When Cardinal John P. Cody, riding a special celebrity-laden train from New Orleans, arrived in Chicago in August 1965, he assumed control of one of the most vigorous and innovative Roman Catholic archdioceses in the country.
By the time of his death Sunday after a 16-year reign, the archdiocese, the nation's largest, had become the primary church battleground in this country between old-style authoritarianism of centuries past and the Second Vatican Council concept of sharing responsibility among bishops, clergy and lay members. And Cody, 74, had become a source of deep embarrassment to the church. News Analysis News Analysis
Pending the appointment by the Vatican of a permanent successor, Msgr. John Richard Keating, a personnel assistant to Cody, will administer archdiocesan affairs. Apostolic Delegate Pio Laghi, the pope's personal representative in this country, will celebrate a funeral mass for Cody on Thursday.
One of only 123 men in the world holding the rank of "prince of the church," Cody by the end had become a lonely figure caught up in forces of change he would not, or could not contend with.
For Chicago Catholics, the tragedy of Cody was less the charges that he may have mishandled as much as $1 million in church funds--charges he denied--than the conflict within the church that isolated him from many of his priests.
There is broad recognition that he had some significant accomplishments. His successor will find, for example, an archdiocese in good shape financially and a massive and strong parochial school system. But his successor will also have to deal with the lingering effects of a 16-year cold war within the archdiocese over his use of power.
That conflict began to develop only a few weeks after Cody's arrival. In the files of his predecessor, the much loved Cardinal Albert Meyer who had been one of the presiding officers of the Vatican Council, Cody found a list of priests considered to be deadwood--men who were "alcoholic, psychotic, senile or maybe just tired," said Charles Dahm, a Chicago Dominican priest who has just published a study of Cody's dealings with his priests.
Dahm said Cody, armed with the list, spent his early Sunday afternoons in his new diocese turning up at one rectory after another, where he personally dismissed the offending priest, giving him two weeks to clear out--this at a time when there was no pension plan, no retirement and no insurance for clergy of the diocese.
Some of the men on the list were in their 70s. The most noted, the venerable Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Shiel, founder of the Catholic Youth Organization, was 78.
Without consultation or warning, Cody moved priests about like pawns on an ecclesiastical chess board. He launched multimillion-dollar fund drives which he ordered priests to promote and closed down long-standing programs he disapproved of, including the Office of Urban Affairs, widely recognized as an effective pioneer in interfaith approaches to the social crises of the '60s.
In the case of one parish on the cardinal's RIF list, said Dahm, "The pastor was surprised at breakfast one morning by a wrecking crew, armed with crane, wrecking ball and an order by the archbishop to raze the rectory and the convent. Persons in both buildings were still brushing their teeth."
Cody, in fact, was not exceeding the authority which the Roman Catholic Church has invested in a bishop through the centuries. But without legally removing any of that power, the Second Vatican Council, which ended the same year Cody became head of the Chicago archdiocese, had defined the church as "the whole people of God" and urged a shared, collegial style of decision-making.
Even before Vatican II, Cody's predecessor, the progressive Cardinal Meyer, had encouraged the kind of initiative from priests and laity which had produced in Chicago the birth of such significant developments as the Catholic Youth Movement, the Catholic Family Movement, the National Conference on Interracial Justice, and Cana and pre-Cana movements for married and engaged couples. Meyer's position as a president of the Second Vatican Council insured heightened interest in council decrees by Chicago Catholics.
By mixing the authoritarian style of Cody with the free-wheeling one of Chicago clergy, the Vatican built itself an ecclesiastical time bomb.
Priests formed the Association of Chicago Priests to seek to negotiate with Cody over such issues as appointments and salaries, and to develop ways to work together to attack the problems of the 2.4-million-member archdiocese. The ACP set a pattern for priests' councils nationwide, but in Chicago the group, whose membership ranged from a half to a third of the diocesan clergy, had very limited success.
Cody used every bureaucratic tactic to frustrate the group's intent. Letters and phone calls seeking appointments were ignored. When, after months of entreaty, an appointment would be set, frequently the archbishop would cancel.
Frustration continued to mount to such a point that in 1978, the ACP appealed to the Vatican "through secret diplomacy" to remove Cody, an ACP official said.
In their appeal, said the Rev. Dennis Geaney, a Calumet City pastor, "there were no allegations of personal misconduct . . . . We simply recited a litany of complaints as examples that the collegiality of Vatican II was not operative. The school board, the arbitration board, the arbitrary closing of schools, letters of priests not answered simply highlight how decisions were made by one man without the consultation of the people called for by Vatican II."
The Vatican did not grant the request.
By the time the charges of financial misconduct rocked Chicago, "the morale of the priests" was "just about zilch," said the Rev. John Reedy, a priest-journalist based at the University of Notre Dame and a close observer of the Chicago situation.
"But the way the Catholic Church functions, a lot of things" were going ahead anyway in the parishes, where priests would "just ignore the chancery and go ahead and do what they should," Reedy said.
In recent months, particularly as Cody became increasingly incapacitated, Chicago Catholics turned their thoughts from conflicts past and present to the future. Evaluations of Cody mellowed in the process.
"He managed to preside over a very volatile time in the church," said the Rev. Tom Libera, current president of the ACP, in January when Cody announced plans for retirement in December when he would have been 75. "On the whole he managed to keep the Chicago church developing."
Libera called Cody "a paradoxical man . . . How he would push things through" without consultation or regard for opposition. "Yet when a priest came to him on a one-to-one basis, he could be personally very understanding and supportive.