Andrew M. Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest and a prolific writer whose outpouring of sociological research, contemporary theology, controversial novels and no-holds-barred newspaper columns regularly challenged reigning assumptions about American Catholicism, was found dead on his Thursday at his home in Chicago. He was 85.
He died in his sleep, said his niece, Laura Durkin. Father Greeley had been in poor health since suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2008.
Father Greeley was 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” and called for the retirement of “a considerable number of mitered birdbrains” if the church wanted “to salvage American Catholicism.”
But he could be equally critical of secular intellectuals, whom he accused of being prejudiced against religion, and reform-minded Catholics, who he said had a weakness for political or cultural fads.
He defended parochial schools, priestly celibacy, ethnic loyalties, Chicago politics and the vivid imagery of traditional Catholic piety. He deplored negative attitudes toward sexuality in the church and assailed church leaders for paying little heed to the views of the laity. He identified the controversy surrounding “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 papal encyclical reasserting the church’s condemnation of contraception, as a turning point for the church, a time when attendance at mass dropped precipitously and Catholics began to question church authority on an ever-growing list of topics.