Thursday, September 29, 2005

Andy Greeley: How Great Thou Aren’t

a greeley
How fortunate we are to have a columnist like Father Andrew Greeley. One who fills us with spiritual reflections every Friday. Like, when the Cardinals were in conclave to elect a Pope, one who ridiculed the notion that the Holy Spirit would guide their deliberation, pointing out that in the Church's history, some men of questionable morals had occupied the papacy. Andy can be forgiven his ignorance since his preoccupation has been with the goal of achieving fame along with making money based on the linkage of his clerical collar with soft porn, but the tie-in with the Holy Spirit (if he had been paying attention in seminary rather than day-dreaming of his Democratic party) is that no matter what earthen vessel occupies the papacy (and I mean there have been some real earthen vessels) no Pope has propagated error on doctrinal faith or morals. That is the extent of the linkage with the Holy Spirit. It is unclear whether he knew it and tried to mislead in his column or didn’t know it. I give him the benefit of the doubt and say the latter. Theology—even layman’s theology—isn’t his game, as he proved some years ago at the City Club of Chicago.

Then, as president, I sought to organize a debate on whither goes the Church post-Vatican II. I signed up Andy to take the supposed progressive position using his connection with my cousin who had been his classmate at Mundelein. Several respected traditionalists Andy vetoed. We finally agreed on a layman, Dr. James Hitchcock of Saint Louis University, an historian. Hitchcock would be on foreign ground and Andy said he was ripe for the debate. I offered Andy some free tickets to bring his supporters; with intellectual disdain he refused them. The crowd should have been Andy’s since he was a Chicagoan; Hitchcock wasn’t known here. But the debate centered on theology and soon it was clear that it was Andy who was at a disadvantage. Hitchcock not only mopped the floor with him, he calmly pounded his illogic, corrected his fallacies, educated him on the origination of church dogma and with gentle reproof sent him back to his John Hancock suite chastened. Since then Andy has declined to appear in public with anyone with whom he disagrees.

Reading Andy’s stuff over the years makes plain he has three absolutes. First is the Democratic party. He has told his friends that he has never voted Republican in his life. Not once. He is like a dead fly in amber: a vestige of the immigrant class when Irishmen were Democrats by blood inheritance. You seldom see Andy write about abortion: that’s because his party has embraced abortion and he regards it unproductive to talk about. The only time recently he brought it up was to link it to a host of other non-related issues: environment, the war in Iraq, the death penalty so that by vote of 3 to 1 the Democratic party could call itself pro-life. After Bill Clinton got in, Andy was sporting a golden saxophone on his black clerical lapel, meaning that he gave the max to his president. That golden saxophone was to notify all that where Clinton disagreed with the Church’s teaching on abortion, you know where Andy stood.

But these absolutes would go topsy turvy had Andy made bishop—or archbishop or Cardinal. You think he’d be a dissenter Cardinal? You kidding? ; As the Daley family chaplain, he knows where the power is in a group. He’d be linked arms with the Curia. He had a chance to go upward with the man they called the Dutchman, Albert Cardinal Meyer, who was entranced with Andy and set him aside as a scholar, presumably a comer. But Meyer died young and John Cardinal Cody came to Chicago. Cody wanted Andy to go to work. That’s when through a mischievous combination of waspish strategy, Cody ran into trouble with an army of liberal priests, then the media. They upturned the old dogma of corporation sole and found that Cody was friendly with an elderly woman step-cousin. The most vile whisperings when around, fueled by the press, until the papers printed her picture: a frail, white haired old lady with deep Irish eyes. But it was very late and the old cardinal was goaded to his death by a charge that was patently untrue. Tied with the first absolute is vindictiveness.

The second absolute: Irishness. Recently he resurrected the old Irish complaint about the English in the 19th century. With an Irish mother myself, I remember those old tales from the `30s. They’re gone now, except for people like Andy. The third absolute: the Church but he boils down its dogma to modishly liberal dissent. Some gentle folk, noting Andy’s disagreements with the Church on its major points (birth control, papal primacy, bishop collegiality, the role of the Holy Spirit on doctrinal infallibility, women priests ) wondered in the past if Andy would skip out and become a layman. I told them: are you kidding? Nothing would take this guy from the clergy: he trades on it as a self-publicized dissenter. You don’t see him pictured on his book jackets with collar and tie ala Fr. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame or Fr. Hans Kung, do you? They’re liberals and dissident theologians who are at least willing to shuck clerical garb so their views are not confused with church teaching. They’re honest in that regard. What sells Andy’s tantalizingly neo-porn novels is not his ideas (they are yawningly libertine); it’s his identity as a priest to write something outrageous.

The dissidents in the Church are all about the same age: Andy’s. They were ordained in the `50s when progressivism in the liturgy began to move into the church. Since then, the excesses had been seen as the frauds they are and the new generation has swung back to orthodoxy. Not Andy who is as charmingly untheological in his prattle for women priests as the Dutch catechism that made the rounds in the `60s. . And when in his old age he starts to wheeze, Andy will be surrounded at his bedside with all the trappings of the hated traditionalism: incense burners and pious women saying their rosaries. For once I’ll be with him for, being the same age as Andy, I want the same end to come to me as well.


  1. This guy is as dated as Going My Way -- except that very few serious Catholics are indeed going his way any more. Doubtless he has a loyal group of Irish Catholic female readers who keep him right there on the shelf next to Jacqueline Susann. As Oscar Wilde remarked of himself, "His sins were scarlet but his books were read."

  2. I think Greely more a guy who knows how to make a buck selling an image, than a poltical/theological liberal. I see more marketing than substance with him.

    I started one book years ago (when I was a liberal) and could only manage a dozen or so pages.