Andrew Greeley

“He pulled her down on the sofa and ripped her dress, stripping her to the waist. He wanted to stop. Principle began to reassert itself. His fingers slipped away from her breasts. He breathed deeply. Yes, now he could stop…He was no longer touching flesh, only black lace, much less dangerous. Then she put her arms around his back and drew him down on top of her. Their love was violent and reckless. They clung to each other long afterward, the perspiration of their bodies blending and binding them together. Neither of them spoke.”

ANDREW GREELEY wrote that scene in his novel ŒThe Cardinal Sins. It sold 3m copies, making him famous. The protagonist, a priest, was on his way to the red hat and many more occasions of sin. Preposterous, said some readers. Others wondered how Father Greeley knew, being a man of the cloth, whose closest encounter with women was presumably hugging his mother. He explained the episode, and countless others in his novels, as theology and sacrament, something that gave a small inkling of what the love of God was like. And it was not, by the way, Cardinal Cody of his home town of Chicago he was thinking of, he added in his defence.

He was an unrelenting thorn in the hierarchy’s side, a lifelong crusader against the rigid canon lawyers and “mitred birdbrains” who tried to turn his beloved Catholic church into a fortress against the modern world, rather than a community of grace and celebration. And his weapon was words, for he had an Irishman’s astonishing gift of the gab, glibness he called it, that never failed him. He wrote more than 50 novels, including a series about a bishop-detective, Blackie Ryan, and a sentimental range (with titles such as “Irish Whiskey” and “Irish Mist”) about an Irish-American couple, Nuala and Dermot, and the ups and downs of their marriage. Then came the newspaper columns on religion and politics, always fierily left-liberal, for the Chicago Sun-Times; and 70 works of non-fiction. These underpinned all the rest, for they included serious sociological studies for the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago on the revolution—not, he thought, too strong a word—that had occurred from the 1960s in the Catholic church in America.

His detailed surveys of college students, priests, Catholic adults and ethnic groups showed, sometimes shockingly, how in those decades sexual attitudes loosened and Mass attendance fell. By 1974 only 16% of American Catholics thought contraception was wrong, in open defiance of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, and many priests—vacillating too in their definitions of sin—pronounced themselves dissatisfied with the leaders of the church. The hierarchy, he found, did not wish to hear him, even when they had commissioned his work themselves. They repudiated his findings. He had done the research, and had the unassailable data; could these idiots not read off the numbers? It appeared not. He was just a troublemaker in their eyes, as Jesus was to the Pharisees. A loud-mouthed Irish priest, in the words he wanted written on his grave. [More]


The Economist