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Fr. Andrew M. Greeley, R.I.P.

Andrew M. Greeley

Sad news today: Fr. Andrew Greeley, titan of the U.S. Catholic Church, has died, five years after he fell in a terrible accident that caused major brain trauma. He was eighty-five.

His family released the following statement:

Our lives have been tremendously enriched by having the presence of Fr. Andrew Greeley in our family. First and foremost as a loving uncle who was always there for us with unfailing support or with a gentle nudge, who shared with us both the little things and the big moments of family life.

But we were specially graced that this man was also an amazing priest who recently celebrated the 59th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He served the Church all those years with a prophetic voice and with unfailing dedication, and the Church he and our parents taught us to love is a better place because of him.  Our hearts are heavy with grief, but we find hope in the promise of Heaven that our uncle spent his life proclaiming to us, his friends, his parishioners and his many fans.  He resides now with the Lord of the Dance, and that dance will go on.

The Chicago Trbune obituary recalls a quote he gave the paper in 1992 that nicely captures the man he was:

“I'm a priest, pure and simple,” Greeley told the Tribune in 1992. “The other things I do — sociological research, my newspaper columns, the novels I write — are just my way of being a priest. I decided I wanted to be one when I was a kid growing up on the West Side. I've never wavered or wanted to be anything but.”

Requiescat in pace.

I'll be updating this post with links to Greeley's Commonweal aritcles, after the jump, so check back often.

His final Commonweal article was published days before his tragic accident in November 2008: "Signs of Life: A Sociologist Looks Ahead."

Here's his review of David Gibson's book, The Rule of Benedict: "The Puzzling Pope."

Here he asks, "Can Catholics Think for Themselves?"

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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"Precious in the eyes of the Lord are the death of saints. " Greely was basically liberal while he did not satisfy the extremes of the Left and Right. What I like about him was that he was not afraid to call things the way he saw them. He was scrappy, sublime, rustic and poetic. He did not fit into any molds.  He was more sensitive than people realized and craved recognition. Cardinal George, I believe, capitaliized on that. He accomplished much. But the person is who I will remember. We are better because he was among us.  Thank you Andy. The Lord bless you and keep you. May He show His face to you and have mercy. May He turn His countenance to you and give you peace. The Lord bless you!

One of the issues in the permanent diaconate is that too many deacons cling to a parish-centered mode of ministry, as we have a difficult time imagining what ministry can look like, untethered from the parish.  Fr. Greeley showed us one model of fidelity - to the church, to the truth, to one's gifts and talents - that didn't depend on a parish.  Fidelity can take us far away from the parish without taking us away from the church.


I once heard him preach to a campus congregation for 20 minutes without a single note, and with about 30 minutes notice that he was to be the preacher. He was absolutely brilliant.

I will miss his tenacity, his wonderfully colorful vocabulary about feckless and fearful bishops, and the creativity, great common sense, and love for the church that was apparent even in his harshest critiques. We shall not see his like again!

The church has lost a great voice. Bill Mazzella said right: Basically  a liberal while he did not satisfy the extremes of the left and the right. The saddest question is, do we have anyone to take his place? Over the years he presented many good and challanging ideas. One of the ones that st;icks with me was: could we have priesthood, that after a certain amount of time, someone, remaining in good standing. could decide to leave? God bless Father Greeley for hiis great contributions.

So long, Fr. Greeley.  Basically, your priest of integrity.  You'll be missed.

The only time I felt a little put-off or unsettled about Greeley was when he started writing those novels.  It was like going to a Woodie Allen movie: you could always tell from the film [or the novel in Greeley's case] what was going on in his therapy.

His is a voice that will be missed. 

I think that anyone in our church who can remain faithful AND alienate both those of our Church who are on the far Right AND far left is worthy of my respect and (if I had any say in it) is worthy of canonization.

"He was more sensitive than people realized and craved recognition. Cardinal George, I believe, capitaliized on that."

How so? Do you have examples?

"great common sense.."

We need that so much in the Catholic  Church.

"what was going on in his therapy."


Come on.  How do you rknow that he was in therapy? ( Not that I think that with right kind of therapist it is a bad thing.)

I always wished Fr. Greeley would be made a bishop. Not a chance, of course. May he rest in peace.

I sometimes liked to read his short reflections on the Sunday lectionary and quirky little stories. Here's the one for last Sunday, for example:

PBS did a special on Andrew Greeley on Relion and Ethics NewsWeekly a few years ago. I was not aware of how disabled he was after the freak accident.


Nice long obit (by Peter Steinfels) in the NYT.


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

I liked them.  I bought them all in hard back and then passed them on to a friend from Ireland who took them home after her visits.  They had their flaws, of course.  Cave-mannish behavior and attitudes toward women by some/many male heroes.  Patronizing and unbelievable notions about the girls who worked in the rectories.  Typical priestly dislike of nuns.  Etc.  But his books were entertaining.  Good for long flights.  Etc.

I think there was a lot of jealousy of Greeley.  And anger about his "articles in Chicago newspapers demanding that the church take action against pedophile priests."  (And, imho, about his conclusions about the numbers of homosexual priests.)

(I think there's one aspect that hasn't been written about, but is probably not a mystery to priests:  how do/did confessors feel about keeping silent -- honoring the seal of confession -- when they know/knew of predators who are/were destroying the lives of children?)

Funny how many obits use the word "outspoken" in describing Greeley.  A shame there aren't more outspoken priests, bishops, laywomen and -men, editors of and contributors to Catholic periodicals, etc.  The fear of the bullies is a powerful deterrent.


I saw that "rReligion and Ethics Weekly" and is worth a review to realize the extent of his disability and his lovely care by his family...  As Thomas Baker said, we will not see his likes again. That era of sending the best and the brightest for study and allowing them to develop talents in various fields and freely critiquing the church - and writing those novels (!) - is impossible with the present crop of epsicopal "leaders" (sic), As all,perhaps, I didn't always agree with his assessments but appreciated his scholarship, insights, chutzpah, and fidelity to Christ... in or out of the Church.

Fr. Greeley once said "Your religion is the story you tell about your life." He told his story with honesty and courage. The Catholic Church is better for having had him in its midst.

The edited remarks of Peter Steinfels are important- especially regading the neve-discussed publicly aspect of what confessors knew from fellow priest pedophiles. I wuold love to hea the bishops discuss that one!

Rev. Donald Cozzens' works confirm Greeley's speculations regarding gay priest and truly, one of my good freinds is openly gay, celibate, and a tremendous prriest and witness. Yet, the continued non-discussion of celibacy and promotion of clericalism within diocese in the celebration of seminarians is at least lop-sided and often much worse.

Really? "Not that I think that with right kind of therapist it is a bad thing."  As long as it's the "right kind of therapist"???

I have no way of knowing [and if you read carefully, I don't exactly say that Greeley was in therapy], but therapy would be one way a priest as brilliant and as self-aware as Greeley could keep his head on straight - having to deal with all those hierarchs of lesser intelligence and ability throughout his life.

I once consulted with a therapist who walked into the room reading one of Greeley's novels which included stories of a Chicago priest befriending three boys from the championship CYO parish basketball team.  The therapist acclaimed outloud that Greeley was borrowing this narrative from his own personal history; and the therapist acknowledged that he in fact was one of those boys in the novel, who knew Greeley when he was a curate in his home parish.  [I remember that my colleague was not overly impressed with Greeley's attempt to mine his personal experiences for his fiction writing.]

I have a memory that Greeley once publicly discussed that his ventures into fiction writing were at the suggestion of his female spiritual director.  I believe that Greeley's fiction writing was indeed an attempt to expiate some of the his more human impulses that are usually denied celibate priests, or at least priests were never suppose to admit to.

Oh how we need more Andrew Greeley's for this time in the church!

Here is a memorable comments about him taken from Friday's NYTimes obit by an unknown writer:


“  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.”   “

 NY Times, Friday 31 May 2013.




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