Fr. Andrew Greeley, an eminent sociologist of religion who also happened to be probably the best-selling priest-novelist of all time andthe Catholic church's most prominent in-house critic, died Wednesday inChicago. He was 85.I read several of Greeley's racy novels, starting with The Cardinal Sins, his first best seller. Greeley insists the mildly erotic passages in his fiction sprang from his imagination, for he asserts that he never broke his vow of celibacy. I believe him.
Over the course of a career that generated a staggering 72 nonfiction books and 66 novels, Greeley became the voice of the liberal American Catholicism of his generation -- critical, but deeply loyal. Greeley could be too Catholic for both some on the secular left and the most embittered of the church's dissidents, as well as too outspokenly liberal for the Catholic establishment, but he was always a compelling and commercially successful player on the American stage.
"At the most basic level, people learn from the novels that sex is good," Greeley said. "Then they get the notion that sexual love is a sacrament of God's love, that sexual love tells us something about God. They also understand that God's love tells us something about sex."The idea that sex is good, a gift from God, which many Roman Catholics had already discovered without the help of the celibate authorities in the church, was affirmed publicly for the first time by a prominent member of the RC clergy for many - um - practicing Roman Catholics, whose consciences had been disturbed generation after generation by the intrusions of Roman Catholic clergy into their bedrooms.
Not everyone in the church approved of Greeley's fiction.
The National Catholic Register, for example, opined that Greeley had "the dirtiest mind ever ordained."Oh, I doubt that very much. Whoever wrote the words in the article, ordained or not, probably had a dirtier mind than Greeley, because he had to have read a lot of dirt to know that Greeley's mind was the dirtiest.
The progressive Catholic values of the 1960s informed Greeley's approach, both to secular politics and to the church. Over the years, he supported ordaining married men and women as priests, attacked what he saw as the inflated power of the Vatican, and railed against what he termed the "original sin" of clerical culture: envy. He was no less a lefty in secular terms; his last nonfiction book was titled A Stupid, Unjust and Criminal War: Iraq 2001-2007."The progressive values of the 1960s" were right and true. That the RCC backed away from the values was a sad mistake.
From time to time, I read and enjoyed Greeley's columns in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Andrew. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.