Andrew M. Greeley

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Andrew M. Greeley

An American Catholic priest, Andrew M. Greeley (born 1928) wrote sociological studies of American religion and of ethnicity, popular presentations of the Catholic faith, and a number of novels.

Andrew M. Greeley was born in Oak Park, Illinois, February 5, 1928. From an early age he determined to become a priest, attending a seminary high school and college. He received an A.B. from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Chicago in 1950, an S.T.B. in 1952, and an S.T.L. in 1954, when he was ordained. From 1954 to 1964 he served as an assistant pastor at Christ the King parish in Chicago, during which time he studied sociology at the University of Chicago, receiving a Ph.D. in 1962. His dissertation dealt with the influence of religion on the career plans of 1961 college graduates.

Combined Sociology and Faith

Sociology, an interest in Catholic education, and a ministry to Catholic youth dominated Greeley's early career and writings. From 1961 to 1968 he was a program director at the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago, and in 1973 he became the director of the Center for the Study of American Pluralism. He taught sociology at the University of Chicago from 1963 to 1972, and beginning in 1978 he taught intermittently at the University of Arizona.

Greeley's first writings included such titles as The Church and the Suburbs (1959) and Religion and Career (1963), works in which he put empirical sociology to use. At the same time, he was drawing on his ministerial work with young Catholics in books such as Strangers in the House (1961), which described the problems of Catholic teenagers. In the late 1960s he did several studies of Catholic education, concluding that the religious impact of parochial schooling seemed negligible. He was also intent on explaining the Christian faith to lay people, producing readable books such as The Jesus Myth (1971) and The Moses Myth (1971). In 1972 he published the results of a two-year study of American priests, reporting widespread dissatisfaction. Although this work had been underwritten by the American Catholic bishops, they repudiated its findings, leading Greeley to comment: "Honesty compels me to say that I believe the present leadership in the church to be morally, intellectually, and religiously bankrupt." A significant aspect of Greeley's profile after 1972 was alienation from the American Catholic bishops.

Joining his interest in sociology to a strong sense of his Irish-Catholic heritage, Greeley ventured into the area of ethnicity in 1974, studying the impact of ethnic background and lamenting the assimilation of Irish-Catholics to American Protestant models. In his assessments of American Catholic faith after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he focused on the 1968 encyclical of Pope Paul IV that reaffirmed the ban on artificial birth control. In Greeley's view, this encyclical greatly lowered the credibility of church leaders in the eyes of American Catholics and accounted for a significant drop in church attendance. Another reason for the drop was Vatican II's shift from a God of law to a God of love, who might be presumed to look more to the heart than such externals as attendance at Sunday Mass.

Became a Popular Novelist

Greeley had always written for newspapers and magazines, as well as giving radio and television interviews, but he advanced the popular thrust of his work in 1979 with reports on the elections of Popes John Paul I and John Paul II, for which he traveled to Rome. In 1981 he launched what proved to be a hugely successful career as a novelist with The Cardinal Sins, a potboiler depicting the sordid, all-too-human inside of clerical and upper-class Chicago Catholic culture. After that beginning he poured forth a stream of best-sellers (Thy Brother's Wife [1982], Ascent into Hell [1984], Virgin and Martyr [1985], The Final Planet [1987], and Angel Fire [1988]). From the handsome royalties these novels earned, Greeley endowed a chair at the University of Chicago Divinity School in memory of his parents.

Few literary critics spoke well of Greeley's novels, but obviously they struck a chord in the lay population. Readers of newspapers, secular and Catholic, were familiar with Greeley's syndicated columns and occasional pieces, which were remarkable for their cantankerous ability to spotlight troubling issues (for example, homosexuality among the Catholic clergy). Greeley had a great gift for clear prose and a courageous desire to speak frankly about the actual experience of faith, both personal and social. He continued to draw on data of the National Opinion Research Institute to illuminate religious, ethnic, educational, and other trends in American culture. His own theological positions were moderate to slightly conservative, but he championed a reworking of the Church's attitudes toward sexuality and made a strong case for the importance of the religious imagination (so as to express theology through stories). Steadily he urged the Church to attend to the findings of empirical social science, so as to make its ministry more realistic and credible. His feuds with the late Cardinal Cody, and with many other personages with whom he disagreed, enlivened church life in Chicago and intrigued readers of his columns.

Living independently, and wealthy because of his royalties, Andrew Greeley went his own way, making a unique contribution to American church life. His books number over 100, and he was one of the most quoted American Catholic priests, appearing in TV Guide and on numerous talk shows. In fact, few American Catholics have had a greater popular impact. Slowly, serious students of current American Catholic culture are beginning to account Greeley an influence worthy of scholarly investigation.

Further Reading

So prolific is author Andrew Greeley that the best policy would be to sample the several different genres in which he wrote: sociological studies of American religion, popular presentations of Catholic faith, studies of ethnicity, and novels. A good specimen of the first genre might be Communal Catholics (1976), Religion: A Secular Theory (1982), or The Catholic Myth (1990). Among his popular presentations of Catholic faith, The Jesus Myth (1971) remains a high point. His works on ethnicity are illumined by his 1974 book Ethnicity. His novels have improved from the 1981 The Cardinal Sins, so the more recent works are more impressive. As an example of the critical attention that Greeley is beginning to receive, see Ingrid Shaefer, editor Andrew Greeley's World (1989). □

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Andrew M. Greeley

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