' though the cardinal and Mrs. Wilson may have been raised as such, and though that was a fairly normal way of explaining their association. The paper described her as "his closest confidante, the most important figure in his personal life." The reporters wrote that Cody disapproved of questions about her status and that he had lied, calling her a widow when in fact she was divorced and her husband was still alive. Mrs. Wilson, the paper reported, "was quite attractive," and her stepmother had "'pushed' Helen and her children toward Cody because the stepmother believed Cody was destined for greatness." The paper reported the cardinal's secrecy in traveling to visit Helen in Florida, the fact that Helen listed the cardinal's mansion as her summer address, and the incident in which the Cody aide mailed the photograph of the Boca Raton residence to the archbishop at Helen's address. Without saying that Helen had stayed overnight at the mansion, the paper reported that Helen had helped to redecorate; that the music room next to the cardinal's private quarters had been among the rooms renovated; that after renovation it was no longer used as a place to entertain close aides and high-ranking churchmen; that the door was always locked; and that visiting churchmen, with the exception of the pope and one other high-ranking Vatican official, always stayed at the cathedral rectory after the renovation, never at the mansion.
It did not take a particularly curious reader to wonder what was going on in the music room. The locking of the room hardly seems a significant detail in a profile of the cardinal unless one is supposed to read something into it.
When I read that criticism to Mustain, he called it fair comment. "In the wonder of hindsight I don't think I would have gone into such detail," he said. "If you have an investigative story that indicates that there was this problem with the money you have to answer the questions of where the money went, who got it, and what is that person's relationship. You have to do that story. But in hindsight I wish that maybe we would have scaled it back, because it had the effect of distracting everyone's attention from the main issue, which was the improper use of church funds. I think we can be fairly criticized for that. But I don't think that it mitigates the overall importance of what all the other stories were about."
On the morning of the first revelations, the national television networks told the nation of the Sun-Times stories. "The earth shook," Mustain says of that day, "I don't think I'll ever be involved in such a cataclysmic response. It was just wild. All over town that's what everyone was talking about. People were comparing it to the Chicago Fire as a Chicago news story. And though there were a few people in the journalism community who knew something was gonna come out, I think there were few who knew how dramatic what we had was. No one was aware the government had put out subpoenas."
The newspaper's phone began ringing. Many of the callers suspected the worst of the cardinal, but more seemed to suspect the worst of the Sun-Times. At the end of the first week, the paper's public relations department had logged 200 negative calls and 159 positive. By the end of the month, the count stood at 241 against the paper and 223 for it.
A caller who said she supported the Sun-Times reported that the priest at Saint Mary Star of the Sea had urged his congregation not to buy the Sun-Times. A representative of Holy Cross Hospital said that the hospital was banning the sale of the newspaper. Another caller claimed that three million Catholics would surround the Sun-Times building unless the paper stopped printing "lies" about the cardinal. A man who claimed he was involved with three unions and three Catholic organizations said that he would do his best to persuade the 125,000 members of those organizations to cancel their Sun-Times subscriptions.
Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson responded to the Sun-Times series by drawing a picture of the cardinal crouching in the poor box, catching the money that worshipers thought they were giving to the needy. "I really don't expect that many papers will run it," Benson wrote Otwell. "The Boston Globe contacted me yesterday, for what it's worth, and said they got a good chuckle out of it before they threw it away. … Not only this cartoon, but your paper as well, has really been catching the poop down here in Arizona. … See you in jail."
A letter to Otwell signed "John Wesleyan" called Roy Larson "a fallen away Methodist with an axe to grind" and ended with the veiled threat "I work in the building so watch it Roy." More ominous perhaps was the letter addressed to Otwell from Reverend Bernard Scheid, then pastor of Saint Kevin's Church. "Just a line to tell you that your scurrilous attack on our Cardinal resulted in a tremendous increase in our Sunday collections, as well as those of every other pastor with whom I consulted," the priest wrote. "Keep it up; but get your affairs in order. We pray for your sudden and unprovided death every day."
"You can look back on those days and in a bit of nostalgia sort of exaggerate all the drama and risks and all those things that people told you might happen to you," Otwell told me. "I recall vividly that two or three people who were somewhat knowledgeable about the operations of the Mafia said, 'My God, you're going to be a sitting duck for somebody in the Organization, some devout mobster to come after you with a shotgun.' Well there was not the slightest hint at any time that anyone even considered that."
"If there ever was a complaint from any advertiser, I didn't hear about it. I do recall a couple times making a specific inquiry of the ad department to see if there was any feedback. I was told there was none. To the best of my memory, circulation was affected neither positively or negatively. There might have been a little bit of an increase right at the outset of our piece, but it was not dramatic, particularly compared to other major investigations the paper had done, and it tailed off very rapidly. That was a little surprising to us because we thought, for better or worse, there would be some more people reading it, but that did not occur." Otwell went on to say that the lack of drama in the circulation figures was probably due to the lack of promotion of the series.
There was no lack of drama in the church's response. The Chicago Catholic went with the headline "Sun-Times Charges Denied; Cardinal Gets Wide Support." The story reported that although the Sun-Times had produced "a formidable amount of gossip, innuendo, and false implications. … no evidence has been produced that any law has been violated. Immediate victims of the attack are John Cardinal Cody, the Archbishop of Chicago, and his cousin by marriage, Mrs. Helen Dolan Wilson of St. Louis." The paper attacked Otwell for promising to give the cardinal an opportunity to respond to charges before they were published, and then delivering four questions at 5 PM the day before "launching a campaign running into tens of thousands of words. … The office normally closes at 4:45."
The paper explained that the cardinal and other diocesan clergy were not bound by a vow of poverty as some religious orders were and suggested that whatever money Cody gave to Mrs. Wilson was not the church's, but his own, the result of his own earnings and gifts given specifically to him. The paper also claimed that Mrs. Wilson had worked for her secret church salary, saying she had done a lot of cooking, redecorating, cleaning, and errand running. (The paper did not explain why she was so well paid for those services, why she spent so much time in Florida during the time she was on salary, and why the Sun-Times could find no one who had seen her on the job.) The paper also promised that Cardinal Cody would be making a detailed reply to the Sun-Times charges after the newspaper's series had ended and the allegations had been reviewed.
On the editorial page, Ed Wall suggested that the purpose of the Sun-Times series was to make money and hinted that it was all part of the paper's consistent attack on the Catholic church. Wall also wrote that the Chicago Catholic was not "the official" paper of the archdiocese, that Cody did not control it, that he had put the paper "into the hands of professional newspaper personnel, just as he has put schools into the hands of professional educators."
"Even with the involvement of the Chicago Catholic in his defense, he never felt that it was enough," Wall told me recently. "And he never understood the attempt to provide some kind of journalistic coverage. I don't think that he had much of an understanding of public relations. In fact, he said to me, 'I don't give a damn what anybody thinks about me.' He said that to me several different times over a long period of time, almost anytime that I would caution him about doing something—like sending bulldozers to knock down a building when there was a controversy about it or something like that. I wasn't called upon to give the cardinal wise, insightful advice; it was simply that if you are having a public controversy over a historic building you don't win by getting your bulldozer there in the middle of the night and knocking it down. I would give him that kind of advice—'Don't send the bulldozer'—but then the response would be that he didn't give a damn what anybody thought, and it took me a while to realize that he meant that. … In his heart he knew that whatever he was doing was what God wanted done. I was never too sure how much confidence he had in God, but he sure had confidence in Cardinal Cody."
The Tribune was caught caught flat-footed when the story broke, and its coverage puzzled many outside the paper. "I have been competing with the Tribune for a long time, or I've tried to," Ralph Otwell told me. "Usually you can expect them to react quite promptly and vigorously. They will unleash their impressive forces to clobber you on an investigative project. Once they get a piece of it, they can go like crazy, and the first thing you know, their series looks a hell of a lot better than yours, even though you might have been working on yours for six months, and they started on it only the moment they saw the edition that you launched it in.
"So it was indeed puzzling to see the Tribune simply reprint highlights from what we were carrying with full attribution. I can recall when the Tribune never even used the name of the Sun-Times. It was always 'another newspaper' if they had to make some attribution. Whereas with the Cardinal Cody stuff, it was 'the Sun-Times says this and the Sun-Times says that.' So it was a whole new experience for me."
When the first story broke, the Tribune sent reporters Jane Fritch and Jim O'Shea to Saint Louis to dig up what they could on Mrs. Wilson. "the Tribune threw quite a few people at the story," O'Shea told me in a telephone interview, "but you got to keep in mind that the Sun-Times had pretty well covered the landscape—that was a hell of a long story. I found one woman that they had quoted. She was living in a little bungalow in Saint Louis and she was inside the house but she wouldn't come out, and I was kind of yellin' in the air conditioner, tryin' to get her to talk. And there were a couple of other reporters' cards there from like the [Saint Louis] Post Dispatch, and they had written messages on them, and I sort of picked them up, put mine on top, and sort of threw theirs away. And then we went down and checked the court records. We kind of ran around and tried to check everything we could, but in all honesty the paper was pretty well scrambling. I mean here comes this big story that they don't have any piece of and you can't really come back and steal it. I think they sent people off to do anything they could just in hopes that somebody would stumble across something where they could save face.
"I remember covering the Board of Education financial collapse. It was common, you'd come out with a story in the morning and if you had a story that they didn't have, it was very common for the Sun-Times to get on the phone and call the guy that you were quoting, or call anybody and get them to say something, and then they'd put their own top on the story and act like they did it without reading the morning Tribune. And we did the same thing. It was just accepted practice. I think they even had somebody whose job was to come in on Saturday morning, get the first edition of the Tribune, and steal everything he could, and vice versa. I am not an old Tribune hand, but it was common and a joke that so-and-so was the guy—you know, his job is to come in and see if he can take the headline story and write one off of it. But on a story like that—that the archbishop has this strange relationship with a woman and has been giving her money—it was such a breathtaking and terrific story that you couldn't really steal it. The real break in that story was that someone had the guts to put it in the paper. I mean that took a lot of guts. So you weren't gonna come along, a second-day paper, and say, 'Boy, we did it.' The readers are gonna see right through that."
While O'Shea and Fritch were in Saint Louis, the Tribune was hard in search of a new angle on the story. It turned out that Michael Sneed, then a reporter with the Tribune, now a columnist with the Sun-Times, had known Leonard Ring, Mrs. Wilson's attorney, for many years. Sneed called him and asked for an interview with his client; Ring was initially reluctant, but eventually agreed to line it up. When O'Shea returned from Saint Louis on the weekend, the paper assigned him to accompany Sneed in order to study Mrs. Wilson's tax returns, which Ring had also decided to provide.
the Sun-Times had alleged that the cardinal had given Mrs. Wilson $1 million in the course of the years 1966 to 1973. O'Shea was allowed to look at the returns from 1969 to 1979. He was not allowed to make copies, and he estimates that his study of the documents and questioning of Ring lasted two to three hours. His estimate was that Mrs. Wilson's net worth was about $350,000, but he recalls being far from certain about what that meant by comparison with the Sun-Times figures, given that he had only a short time to study the returns; that he was not allowed to take them to an income tax expert; that they did not cover the years 1966 through 1968; and that Ring did not provide a list of Mrs. Wilson's assets. "It was one of those cases where it wasn't a black-and-white kind of thing," O'Shea told me. "The records did not document that the Sun-Times was right or wrong."
"You sit down and you say, 'OK, what can you write?' You know that to a certain amount, everybody is tryin' to use you to get their one thing said, and so you're tryin' to figure out what the hell to do with it, and the best thing usually is to say, 'OK, what moves the story forward?'" O'Shea then wrote a financial story that said that Mrs. Wilson's tax returns "suggested" she had assets of $350,000, but also pointed out that the reported income would not necessarily show all other assets or reflect gifts.
Mike Sneed's profile of Mrs. Wilson, based on her exclusive interview, ran in two parts. The first story ran on Sunday, September 13, accompanied by a front-page photo, six inches by eight, of Mrs. Wilson dabbing at tears, and an inside photo of Mrs. Wilson crying and being comforted by her daughter, who was present during the interview. Monday's front page carried two more photos of Mrs. Wilson in pain. Sneed's stories were sympathetic, noting that Mrs. Wilson had fingered "a delicate silver rosary throughout the interview," that her only memory of her mother was of her lying in her casket, and that Mrs. Wilson called the Cardinal "Gi," short for "giddyup," a nickname that her grandchild had given the cardinal when riding on the prelate's shoulders. Mrs. Wilson claimed that she had worked hard in what the Sun-Times had called a no-show job, saying that her duties were confined to the mansion, where she redecorated, cooked, cleaned, oversaw repairs, and ran errands. She said the only presents she had received from Cody were gifts of cash at holidays that individually never amounted to more than several hundred dollars, and one gift of $10,000 to $15,000, the result of the cardinal's decision to write off a loan he had given her. She compared her relationship with the prelate to that of a brother and sister, denied that it was "anything different," and told Sneed that the Sun-Times allegations "make me seem like a tramp."
"I was left wondering whether the rosary was a normal part of her everyday existence," Sneed says today, "or whether it was brought along for effect. But they were very nice people. … I did not come out of the interview believing her or not believing her. I don't recall having any impression, because I have interviewed so many people, and people can look at you and lie to you. I just recall being very pleased to have finally gotten her side of the story."
On the Saturday that preceded the Sneed and O'Shea pieces, the Tribune had run a front-page story in which archdiocesan spokesman Peter Foote suggested that Cody and his attorneys were cooperating with the federal investigation. In fact, the cardinal and his attorneys were stonewalling the government. The coverage of those three days led many to wonder if the Tribune was being used by the archdiocese, or if it was soft on the cardinal. Also adding to the Tribune's weak image was the fact that the newspaper and the cardinal shared the same attorney, Don Reuben, a widely known fact that the newspaper never acknowledged in its Cody coverage.
"There were certainly times when I felt the Tribune might have been a little more aggressive," Tribune religion reporter Bruce Buursma told me. "I felt that even though the Sun-Times stories were not exactly bowling anybody over other than just the curious man-on-the-street reader, I thought there were times when we could have done some reporting that would have brought greater credit to the Tribune, rather than waiting for the Sun-Times to come out the next day and then report on those allegations and the archdiocesan reaction to it or man-on-the-street reaction or whatever. There were times when it was frustrating, because it went on for a long time, and even when you don't concede that you're getting your brains beaten out, among some people there was clearly that impression. And Cody was such an enormously controversial character, a character that some Catholics in the archdiocese had been working for years to get rid of, that, if they somehow sensed that a news organization wasn't doing enough with the Cody story, they concluded that the news organization must be partisan on behalf of Cody. And I honestly do not sense that that was the case, but the perception at times was that the Tribune was defending Cody. At no time when Cody was alive did anyone at the Tribune say, 'Don't be tough on Cody.'"
"People see conspiracies in all kinds of byzantine operations where there is nothin' at work but the laws of physics," Jim Squires, editor of the Tribune, told me. The Squires laws of physics are: "When people are trying to dump something on you, your opposition will get the offsetting dump," and "If one broadcast group or newspaper comes up with the original allegation, it leaves everyone else with the denial. That's what you got, you got something new. the Sun-Times says Cody is a crook. The archdiocese says Cody is not a crook. I got nothin' else to do except to go with the new fact."
As for Otwell's observation that the Tribune broke new ground in printing the Sun-Times allegations with full attribution, Squires said that it is one of the cornerstones of his new regime, which began the very week that the Sun-Times broke the Cody story. "We had a mistaken idea here for a long time that we should steal the other guy's story. That to me is cheap-ass, sophomoric journalism. And so we do our own work, and if I can't match it, we don't match it, we quote the other guy. And if I am reduced to reporting the public debate over something, then I am just reduced. I am not gonna keep it from my readers because I appear to be second on the story. I am not so insecure that I have to do that. the Tribune gets its share of exclusives."
While the Tribune was so engaged, Carlton Sherwood had reappeared. His editors at Gannett sent him to Chicago after the Sun-Times series began, but after his arrival Sherwood says he refused to file anything on the cardinal unless he could do his press manipulation story first. His editors, he says, were resistant.
"On behalf of Jim Winters I talked to Buursma and somebody else over at the Tribune," Sherwood told me, "and I told them I thought the [Winters] story was a damn good story and that they ought to use it, rather than taking shots at the Sun-Times, which is what they were doing for their story on Cody. I wasn't lobbying heavily for Winters's story, I simply suggested to the Tribune that if they wanted to do something useful or constructive that they ought to take a look at this stuff."
the Tribune did call South Bend, and on September 15, Winters met Tribune editor Squires and let him read about 30 pages of his manuscript. Winters says that the editor was impressed with the story and with his clippings, but expressed misgivings about giving someone a job in exchange for a story. (Squires does not dispute this.) Winters left the Tribune feeling optimistic, however, thinking that something might come of the negotiations.
That same afternoon Winters met Sherwood and Rob Warden in Stetson's bar in the Hyatt Regency. Warden, the editor of the Chicago Lawyer, a monthly tabloid, was sympathetic when he heard of the writer's negotiations with both Notre Dame and the Chicago press. Warden offered to publish the story, but Winters wanted to see things through with the Tribune before committing himself.
Winters says that two days later he got a call from Eugene Kennedy, the writer and professor of psychology at Loyola, whom the young man had consulted in the course of working on the story. Winters says Kennedy told him that the Tribune had tried to bluff its way into a story by calling archbishop Bernardin's press secretary claiming to have documents that only Winters had. (Kennedy says he does not recall the conversation.)
Winters was furious. He called Buursma immediately and asked to know why he had called Bernardin. He says Buursma replied, "I was under duress. How did you know?"
Buursma told me that he had indeed called Bernardin's press secretary and that he had also said that he had "seen" documents. the Tribune reporter, however, says the call was made not with any intention to steal Winters's story, but because Tribune editors were trying to make sure that the material they were bargaining for was factual. "My recollection may be a little fuzzy on this," Buursma told me, "but my conscience is clear. I was not ordered, nor did I intend at any stage, to steal his story."
Winters was convinced of the contrary, however, and so terminated negotiations with the paper.
Winters's description of those days suggests the world was closing in on him. He says that Larry Green, the Los Angeles Times midwest bureau chief, began calling to track down the Greeley archive story; that Kennedy called with the news that the Tribune was stealing the story; that Warden phoned to propose another arrangement for publishing the story in the Chicago Lawyer; and that Sherwood called to say that Greeley was alarmed—the New York Times had found the priest in London and asked about his archive material and his involvement in the Cody investigation. Winters says that on Thursday evening, September 17, a New York Times reporter arrived unannounced on his doorstep, and almost simultaneously, Greeley's attorney called and suggested Winters would face a lawsuit if he sold the Greeley papers. In the meantime, Warden had learned about the Tribune debacle, and on Friday, he called twice, pressing Winters for a decision. Winters made one. He left his apartment and spent the weekend in a motel.
The week that followed was also a bad one for Winters. On Monday, the New York Times carried a story expressing Greeley's attorney's alarm about what the Notre Dame editor might do with the archive documents. On Thursday, Greeley released a statement denying he had triggered any investigations of the cardinal or provided anyone with any evidence for an investigation; he claimed his private diaries had been "stolen" from his "sealed archives," and that although they were being used to prove he had engineered a plot, in fact they represented only the fantasies, musings, and dreams of many years ago. Both the New York Times story and the press release disturbed Winters's superiors at Notre Dame, but the young writer was again successful in keeping his job.
On Sunday, September 27, the Tribune ran a portion of the Chicago Lawyer's upcoming story, "The Plot to Get Cody." Rob Warden's allegations were the same as those Winters had been making for more than a year, and the Tribune reported that the quotes in the Winters material and the Chicago Lawyer segment appeared to be identical. Winters was convinced that the story was based on his manuscript, but in tracking down the various copies that had been made in the course of the year, he could not find the culprit. Winters claims that Sherwood, for example, swore vehemently that he had not given Warden the manuscript.
In his court depositions, Winters says that several years later, he learned from a Notre Dame student with a connection to the Chicago Lawyer that Sherwood had read the story to Warden over the phone. When I told Sherwood he had been so accused, he denied that he had read anything to the Chicago Lawyer, but he did say he had talked to Warden about the story in great detail in several phone conversations.
I asked Warden to respond to Winters's two allegations—that Sherwood had read the story over the phone, and that Warden was therefore publishing a purloined manuscript.
"I simply wouldn't want to comment on how we obtained the material," Warden told me, "but we obtained it in an absolutely legal way. We and the source or sources of the material acted in good faith, entirely within the law and the bounds of journalistic ethics. There is absolutely no question that we obtained the same material that Winters obtained. In fact it was the identical material. I can tell you truthfully that I have never seen Winters's manuscript. Lots of other people in the media had seen it—the Tribune, Chicago magazine, the Sun-Times, Gannett News Service—and had an obligation not to use the material. We didn't have any such obligation. We obtained basically the same material that they had.
"Now we had a grand jury investigation going on in Chicago, and the thrust of this material was that Andrew Greeley and the Chicago Sun-Times had something to do with instigating that grand jury investigation. It was obviously an event that at the moment seemed to be of great public interest and importance, and that is the basis on which I ethically justified the publication of the material."
Nothing came of the federal investigation. Mustain says this was in large part due to U.S. District Court Judge Frank McGarr. (McGarr says he is bound by rules of grand jury secrecy and so will not comment.) In November 1981 the U.S. attorney submitted motions asking for McGarr to order Cody to reply to the subpoenas that the cardinal had already ignored for nine months. Ordinarily such motions are ruled upon within days or a few weeks. McGarr did not rule on the motions for almost six months, during which time the public was well aware that Cody was in poor health. The cardinal died on April 25, 1982, without ever responding to the federal government, and without ever making good on his public promise of a detailed response to the Sun-Times allegations.
The government's investigation continued for two more months. On July 6, 1982, U.S. Attorney Dan Webb announced that the case was closed. "You can't prosecute a dead man," said Jeremy Margolis, the assistant U.S. attorney who directed the investigation. The reasoning behind the decision was that with Cody dead, there was no one to prosecute for criminal violation. If Helen or David Wilson had indeed received church money from Cody, for example, they would only have been culpable if they had known there was something illegal about their receipt of the funds. There might have been a civil case against Cody's estate for tax fraud, but federal law prohibited information generated by the federal grand jury from being handed over to the IRS. The IRS would have had to begin its own investigation, a process that would have taken years, and the action would not become public unless the person or estate involved filed an appeal in U.S. tax court.
Immediately after the U.S. attorney's announcement, Helen Dolan Wilson announced that she planned to file a libel suit seeking more than $10 million in damages from the Sun-Times. The suit was never filed.
Joseph Bernardin was appointed archbishop July 1982. In a pastoral letter issued five months later he announced that in the future, every account maintained by the archdiocese would be subject to strict auditing procedures. The letter also said that his internal investigation of Cardinal Cody's administration had determined: that Cody's accounting methods were confusing; that 25 to 30 percent of the financial records were missing; and that the accounting firm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Company could not certify the accuracy of the receipt and expenditure figures, but that the firm would say that those figures seemed reasonable. "Moreover," Bernardin wrote, "Peat, Marwick and the attorneys and accountants whom I have consulted advised against the continuation of the inquiry because, in all likelihood, it would not substantially change the picture. Of course, if financial records that have not been seen in the course of this investigation were to become available then the conclusion reached might require reevaluation in the light of such records." (Sister Joy Clough, media coordinator for the archdiocese, told me that four local business leaders reviewed the Peat, Marwick report at the time and concurred with the conclusions of the archbishop's attorneys and accountants.)
the Tribune's Bruce Buursma called the six-paragraph report "carefully worded and imprecise in its conclusions, neither totally absolving nor implicating the cardinal." His story also quoted John McDermott, a member of the Concerned Catholics of Chicago Committee, saying that a proper investigation ought to address the Sun-Times's charges one by one. McDermott noted, for instance, that the pastoral letter said nothing about the salary and pension paid to Mrs. Wilson.
the Sun-Times story indicated that Larson, Mustain, and Clements had pressed Bernardin for considerable detail. The archbishop admitted that his conclusions about Cody's fiscal behavior were based in part on data provided by attorneys Don Reuben and James Serritella, who had defended Cody before the grand jury; Bernardin acknowledged that critics might question the impartiality of that duo, but he said he had told them, "You're working for me now, you've got to tell me the truth."
Bernardin also told the Sun-Times that Cody had given money to Mrs. Wilson and other members of her family, but he declined to reveal the amount of money involved. He also told the paper that he would continue to pay Mrs. Wilson the pension for which she was not eligible because Cody believed he had the authority to selectively waive the church's eligibility requirements.
When he declined to be interviewed for this story, Cardinal Bernardin said, "I believe we dealt with the issue adequately, thoroughly, and openly at that time and put the issue to rest."
The fight between Greeley and James Winters is now in its seventh year. When discussing the Greeley archive controversy in a televised interview with Phil Donahue on April 23, 1982, Greeley said, "I feel like I was raped. Here is a kid … that breaks into my private files, steals papers, steals tapes. … There never was any permission given. … What would you feel if someone broke in and stole your private notes? … He's lying [when he says he had my permission]. I will say publicly on television he's lying." In response, Winters, now executive editor of Chicago Times magazine, filed a $3 million libel suit against the priest, arguing that those statements would be reasonably understood by viewers of the program to mean that the reporter had committed the criminal offenses of breaking and entering and theft. The case is scheduled for trial on October 14.
In the meantime, Greeley has gone on publishing books well received by the public. In his novel Lord of the Dance, published in 1984, a character named Joe Kramer, writing for a college magazine, asks to see a gubernatorial candidate's manuscripts, gains access to personal files marked "confidential," makes copies, and takes them to two Chicago newspapers asking for a job.
In his recent autobiography, Confessions of a Parish Priest, Greeley says his relationship with the archdiocese has not changed under Bernardin, though he contends that Bernardin asked him to stop writing novels with sex in them. Greeley also claims that Jim Hoge, former publisher of the Sun-Times, "aborted the publication of the results of his paper's investigation, under pressure from the attack of the Chicago Catholic newspaper and Ed Wall and also criticism from Catholics on his own staff." The claim contains not a grain of truth, according to reporters Mustain and Larson. "I told both Hoge and Otwell at the time they left that I thought that investigation was one of the greatest acts of institutional courage I knew of," Larson told me before Greeley's book was published. "The paper really put itself on the line, and the Sun-Times never had that enormous profit margin and so it was riskier. … I can't recall a time when I ever felt that I was being told to go easy or to get off the story. If they had their doubts, they didn't express them to me." Mustain spoke of support from his editors in similarly glowing terms and was infuriated by Greeley's account of the Cody investigations. Greeley's version says the Sun-Times took a chancery employee to the U.S. attorney's office in an effort to launch a federal investigation; Mustain says nothing of the sort happened.
Larson, Mustain, and Clements were given the National Headliners Club award for outstanding investigative reporting for their work on the Cody series. Larson is now editor and publisher of the Chicago Reporter, the monthly newsletter devoted to racial and other urban issues. Mustain labors as a reporter for the New York Daily News and is writing a book about John Gotti, a New York Mafia chieftain. Bill Clements died of a heart attack in August 1983 at the age of 51. Sun-Times reporters raised $24,000 for his youngest son's college education. "He was a great man," Mustain says of his late colleague. "He would have been a great archbishop."
Carlton Sherwood left Gannett in the fall of 1982, and has since worked for the Washington Times, the Cable News Network, and CBS affiliates in Boston and Washington. He recently joined the staff of the Newslink Television News Service.
Ed Wall, the editor of the Chicago Catholic under Cody, is now semiretired and lives in Mims, Florida. When Wall left Chicago, he had the intention of writing a book about Cardinal Cody, but as years passed, other projects interfered and his priorities changed. He still intends to write a book, he says, but Cody will not be the central focus. "My personal belief is that Cardinal Cody was agnostic," Wall told me. "It's just the sum total of my experience with him through the years. He just never struck me as a religious kind of a person, and I finally concluded that it was all the material, institutional apparatus that appealed to him. He didn't behave as somebody who really believed that what he was doing now he would be held accountable for by somebody more important than the pope."
Looking over the course of Cody's career and the investigations that took place in his final years, two other conclusions seem inescapable. One is Ed Wall's: "Cardinals are just men who wear red clothes." The other is Roy Larson's: "Things never do neatly end on this side."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Robert Goldstrom; photos/Pat Carroll—New York Daily News, Bruce Powell, Jon Randolph, Bill Stamets, Mike Tappin.