Fr. Andrew Greeley passed away last night. I think most Catholics would feel that dying on Corpus Christi Eve was a blessing, and I hope his family takes it as a consolation.
Fr. Greeley was a liberal, yes, but he was also a darned good writer who was misunderstood and even hated by the literary establishment, apparently for not being liberal enough, too Catholic, and too much a storyteller. He cared about Catholic identity when most liberal priests seemed happy to have people think that Catholicism was a very bland variation on mainline Protestantism. He wanted to save souls, and to warn the bishops of dangers.
He also did a few very public stupid things — most notably, allegedly trying to electioneer a papal election while in Rome to report it, and not using enough bella figura to blend in with all the other folks pushing papabile. You can see where this could get you kinda in trouble with various folks in the American hierarchy, especially the ones he was trying to electioneer…. He also on occasion publicly championed some Cool Ideas that were kinda sorta heretical in his own Chicago way, like when he claimed that Jesus didn’t have to die on the Cross to save us but should have died heroically, like a firefighter or something; but I’m not sure how serious he really was about it. He also apparently had feuds with some of his good ol’ liberal buddies, like Cardinal Bernardin, apparently over stuff like hiding child abuse and passing the priests along. So yeah, sometimes not having the bella figura may have been a good thing — but he never really broke the whole thing open, either. There were just a lot of Chicago hints.
And yet, he kept bobbing along. He wrote for Tor when Tor was a lot more fun. He liked Irish wolfhounds, and frequently included them as characters. He wrote bestsellers that seemed a little paranoid about stuff like priests abusing kids, but proved not to be. He described the Irish-American Chicago of his youth with an amazing detail that challenged others to keep up. He told stories of sin and redemption. And yeah, he tested and wrote up some darned interesting sociology studies too.
Always, he championed Catholic beauty, at Mass and elsewhere, against stupid ugly junk. And that was pretty darned conservative back in the 1980’s.
There were many years when I clung to Greeley as a beacon for Catholic identity, much as my grandfather did (I caught reading him from Grandpa, but Grandpa was a non-liberal Democrat….) We didn’t have EWTN where I was, and most of that stuff was strange to me anyway. But even if he got me to do some theologically stupid things (like toying with calling God “She”), he mostly taught me not to be ashamed to be Catholic and stay Catholic, and to understand and know a lot of Catholic things that had died out where I was. I learned Latin words from him. And he was a happy writer, most of the time, with good stories worth reading.
Usually his politics made me laugh; his later novels were cruder and angrier about it, and made me scowl. Then I lost a lot of patience with Greeley the day that I found out his bugaboo of several novels, the eeeevil Kardinal Ratzinger, was actually not a bad guy, and was in fact also championing beauty and Catholic identity. Later it made me laugh sadly, to see how Greeley kept it up against someone who was fundamentally on his side. I laughed even harder when I saw Pope Benedict carry out several of Greeley’s pope fantasies from novels. (Truly, there’s nothing like a good nemesis.)
And now, Benedict is in a monastery, and Fr. Greeley has gone to God after years in his monastery of being injured.
May God be good to him. Let us pray for his soul, and ask him to pray for ours.