Chapter Seventeen

“Are you sure?” Tully asked Koesler.

“Of what?”

“This … cure of the Waleski girl … that it isn’t a miracle?”

“No,” Koesler said. “Not that it isn’t a miracle. Rather that the Church will claim very strongly that it isn’t a miracle. Sometimes medical science can’t tell where treatment ends and the miraculous begins. I don’t know … I don’t think we’ll ever know whether God intervened here. But I do know that what happened to Theresa is not within the boundaries the Church set up to differentiate between genuine miracles and the seeming miraculous.”

“Been doing some research, Bob?” Weber was wearing a mischievous grin.

Koesler nodded. “After all, this is going on in my backyard. Sooner or later some reporter is going to pin me down no matter how many times I plead no comment or try to refer him or her to the panel that’s supposed to do a Church investigation of these events.

“Anyway, what I learned-although I knew some of this before I began looking up the process-well, what I learned is that there is a Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican that handles a lot of the miracle verification. And I take it they set the standards for accepting or rejecting claims of miracles.

“This Congregation goes all the way back to the early eighteenth century and Pope Benedict XIV. There are four criteria. The first is that the problem-the injury, the illness-is serious. Life-threatening or crippling would be in the ballpark.

“Second, that there is objective proof of the existence of the problem. X-rays, CAT scans, documented diagnoses of doctors, that sort of thing.

“Third, that other treatment has failed. I guess a miracle has to be the final attempt at healing or a cure after trying everything medical science can throw at an illness.

“Finally, the cure has to be rapid and lasting. Everybody will agree that we may never know all the body can do to heal itself. A working immune system is a force to be reckoned with.

“As much as our bodies can accomplish in a self-help effort, we know there are things that the body can’t do by itself-not even with all that medical science can do to help. A body assaulted with massive cancers one day and completely healed the next. That’s the sort of thing we’re looking for in a miracle. And a cure that is lasting is the best proof that it wasn’t an hysterical wonder moment.

“Some of the sleazier faith healers can work sick people into a frenzy. The cripple may throw aside a brace or crutches and appear cured. But after the hysterical moment is over and the adrenaline slows down, it’s back to the wheelchair.”

Tully nodded. Clearly he was again and more deeply impressed by the care and caution exercised by the Church when it came to claims of miracles.

“So,” Koesler continued, “if any one of these criteria is missing or flawed, it’s no miracle as far as the Church is concerned. And that’s the possible difference between Dr. Green and Theresa Waleski.

“You could argue that the paralysis was a very serious illness. You could argue that just about everything medical science can supply was tried. Certainly, with all the consulting doctors, it was not a case of not having tried other treatment.

“But there is no objective proof that it is a physical problem. The best diagnosis revealed no physical cause, but concluded that it was more probably psychosomatic-that it was all in her head.

“On top of that, while the ‘cure’ was rapid enough, it hasn’t yet met the test of time.

“And even if it is a lasting ‘cure,’ there never was objective proof. So, with the complete loss of one of the criteria, Theresa’s healing will never be pronounced a miracle by the Church.”

“And Green?” Tully asked.

“Dr. Green is something else again, no matter how you look at him,” Koesler said. “If he was dead-really dead-then he transcends all the criteria.

“What did he have? Mostly chronic back pain. Terribly, agonizingly painful. Again, it could have been psychosomatic. He had lots of treatment and medications.

“But the big thing is that we don’t know right now whether he was cured of his illness or not. The important claim is that he was ‘cured of death.’ If he really died and now he lives, for whatever reason he was given this favor, he is a walking miracle.”

In the silence that followed this statement, Tully pondered the unfamiliar ground he now occupied.

Dead people were his job when death was due to homicide. Dead people who came back to life were beyond him in every direction.

But he was relieved that Theresa Waleski would not have her “miracle” ratified. Had hers qualified as a genuine miracle, since she was inspired by Green’s success and since she sought it at the very spot where Green had “returned to life,” her “miracle” could constitute added authentication that the Green “miracle” was genuine.

Tully had vibes, perhaps intuition that had been honed by years of police work, that Green had not really died. Nor had he become comatose by accident. Tully’s hunch was that someone had tried to kill the doctor. That would make it attempted murder. Familiar ground for Tully.

His reverie crumbled as the news conference swung into gear.

Under the bright lights and ensuing shadows of the sun guns, reporters balanced notepads and juggled breakfast rolls and coffee as the principals mounted the dais.

Koesler looked around at the media personnel scrambling for a good vantage not only for seeing and hearing everything but also for launching a question or several.

He knew few of these people personally. The TV reporters were familiar enough. Endless times he had watched as they reported from various local and out-state locales. Radio reporters were voices-magnificent voices-with no familiar face to identify. As for the print journalists, those he did know he had met by accident.

Some overhead lights were turned off as the TV lights became fully operative and exactly positioned. From where they were seated, Weber, Koesler, and Tully found it difficult to make out anyone except those on the dais.

Ned Bradley, head of the Department of Communications for the archdiocese, approached the microphone and tested it. It was working, not very effectively, but working. The radio and TV technicians and reporters checked to gauge their voice levels.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Ned Bradley ….”

A low chuckle passed around the room. Ned Bradley until a few years ago had been a local TV newsman. Most of the reporters and technicians had worked with him as a colleague and knew him well. He, for his part, knew them and also knew when the reporters were being fair and when they were slanting events to suit their biases or prejudicial editors.

“… and,” Bradley continued, “I have been fully briefed on what has been going on at St. Joseph’s Church over the past couple of days. So, I’ll just read a short statement, and then we’ll take questions.

“We’ll start with the wake service at St. Joseph’s, Monday evening.

“While it is unusual, to say the least, to have a service in a Catholic church for a Jewish person, there were extenuating circumstances. In this case, we were assured that few, if any, Jewish persons would be attending such a service, no matter where it was held. In addition, Dr. Green’s wife and children are Catholic. And many of their Catholic friends and relatives would attend. This decision does not set any kind of precedent. It was a judgment call on the part of the pastor. And the Archdiocese of Detroit stands behind the pastor and his decision in this case.

“But I emphasize: This does not set a precedent. Each case must be weighed separately.”

Koesler breathed a sigh of relief. Bradley’s statement was not entirely correct. In fact, it was totally incorrect. Koesler recalled with striking clarity how Cardinal Boyle had said that if he had been asked, he would have denied permission to wake the doctor in a Catholic church.

On the other hand, maybe now in retrospect, although he would have denied permission beforehand, maybe now the Cardinal would support his priest. And on that basis he would stand behind the troubled pastor of St. Joseph’s.

Whatever the thinking, Koesler was grateful for the gesture of support.

“Now,” Bradley continued, “during that wake service-or, I should say, just as it was to begin-an entirely unexpected event occurred. It started with the entrance of Dr. Green’s sister, from Florida, Sophie Weinraub, who entered the church and caused a considerable commotion. During this disruption of the service, the casket was tipped from the bier. Dr. Green’s body spilled out of the casket. And he was found to be alive.

“At this point, speculation begins. And at this point, ladies and gentlemen, we don’t have any facts that would lead to answers.

“I can tell you this much: Dr. Green is alive. He and his wife are in their condo apartment. They refuse to appear publicly, at least for the time being.

“So, the questions remain unanswered for the moment. Cardinal Boyle has created a panel to investigate the matter on behalf of the Catholic Church in Detroit. The names of the panel members and where they can be reached will be found in the packet that was given to you a few minutes ago.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I know this statement does not speak to many of the questions you have. We’ll do the best we can to address some of those questions now.”

As far as Koesler could see, no hands were raised politely; there was just a Babel of voices. One-Koesler could not tell whose-finally dominated.

“Uh, you started out by saying that the wake at St. Joe’s was the pastor’s call. Just who is this guy? The news release you handed out says he’s a Father, uh …” He pronounced the name Kho-sler.

“That’s Koesler,” Bradley said. “It’s pronounced Kessler.” The communications officer would not have bothered to correct him if the reporter were a print journalist. The man was pronouncing the name approximately the way it was spelled so he must have been in radio or TV. And once mispronounced over the air, always mispronounced.

For Koesler’s part, he was embarrassed. Here he was in the same room with the reporters and they did not recognize him. Of course he was sitting pretty far back pretty much in the shadows. But nonetheless he obviously suffered from a high degree of anonymity. He glanced at his two companions. They were grinning. He looked straight ahead. Pat Lennon smiled and gave him a conspiratorial wink. Possibly the only reason he could identify her was because she was the only one from the reporters’ ranks who had turned to look at him.

“Whatever,” the reporter said. “The main thing is we can’t get him to surface. He doesn’t return phone calls-”

“That’s one of the reasons this investigative panel was set up,” Bradley said. “To be available for your questions. Father Koesler is not part of that panel. He has a parish to run.”

Koesler would have preferred a verb such as “a parish to care for” or “to serve.” But the bottom line was that the word had gone out from the archdiocese to barricade the pastor. The pastor was grateful.

“The kind of information I’m looking for isn’t going to come from any panel,” the reporter said with some irritation. “And I don’t care about precedents. I want to know what went through his head when he was asked to take that funeral. And what led to his decision to go along with it.”

“First of all, it wasn’t a funeral. I want to keep this issue clear. It was a wake service. And, as to the questions you pose, I simply don’t have that information. Sorry.” Bradley was determined to stick with the game plan that had been put together by a battery of lawyers and public-relations people at the chancery.

The question apparently having been answered to the extent it would be answered, Bradley indicated by a hand signal that the floor was open.

Another cacophony with one voice finally being recognized.

“Ned …” Again, Koesler couldn’t identify the voice. “… you stated that Green is alive. In what shape?”

“In what shape?”

“Dr. Green had a chronic back problem with a lot of pain. It forced him to cut back until he had almost no practice. What I want to know is: Is he cured? Did the back problem go away when he had his ‘miracle’?”

Laughter played across the room. It was evident that these women and men of the press were far too worldly-wise to take miracles seriously. While they would write and broadcast the story in a factual manner for the sake of selling papers or gaining ratings, each wanted the others to know that he or she was cool when it came to the supernatural.

The questioner had gotten the substance of the first part of his question from Pat Lennon’s original story on the news feature. Lennon had profited from her ride in the ambulance with Green and his wife. And Lennon knew what to do with a story that belonged to her.

The second part of the question, regarding how Green’s illness had affected his practice, the reporter, a professional at his craft, had dug out on his own.

“We have no details on the doctor’s condition,” Bradley stated, “only that he is alive. In a way, Dr. Green is being held incommunicado-by his own wishes.”

“It’s his decision,” the reporter pursued, “to keep all this under the covers?”

“Yes,” Bradley said. “Just as it was the doctor’s decision to be brought home rather than to the hospital after being taken from the church. We’ve got to remember that Dr. Green is not a criminal who faces any charges. He is a private citizen with all the rights of a citizen of this country-among which is a right to privacy.”

“That’s all very well,” the reporter said, “but our viewers want to know what happened. You could claim at the very least that something way out of the ordinary happened in that church Monday evening. There’s a ground swell of public belief that we’re dealing with a miracle here. We want to satisfy our viewers’ curiosity. Is that so difficult to understand?”

“No, Al …” Bradley was beginning to exhibit a touch of pique. “… it isn’t difficult to understand. We just don’t have that information.”

“Then how do you know he’s alive? How can we be sure he’s alive? Maybe he went home and died. How can we be sure we’re not misinforming our viewers?”

Bradley answered quickly-too quickly. “Dr. Green’s physician has testified to that!”

“Is Dr. Green’s physician here?” the reporter asked. “Is he on the dais?”

Bradley had inadvertently given the reporters, by reference, just what they wanted.

Bradley turned almost helplessly to those on the dais. This was not what had been planned. Bradley was to host the entire briefing. Would the doctor be willing to subject himself to questions?

Not to worry; the doctor flashed a smile of confidence at Bradley, rose, and strode toward the microphone. Bradley shrugged and stepped aside.

“My name is Garnet Fox. I am Dr. Green’s physician. How may I help you?”

Again, many voices asked many questions.

Bradley stepped forward and pointed at one reporter. Because he wasn’t standing in the glare, Koesler could make him out. It was WWJ radio personality Ed Breslin.

“How ’bout it, Doc: Is Green alive?”

“Very much so. Yes.”

“How about the chronic back problem? Has he still got it?”

“It’s a little early to say. At this time, he’s just lucky he’s even breathing. We are moving very slowly. Eventually, of course, we’ll know the answer to your question. And all the other questions.” Fox exuded confidence, self-confidence.

“You said ‘He’s just lucky he’s even breathing.’ What does that mean? Did he stop breathing at any time? Was he dead?”

The room was suddenly, startlingly quiet. Fox’s smile faded. “I … I didn’t mean it that way,” he fumbled. “Not literally. We … we don’t know exactly what happened. We need time to examine, to evaluate. But, in a little while-”

“If he never stopped breathing-and I guess that’s what you meant when you just told us not to take you literally when you say he’s grateful to be breathing again-if he didn’t stop breathing at any time, then you signed a death certificate for a living man. Would you care to comment on that?”

Fox was as sorry as he had ever been about anything that he had let himself in for this. “It … it was a … mistake,” he mumbled. But then, more forcefully, “But very understandable.” He recovered his brio. “Listen, this sort of thing goes on all the time. Do you realize the pressure physicians face nowadays? How many doctors do you know that make house calls? We used to. Today, too much pressure, too much paperwork. And, as medical technology expands, too many decisions on extremely pressing matters. Matters of life and death!”

“Exactly.” Another reporter had taken the floor. “That’s what we’re talking about: matters of life and death. Has medical technology progressed so little that you can’t tell the difference between a dead man and a live man?”

“You’re taking this completely out of context. It wasn’t as if I was actually present-”

“You weren’t there!”

The rustle as notepad pages were flipped. This was turning into a reporter’s dream come true.

As for Dr. Fox, all he could see as he stood blinded by the powerful lights, was LAW SUIT-MALPRACTICE. The imaginary sign was in flashing neon.

“You were saying,” the reporter probed, “that you were not present at the bedside of Dr. Green when you pronounced him dead.”

“I didn’t pronounce him dead.”

“Does the death certificate bear your signature?”

“Yes.” Dejectedly.

“Then we’re dealing with the same thing, aren’t we?”

“No, we’re not.” Fox was no longer focusing on the questions. He was searching for a way to get out from under the cemetery marker that identified his career as a physician.

Bradley could stand it no longer. He stepped to the microphone, politely replacing the flustered doctor. “I think, ladies and gentlemen, that the things that happened a couple of days ago concerning Dr. Green are not that rare. And I think we ought to get past some of the more bizarre circumstances and concentrate on the heart of the matter.

“What we have here is a man in almost constant excruciating pain, who expresses no joy in his life, rather a wish to die. His doctor does not expect him to survive much longer. Aware of that, the man’s wife comes home to find her husband apparently dead. She calls the physician and describes what she sees. The doctor, having anticipated this turn of events, accepts this description and, with considerable experience in this sort of thing, offers to help with a necessarily hasty burial. He will sign the death certificate and contact the medical examiner to get a release of the body.

“The police are called in. They are informed of the pending death certificate. They observe the same condition the wife did. The police notify the Homicide Division. To Homicide-as to everyone involved in this from the beginning-it is a run-of-the-mill death from natural causes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it happens quite often.

“Since we have not completely ruled out a miraculous event-that is, after all, what the Church panel is supposed to investigate-we do not know that any of the principals in this event were negligent. It is possible-possible, I emphasize-that Dr. Green was … dead.”

Bradley almost choked on the last word. Soft-pedaling the notion of some sort of resurrection was the prime desired goal of this news conference. Now he was forced to introduce the notion in order to escape the conference in one piece.

Immediately, voices were raised. Just about every reporter was shouting the single question on everyone’s mind. “Ned, do you mean to tell us that Green came back from the dead?”

Koesler turned impatiently as someone touched his shoulder. The young man was probably a seminarian. “You are Father Koesler, aren’t you?”

Koesler nodded and the young man handed him a phone message.

It read: Father Koesler, would you please see me at my apartment? It was signed, Margie Green.

This news conference was heating up. Koesler would have preferred to take it in right to the end. But, not knowing why Mrs. Green wanted to see him, he decided to go immediately. With everything around Margie Green in disarray, this well could be an emergency of great importance.