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Priest and author Andrew M Greeley dies at 85

Between left and right Catholics, he occupied 'a zone all his own'

  • Peter Steinfels, The New York Times
  • International
  • May 31, 2013
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Andrew M Greeley, the Roman Catholic priest and writer whose outpouring of sociological research, contemporary theology, sexually frank novels and newspaper columns challenged reigning assumptions about American Catholicism, was found dead on Thursday morning at his home in Chicago. He was 85.

His niece Laura Durkin confirmed the death, saying he had died overnight in his sleep. She said he had been in poor health and under 24-hour care since suffering severe head injuries in 2008 when his clothing caught on the door of a taxi as it pulled away and he was thrown to the pavement.

In a time when the word “maverick” is often used indiscriminately, Father Greeley — priest, scholar, preacher, social critic, storyteller and scold — was the real thing. One could identify a left and a right in American Catholicism, and then there was Father Greeley, occupying a zone all his own.

Exuberantly combative, he could be scathing about the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops; at one point he described them as “morally, intellectually and religiously bankrupt.” If the church wanted “to salvage American Catholicism,” he wrote, it would be well advised to retire “a considerable number of mitered birdbrains.”

But he could be equally critical of secular intellectuals, whom he accused of being prejudiced against religion, and reform-minded Catholics, who he said had a weakness for political or cultural fads.

He wrote more than 120 books, many published by university presses, and countless articles about Catholic theology in both sociological journals and general-interest magazines, often incorporating the latest scholarship. He wrote op-ed pieces and syndicated columns in both religious and secular publications.

His greatest readership certainly stemmed from his scores of novels, many of them rife with Vatican intrigue, straying priests and explicit sex. At least 10 of them appeared on The New York Times’s best-seller list, including his first, “The Cardinal Sins” (1981), a tale of two Irish-American boys from Chicago’s West Side who enter the priesthood together, one of whom contrives to become the cardinal of Chicago, takes a mistress and fathers a child.

“Sometimes I suspect that my obituary in The New York Times,” Father Greeley once wrote, “will read, ‘Andrew Greeley, Priest; Wrote Steamy Novels.’ ”

Were they steamy? The question would probably not have even been raised if the author had not been a priest and if some of the steam had not been produced by fictional priests, in one case a cardinal, breaking their vows.

In fact, most of the priests in his novels were virtuous, wise and hard-working. The big sex scenes were generally reserved for married couples rediscovering the redemptive healing of passion after trials and estrangement.

“I suppose I have an Irish weakness for words gone wild,” Father Greeley once told The Times. “Besides, if you’re celibate, you have to do something.”

Full story: Priest, author, scholar, scold

Source: The New York Times

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