One of the problems causing the current crisis in the Church is the incredible disconnect between observable reality and what large segments of Catholic “officialdom” say. There is a treasure trove of examples to pick from, but every now and then one will appear that is such a high hanging curve ball, you have to take a cut at it.
Recently the well-known Catholic commentator Fr. Robert Barron wrote what amounts to a tribute to the late sociologist/ novelist/ liberal columnist Fr. Andrew Greeley on occasion of Fr. Greeley’s recent passing. You can read Fr. Baron’s piece here http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2013/06/04/in_defense_of_andrew_greeley.html.
Before we move on to the article, which is our topic of interest, we can pause to commend Fr. Greeley’s soul to the mercy of God. That is the kind of thing we did when the Church believed folks needed God’s mercy. It is a rather quaint practice now. As to Fr. Baron’s tribute. Let’s take a look at what he says about Fr. Greeley….and whether any of it makes sense. Let’s look at it through the lens of a Martian detective, who merely wants to understand the facts:
Fr. Barron tells us Fr. Greeley was an old friend, helpful in Fr. Barron’s writing career…after a few personal anecdotes Fr. Baron states “Yes, he (Fr. Greeley) thought that Humanae vitae was a mistake, and yes, he thought that women should be allowed access to the priesthood, but I think that if you examine the whole of his thought, you’d see that Andy could perhaps best be described as a conservative Catholic of the golden age of American Catholicism.”
This statement is bizarre. In what sense could Greeley be considered conservative? Greeley clearly rejected magisterial authority. He wrote a book entitled The Communal Catholic a personal manifesto, in which he wrote rather fondly of a Catholicism that rejects the idea of an authoritative teaching office, and is based more on a fondness for the images and stories associated with Catholicism, kind of an ethnic Catholicism. Greeley in an interview with PBS defined “communal Catholics” as those “who have decided they’re going to be Catholics on their own terms. They are Catholic, they’re strongly Catholic, they like being Catholic; but they’re not going to let Church leadership dictate the terms of belonging.” One can reasonably infer this was Greeley’s view of his own Catholicism as well. Consider that every Pope since Pius XI has endorsed the ban on contraception, and also that John Paul II said in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, exclusion of women priests was settled. He wrote “… in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” It seems obvious that if you reject a teaching affirmed by the last five popes, you must have a dim view of the teaching authority of the papacy in particular, and the ordinary magisterium in general. This is further confirmed by Fr. Greeley’s rejection of Ordinadatio Sacerdotalis which sounds pretty much like it was meant to be an ex cathedra statement. I am not sure how the wholesale rejection of all of this makes Greeley a conservative. As Fr. Baron concedes, Greeley was certainly no conservative in his political tastes. He was so liberal he was willing to give a pass to any democrat no matter how pro-abortion. Fr. Baron admits this but seems to think it was a relatively benign flaw. This is interesting given that Vatican II calls abortion “an unspeakable crime.” I am always puzzled by the logic used to reconcile support for those who advocate “unspeakable crime” In exchange for…what exactly? Making sure the top marginal tax rate is 36 % and not 33%? Still for whatever reason, Fr. Greeley supported any and all Democratic candidates, including the very strongly pro-abortion Obama, Kerry and Clinton. I am still in search of Fr. Greeley’s conservatism.
But it gets better. Fr. Greeley was so fanatically liberal that it got in the way of refraining from things like calumny. In a column he wrote during the 2008 presidential election, and available on his web site, Greeley made the wild and virulent charge that Sarah Palin was a racist. I am not someone who agrees with everything Mrs. Palin ever said, but calling her a racist? Really?? One wonders if Fr. Baron was troubled about this at the time. It used to be a sin to destroy a person’s reputation with such a destructive charge in the absence of any real evidence. Regardless of his politics, even a liberal priest who was “conservative” in some theological or moral sense, would I hope, pause a little before writing a column calling someone a racist. What about all those potential mortal sins one would be committing, (rash judgment, calumny), ruining someone’s good name with an unsubstantiated attack like that.
But… still there is even more. Fr. Baron tells us Fr. Greeley was a leader in exposing the abuse crisis. Greeley certainly was critical of the bishops early, but he also made some troubling statements. They are described in detail by Blogger Matt Abott at this site http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/130531 . Greeley’s comments in fact attracted the attention of an attorney (Sheila Parkhill) investigating the Chicago murder of a church organist Frank Pellegrini. (Details are reported by the Catholic News Agency here http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/attorney_urges_authorpriest_to_expose_ring_of_predators/
In brief, Father Greeley claimed to have secret knowledge of a cabal of pedophilia priests involved in the ritual abuse of children, and linked to at least one murder. He claimed to have information that would implicate them. It is difficult to know how accurate this claim is, given Greeley’s rather caviler approach to making wild charges (see Palin above), but on the face of it Greeley was either delusional, was making an incredible and defamatory statement about the state of the clergy in Chicago, or he has knowledge of a conspiracy to rape and murder and kept the details secret. Good Lord….whichever one you pick that is quite a legacy. Did Fr. Greeley ever repent, clarify or publicly deal with these kinds of statements?
Now to be fair, Fr. Greeley did some good things. He used the considerable wealth earned via his novels to contribute generously to charities related to the Church and the diocese of Chicago. Many aspiring writers found him charitable in his support. Still if our Martian detective was to compose an honest dossier on the late Fr. Greeley he would find that Fr. Greeley was a far left priest who always supported the pro-abortion candidate over the pro-life candidate, rejected Human Vitae, and in fact was skeptical of magisterial authority per se, while not being above defaming those he opposed politically. I am not sure that the most apt way to describe such a person is to say he was a “conservative priest.” In fact to the extent that Fr. Baron takes any of the official Catholic teaching seriously I am not sure why so little concern for Fr. Greeley’s immortal soul. Although he “prays that he is already a denizen of heaven,” the column reads like he is certain Greeley is already there. Gee…no purgatory for these guys anymore I guess…Still it would seem there are some matters that would merit some pleas for God’s mercy. After all calling Palin a racist would be at least a material mortal sin. (Even if you thought she was the world’s worst possible pick for VP, there was zero evidence of racism). The public rejection of Human Vitae and open skepticism of the magisterium also kind of makes one technically a heretic (that is a baptized individual who denies something the Church teaches as true). That used to be sinful; and his accusation regarding the pedophilia ring in Chicago is either defamation of the Church in Chicago ( if knowingly untrue) or potentially culpable cooperation with ongoing crime. Fr. Baron, Why not just say “please pray for Fr. Greeley who in spite of his rather unusual view of the proper role of a Catholic priest was at times generous and kind to his friends. Lord Have mercy on him.” ?
The point of all this is to illustrate the phenomena that is part of the ongoing crisis. In the face of all this unorthodox behavior by Fr. Greeley, Fr. Baron calls him a “conservative Catholic”. Is that the phrase than best describes Fr. Greeley in any sane persons mind? It is a completely evidence free assertion. Could it be more disconnected from reality? The question as we move forward is what to make of this kind of thought. Do we really think what we need are more Priests who disregard official church teaching, support any and all pro-abortion politicians and who do some sociology and write some steamy novels in their spare time? Fr. Greeley is passed away, he is in the hands of the ultimate judge, may God be merciful in spite of Fr. Greeley’s folly. Probably Fr. Baron merely wished to simply write a kind of eulogy for a friend. Nonetheless to not recognize Fr. Greeley for the leftist he was, and not realize that his leftism damaged the Church, is to miss the mark.