National Catholic Reporter editor on covering Catholic Church through scandal, change

The Kansas City StarTIED ST


Dennis Coday is editor of National Catholic Reporter,, a daily online and biweekly print publication that covers the Roman Catholic Church for a national and international audience. The newspaper has an eight-person editorial staff in Kansas City, four full-time staffers in Washington, D.C., several correspondents on the West Coast and a correspondent in Rome.

Coday, originally from Nebraska, graduated from Rockhurst University and earned a master’s in journalism at Marquette. He worked for the Catholic Key newspaper in Kansas City, the Union of Catholic-Asian News in Bangkok and as a freelancer before joining NCR in 2003 as Web editor. In 2012, he took over as editor.

National Catholic Reporter was founded in 1964 in Kansas City. It is independently owned and governed by a lay board of directors.

The paper began publishing stories about sex abuse by clergy 10 years before the Boston Globe printed its investigative series that is the subject of the new film “Spotlight” (scheduled to open Nov. 20). In June, NCR published a retrospective of its coverage of the scandal over the past three decades. (The Star also had been reporting cases about priest sex abuse in the local diocese for two decades.)

NCR also is known for taking progressive stances in its editorials, including asserting that climate change is the most important pro-life issue facing the church.

This conversation took place in the paper’s newsroom on Armour Boulevard.

Q: What precipitated NCR’s reporting on clergy abuse?

A: The way stories like this develop is, you get a phone call. And there’s a hint of something going on, or it’s allegations that can’t be traced back. But gradually things build up. By 1985, Tom Fox and Arthur Jones, who were editors at that time, had accumulated enough information that they felt like they could start to write about this.

The breakout case was in Lafayette, La., which came to a head with a trial in 1985. Jason Berry, a reporter writing for a local alternative weekly, collaborated with NCR on an extensive report about what was happening in Lafayette, and Tom Fox and Arthur Jones put together a national overview of sex abuse cases. That reporting really started the ball rolling.

Q: The founder of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Barbara Blaine, credits NCR’s reporting with her coming out about the abuse she experienced and with founding her support group.

A: Yes, and the other piece of that is Father Tom Doyle, a Dominican priest who at the time was a canon lawyer working for (the pope’s ambassador in Washington, D.C.). He was tasked with finding out what was going on.

Tom tells this story in our retrospective that he and a lawyer and a clinical psychologist who was also a priest and a lawyer from Louisiana that was familiar with the cases put together a master plan that they proposed to the U.S. bishops (in 1985). Their position is that if the bishops had acted on that plan, it would have saved decades of abuse, of financial crisis, of scandal — it could have saved the reputation of the Catholic Church. But they didn’t act on it.

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