‘Father Cody is dangerous’: Seattle Archdiocese settles sex abuse case for $9.1 million after damning letters surface

Left: Michael Cody. Right: Jeri Hubbard.
Left: Michael Cody. Right: Jeri Hubbard.

After being sued by eight women who alleged they were molested by a priest four decades ago, the Seattle Archdiocese has settled for $9.1 million.

The settlement, reported by the Seattle Times, came Wednesday after a damning psychiatrist’s letter, among other documents, surfaced last year reporting Michael Cody, the priest at the center of the suit, was a pedophile who needed to “be removed from parish work as soon as possible.” The letter, part of correspondence among church officials expressing concerns about Cody, was written in 1962; the women were abused between 1968 and 1975.

“He told me that he was suffering from an abnormal sexual attraction toward young girls,” psychiatrist Albert M. Hurley wrote. “… He has molested at least eight girls twelve years of age or younger. As you know, there have been complaints about his hostility and temper in the various parishes where he has served. He also complains of feelings of severe depression, during which time he prays that God will allow him to die rather than continue this behavior.”

Hurley was explicit about his diagnosis, saying Cody was a pedophile who showed “sadistic tendencies” to boys he knew and talked of killing others and himself.

“It is likely that if external controls on his acting out are made, and this cycle of aggression and depression sufficiently interrupted, then he can once again assume a useful and productive life,” the psychiatrist wrote.

The interruption never came. Cody — who stopped serving as a priest in 1979, was defrocked in 2005 and died last year — served in a number of parishes in Washington state, where he “preyed on children for years,” as the Seattle Times put it. In a deposition in 2013, the priest, then 82, said estimating how many children he abused “would only be a guess.” In a 1988 mental-health evaluation, he said he had molested up to 40 girls and one boy.

“At a time when I didn’t feel special, he befriended me and made me feel special,” Jeri Hubbard, 63 — who Cody had sex with repeatedly when she was a troubled 16-year-old runaway living in his rectory — told the Seattle Times. “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.” When she questioned the arrangement, Cody said her no one would believe her if she told them. (She settled with the archdiocese in a separate case last year.)

A psychiatrist’s letter about diagnosing Father Michael Cody with “pedophilia.”
A psychiatrist’s letter about diagnosing Father Michael Cody with “pedophilia.”

In the wake of the settlement, the archdiocese, as so many in the Catholic Church have, sought to put the past behind it — and find out if other victims are out there.

In January, the Archdiocese published a list of 77 priests, brothers, nuns and deacons accused of assaulting children while serving or living in Western Washington, the Seattle Times reported.

“Our first priority is the protection of children and healing for past victims,” Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain said, as the Associated Press reported. “It is my firm commitment to build on the good efforts of the past and continue to take steps that will truly help victims of clergy sexual abuse to heal. This $9 million settlement demonstrates our ongoing commitment to acknowledge and address the devastating impact of clergy sexual abuse, and to encourage victims to come forward.”

An attorney for the women said the settlement prevents the archdiocese from facing the terrible details of the Cody case and from acknowledging that the priest remained on the job despite the fact an archbishop knew of his crimes.

“The evidence regarding Father Cody is overwhelming, and I don’t think the Archdiocese wants more bad publicity,” Michael T. Pfau said. “The direct involvement of former Archbishop Thomas Connelly in placing this pedophile in parishes with full knowledge of his danger to children is truly disturbing.”

The psychiatrist’s letter was part of a so-called “secret file” on Cody kept by the church. Advocates for those abused by priests say such files only contribute to a decades-old problem.

“These records illustrate a pattern of secrecy,” Mary Dispenza, Northwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and herself a victim of clergy abuse, said earlier this month. “Most bishops are still dragging their feet about releasing them because they’ll be embarrassed or ashamed, and past bishops might be implicated.”

“I was pissed,” Hubbard, one of Cody’s victims, said when she learned of the file. “The church knew he was a pedophile years before he ever came … And they let that happen.”

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