The secret files on the Rev. Michael Cody show how the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese moved him from parish to parish, even after knowing he was a sick and dangerous pedophile.
They described his “deviant behavior,” recorded his “abnormal attraction toward young girls,” even warned “he will either blow his brains out or cause a major scandal in the parish.”
In letter after letter, supervising priests, the auxiliary bishop, even a noted psychiatrist alerted Seattle Archbishop Thomas Connolly that the Rev. Michael Cody was a sick and dangerous pedophile who posed grave threats to children and others in the Western Washington parishes he served during the 1960s.
“It is my diagnosis that he is suffering from a form of sexual deviation (Pedophilia) …,” Dr. Albert Hurley wrote in a letter to Connolly in March 1962. “It is my recommendation that he be removed from parish work as soon as possible.”
But instead of notifying police or removing Cody from his duties, Connolly’s response largely was to move him to unsuspecting parishes. First, within Seattle. Then, to Auburn. And finally, to Skagit and Whatcom counties, where Cody oversaw four different churches and a school into the mid-1970s.
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When it placed him in Skagit County, the archdiocese provided Cody an isolated home where the unsupervised priest regularly brought youngsters, records and interviews show. All the while, he continued to prey on children.
The disturbing details about the archdiocese’s facilitation of the priest’s pedophilia are documented in internal correspondence, performance reviews and other records contained within what’s known as Cody’s “secret file.”
Portions of his decades-old file surfaced publicly last year in case filings for a lawsuit brought against the archdiocese by a Sedro-Woolley woman who, as a teenager, was sexually abused by Cody for two years.
Based on a consultant’s review of such secret files, the Seattle Archdiocese in January published a list identifying 77 clergy members who lived or worked in Western Washington and are known or believed to have sexually abused children.
When publicizing the list, Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain said in a statement he took the action “in the interest of further transparency and accountability,” but church officials offered no details about abuse incidents.
Since then, victims advocates, attorneys, even some prominent Catholics have called on Sartain to release the archdiocese’s secret files.
Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni did not directly respond to questions about whether Sartain plans to disclose any files. In an email Friday, Magnoni said “we will continue to review our practices and protocols, including the published list, to determine if additional steps can be taken that will restore trust and promote healing.”
Secret archives on accused priests, which Roman Catholic Canon law directs bishops to keep under lock and key, can often detail a diocese’s wider, hidden complicity in clergy sexual abuse dating back decades, those familiar with such records say.
“These records illustrate a pattern of secrecy,” said Mary Dispenza, Northwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and herself a victim of clergy abuse. “Most bishops are still dragging their feet about releasing them because they’ll be embarrassed or ashamed, and past bishops might be implicated.”
Criminal investigations, lawsuits and legal settlements have forced public disclosure of large portions of confidential archives in “a couple dozen” of the more than 170 Catholic dioceses nationwide, said Terry McKiernan, president of the research group bishopaccountabilty.org, which is dedicated to tracking clergy abuse.
Cody’s secret file demonstrates the Seattle Archdiocese enabled his abuse for years. As late as 1988, Seattle Archdiocese officials were still trying to assess whether the retired priest posed threats in another state.
Exactly how many children he victimized “would only be a guess,” a then-82-year-old Cody said during a 2013 deposition. In 1988, Cody told mental-health evaluators in Florida that over 20 years, he’d sexually abused 20 to 40 girls between 8 and 12 years old, and one boy.
At least 10 known and alleged victims have claimed in lawsuits in Washington that Cody abused them years after Connolly and others knew the priest was a pedophile. The archdiocese has settled one case and faces trial in five others.
The archdiocese’s hand in Cody’s misdeeds might still be secret if Jeri Hubbard hadn’t broken her silence.
“Second to God”
Hubbard was a troubled 16-year-old runaway when her parents entrusted her to the care of a charismatic pastor at the St. Charles Parish in Burlington, Skagit County, in 1968.
Cody, in turn, groomed the physically immature teen for a sexual relationship that lasted two years.
“At a time when I didn’t feel special, he befriended me and made me feel special,” Hubbard, 63, said during an interview last week. “Instinctively, I kind of knew it wasn’t right. But I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want him to get in trouble.”
The oldest of 12 children, the teenage Hubbard found refuge from a chaotic family life by walking to church to visit the 37-year-old priest. Hubbard’s father, retired from the Navy and a devout Catholic, agreed to let his daughter live at Cody’s rectory on rural Peterson Road.
“Father Cody was a godsend to me,” Hubbard’s father recalled in a June 2014 deposition. “I felt that the priest was second to God.”
At the home they shared for about a year, Cody plied Hubbard with wine, and sex became routine.
“What he had convinced me of was that God had made him a man first before he made him a priest, and that men have needs,” Hubbard recalled.
When Hubbard later became uncomfortable with their relationship, Cody “told me that I was an incorrigible child, that nobody would believe me over him. He was their priest and that they would always believe him first.”
Ashamed and afraid people would blame her, Hubbard kept silent about Cody for more than four decades. She suffered deep emotional trauma, marked by alcoholism, anxiety attacks, flashbacks, nightmares and suicide attempts.
In 2012, a friend who witnessed Hubbard paralyzed by a panic attack during a 12-step meeting arranged a surprise consultation between Hubbard and Mount Vernon attorney John Murphy. Hubbard reluctantly told her story.
Attorneys Michael Pfau of Seattle and Rand Jack of Bellingham joined the team, and Hubbard sued. As the case progressed, Hubbard learned about a confidential file kept on Cody.
“I was pissed,” she said. “The church knew he was a pedophile years before he ever came to Burlington. And they let that happen.”
Letters of alarm
The contents of Cody’s file provided a damning narrative that made Hubbard’s case.
By early 1962, just a few years into Cody’s career, the records show he told a psychiatrist about his perverse urges.
Dr. Hurley later informed Archbishop Connolly in a March 19, 1962, letter that Cody had “molested at least eight girls 12 years of age or younger.”
“He has sexual impulses which he fights against consciously and is unable to control voluntarily,” Hurley wrote.
Ten days later, Cody’s supervising priest at the Holy Family Parish in Seattle also warned Connolly that Cody was “mentally and emotionally sick.” In his letter, the Rev. Ailbe McGrath used Latin to cloak descriptions of Cody’s deviancy, referencing a violation of Catholicism’s Sixth Commandment: “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery.”
“His de sexto abnormalities (which I will not mention here) may cause a major scandal in this parish, and if discovered, may result in a penitentiary sentence at Walla Walla,” McGrath wrote.
Less than two months later, McGrath wrote Connolly again, “urgently requesting” Cody be removed from the parish.
“I do not want a murder, a suicide, or a de sexto crime of violence in this rectory or in this parish,” McGrath wrote in the May 14, 1962, letter. “… When I read in the daily papers of crimes of murder and rape, I begin to wonder if Father Cody is involved.”
Three days later, Connolly responded that Cody would be sent to the Institute of Living, a psychiatric hospital in Connecticut.
“Personally, I do not hold out any great hopes for his improvement or that he will ever reassume his priestly career,” Connolly wrote.
Cody had been at the hospital for 10 months when a psychiatrist recommended in March 1963 that upon the priest’s return to Seattle, Connolly assign him to a position away from parishioners due to his mental state.
But when Cody returned in May 1963, Connolly put him to work as an assistant pastor at St. James Cathedral, and his problems resurfaced.
“It is not that he is not trying,” Bishop Thomas Gill wrote to Connolly, then in Rome, in October 1963. “There are manifest signs of deterioration in his mental health.”
For the next four and a half years, Gill supervised Cody and wrote annual reports about his work to Connolly, describing the priest’s problems. “The man is sick,” Gill wrote in a 1965 report. “ … While of superior intellectual capacity, he suffers from emotional states that make him unusable as an assistant.”
In September 1967, the archdiocese reassigned Cody to the Holy Family Parish in Auburn. Within three months, its pastor complained to Connolly about Cody’s “undue familiarity with the sixth and seventh grade girls.”
“His deviant behavior is a danger to the good of souls,” the Rev. John Duffy wrote in the December 1967 letter. “Before the people become involved in this priestly problem I consider it prudent to bring this matter to your attention.”
Nothing in Cody’s file indicates the priest received further mental-health treatment, behavioral monitoring or restrictions on his access to children, the archdiocese’s chancellor acknowledged in a deposition last year.
Six months after Duffy’s letter, the archdiocese moved Cody again — this time to Skagit County, where he would have no on-site supervision whatsoever.
Full story under wraps
From 1968 to 1972, Cody served as pastor of churches in La Conner, Burlington and on the Swinomish Indian Reservation.
Shortly after his arrival in Skagit County, the archdiocese also purchased the isolated rectory where Cody would live — and where he repeatedly abused Hubbard.
Last May, shortly after Hubbard took the witness stand to detail Cody’s abuse, the archdiocese settled her case for $1.2 million.
Before the trial, the archdiocese admitted negligence for “intentionally or recklessly” inflicting severe emotional damages on Hubbard by putting Cody in a position to abuse her. The admission prevented the secret records describing the archdiocese’s role in Cody’s abuse from being seen by a jury.
“I don’t think they wanted the jury to hear the full story, so they had to admit they acted both negligently and outrageously in order to keep out evidence regarding their fault,” Pfau said in a statement posted to his law firm’s website following the settlement.
After Hubbard sued, six more women accused Cody of abusing them as children while the priest served in Skagit County, and three people, including one man, claimed Cody abused them as kids while he served as pastor of Assumption Parish and School in Bellingham from 1972 to 1975. In all, the archdiocese now faces five lawsuits over Cody.
In 1975, after Connolly retired, new Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen brought Cody back to Seattle for an “in residence” assignment at St. Margaret Parish. He also arranged for Cody to be evaluated. Cody took a disability retirement and left Seattle in 1979.
He eventually moved to Florida and in 1988 helped with ministry in the Orlando Diocese. But Hunthausen declined to recommend Cody to that diocese’s leaders, and he paid for Cody to take another psychological evaluation.
During the exam, Cody admitted to victimizing up to 41 children and that he still fantasized about having sex with minors. Evaluators recommended Cody “not be allowed unsupervised contact with children.”
In 1989, Cody petitioned for laicization — or removal from the priesthood. The Catholic Church officially defrocked him in 2005.
Cody moved to Nevada in the 1990s to live with a brother. He volunteered at a national park. When lawyers deposed Cody for Hubbard’s case in 2013, he was still living there. Cody died at the age of 84, sometime after Hubbard’s trial last year.
In January, Cody’s name appeared on the archdiocese’s list of clergy offenders.
Without disclosing his or other offenders’ secret files, Hubbard calls the list meaningless.
“People should know the truth about what the church has done,” she said. “If they have nothing more to hide, then why aren’t they showing us?”