In his 1986 memoir, Confessions of a Parish Priest, Father Andrew M. Greeley wrote, “I’m a priest. Not a priest-sociologist or a priest-journalist, or a priest-novelist, or any multiple variation of those hyphenates. I’m a priest, a parish priest. The other things I do in life: sociological research, journalistic writing, storytelling, are merely my way of being a priest.”
But no priest ever challenged his own leadership the way Greeley did. At one point, calling the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops “morally, intellectually and religiously bankrupt,” adding that if the church wanted “to salvage American Catholicism,” they should retire “a considerable number of mitered birdbrains.”
His niece Laura Durkin, reported that Greeley died in his sleep Thursday. A statement by his family read, in part:
“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.”
I believe it was Greeley’s deep ethical beliefs that informed his unique voice.
On respect and tolerance, Greeley wrote, “I don’t think Jesus was an exclusivist. He said, and we believe, that He is the unique representation of God in the world. But that doesn’t mean this is the only way God can work.”
On the lack of responsibility in the Church: “The leadership lost its nerve. Instead of taking the lead in the reform movement… they pulled the plug on it. They tried and are still trying to return the church to the dry ice of the previous century and a half.”
The New York Times wrote (May 31), “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.”
Yes, he was a priest, but when I think of the best of those attributes – honesty, compassion, tolerance, moral courage, integrity – I think of Father Andrew Greeley.
“I think the only kind of acceptable evangelization,” Greeley wrote, is the evangelization of good example.”