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Priest, Church Critic And Author Andrew Greeley Dies At Age 85

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on May 30, 2013 10:20PM

The Rev. Andrew Greeley, the author, sociologist, caustic critic of the Roman Catholic Church, newspaper columnist and self-described “loud-mouthed Irish priest,” died in his sleep in his Chicago home early Thursday at the age of 85.

The Rev. Greeley was in poor health after a freak accident in November 2008 in which he suffered a skull fracture after he got his coat caught in the door of a cab and the taxi pulled away. He was a prolific author who took the Church to task in sociological essays and fiction. The Rev. Greeley’s 1981 novel The Cardinal Sins, a story about two Irish Catholic boys from Chicago’s West side who enter the priesthood together, only to see one of them maneuver to become Cardinal of Chicago’s Catholic Church while having an affair with a woman and fathering a child out of wedlock, sold millions of copies, and he was a regular fixture in the op-ed pages of religious and secular newspapers across the country.

Yet Rev. Greeley wanted to be known as a priest, first and foremost, as Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg writes in his obituary of Rev. Greeley.

“I’m a priest,” he wrote in his 1986 memoir, Confessions of a Parish 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.”

The Rev. Greeley often called out the Catholic Church’s leaders and once, according to the New York Times, described Roman Catholic bishops 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.”

But the Rev. Greeley also was able to criticize public intellectuals he believed dismissed religion sight unseen. His work at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center proved “that the idea that societies inevitably become more secular as they modernize is untrue,” according to Tom W. Smith, director of the center’s General Social Survey.

The Rev. Greeley’s family released a statement that read:

"(O)ur 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."