Who will succeed Cardinal Cody?

For years, popular wisdom had it that the successor to Chicago's John P. Cody, who died Sunday at age 74, would be Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Cincinnati.

At 54, the soft-spoken Bernardin is one of the best known and best liked prelates in this country. As the first general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and later as its president, he earned a reputation as a reconciler.

His social views tend toward the liberal, he takes a traditional stance on doctrine, and his open, collegial style of leadership reflects the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Elected by his fellow bishops to represent the church in this country at several of the Synods of Bishops in Rome, he is well-connected at the Vatican; several years ago he shared a long-term committee assignment with the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.

But some people feel that Bernardin's chances to head the Chicago archdiocese, the nation's largest with 2.4 million members, were damaged last fall when his name turned up in an expose of excerpts of a bizarre diary and tape-recorded notes of priest-novelist Andrew Greeley. The excerpts, which Greeley said were published without permission, dealt with an alleged plot by Greeley to rig the papal election after the death of Pope Paul VI.

Central to Greeley's plot, according to the excerpts published in The Chicago Lawyer, was ousting Cody. Greeley's expectation, according to the excerpts, was that Bernardin would succeed Cody and ultimately be named to the College of Cardinals, the body which elects popes.

The diary musings of the iconoclastic priest also identify Bernardin as Greeley's source of Vatican secrets, dubbing him "Deep Purple."

Bernardin denied leaking Vatican secrets and few in the church took seriously Greeley's claim that Bernardin did. "Joe Bernardin has no more responsibility for his appearance in Andy Greeley's dreams than Jody Foster has in John Hinckley's," said one source who knows both churchmen.

But many church leaders feel the incident may have knocked Bernardin off the Vatican's list.

There are still plenty of other candidates:

* Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Roach, 60, is the current president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Generally progressive, he is reportedly well-liked in his present diocese.

* Archbishop John R. Quinn, 53, of San Francisco. Quinn was Roach's predecessor as president of the NCCB. In that capacity, he was attending the funeral mass of the murdered San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero and was pinned down by gunfire that killed more than 30 mourners. The experience has left him deeply sensitized to the church's responsibility to speak out for secular justice.

* Archbishop Rembert Weakland, 54, of Milwaukee. Before Cody, there was something of a tradition of Milwaukee archbishops moving down Lake Michigan to head the Chicago church. Weakland is probably the most liberal of the men being mentioned, a posture some Milwaukee Catholics have grumbled about. An expert on liturgy, he shepherded through the bishops' conference changes in wording to remove sexist references from the mass.

* Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, 60, mayor of Vatican City. A native of the Chicago area, Marcinkus has been head of the Vatican bank for more than a decade.

It is debatable whether the Chicago post, prestigious as it is in this country, outranks the job he already has. On the other hand, Marcinkus is close to the pope. Appointing him to Chicago would be one way of exercising close pontifical control over an archdiocese that has caused Rome so many headaches in recent years.

* The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, 70, president of Notre Dame University. His name comes up every time there is a major opening in the church, but those who know him doubt that he is interested.

* Archbishop John L. May, 60, St. Louis. A native of suburban Evanston and a former Chicago auxiliary bishop, he knows Chicago. But he has been in St. Louis less than two years and another move so soon would appear unlikely.

* Bishop Thomas J. Murphy, 50, of Great Falls-Billings, Mont. At the time he became a bishop in 1978, he was serving as the rector of the Chicago archdiocese's major seminary, and is thus well-known to most of the younger priests.

* Bishop Cletus F. O'Donnell, 64, of Madison, Wis. Many Chicago priests had hoped that O'Donnell, who had been an auxiliary of the archdiocese for six years, would succeed Cardinal Albert Meyer when he died in 1964. Instead Cody was appointed. O'Donnell suffers from diabetes, and there is some question as to whether he would be up to the rigors of the Chicago job today.

There are those who believe that the next archbishop of Chicago may be none of the above. Msgr. John Tracy Ellis of Catholic University, for instance, has observed that a number of the appointments by John Paul II--in Milan, in Paris, in Birmingham, England--have been complete surprises, and that the pontiff may have another surprise in store for Chicago.

How long it will take to name a successor to Cody is anybody's guess. Current church procedure calls for the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Pio Laghi, to follow a fairly extensive procedure of consultation with priests and lay leaders of a vacant diocese. Such talks are aimed not at soliciting names of favorite sons, but at assessing the needs of the diocese.

It is conceivable that in the case of Chicago, where priests and lay groups had been making their attitudes and complaints about their archbishop known to the Vatican for years, Laghi might waive consultation. "He might feel he knows enough and could move pretty quickly. Looking at the turmoil, he might feel there's a lot to be gained by naming a new archbishop pretty soon," said Russell Shaw, spokesman for the bishops' conference.

"But then on the other hand," Shaw continued, "he might feel he needs a lot more spadework."