By Tom Holmes
Three Oak Parkers shared memories of Rev. Andrew Greeley, who died last Wednesday at the age of 85. Father Greeley was born in Oak Park and grew up in the Austin neighborhood.
"At my second assignment," recalled Rev. Larry McNally, who is now the pastor of Ascension Catholic Church, "my pastor didn't like Greeley at all.
"He was a company man. So I would sneak books like Cardinal Sins into the rectory, read it behind closed doors and hide them under my couch so my pastor wouldn't see them."
Part of the reason Fr. McNally hid them is that many of the 66 books Greeley authored contained steamy sex scenes. The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) quoted one conservative Catholic publication as declaring that Greeley had "the dirtiest mind ever ordained."
NCR went on to quote Greeley explaining, "At the most basic level, people learn from the novels that sex is good. Then they get the notion that sexual love is a sacrament of God's love, that sexual love tells us something about God. They also understand that God's love tells us something about sex."
Another reason McNally would not want his "company man" pastor to see what he was reading is that Greeley was often critical of the Catholic Church. NCR reported that The Cardinal Sins, which was published in 1981 and sold 3 million copies, not only contained sex but "skewered what Greeley saw as the hypocrisy and dysfunction of clerical culture."
"'Fearless' is the word that comes to mind when I remember Andrew Greeley," said Br. Joe Kilikevice, director of the Shem Center here in Oak Park, "fearless in speaking publicly about what he saw as the flaws and wounds of the Church he loved. His published words, besides being well crafted, were thoughtful and insightful and often said what many were thinking but did not have the forum he had for putting it out there."
"I really admired and respected him," added McNally, "for speaking out against the U.S. Bishops."
Wayne Vanek, an Oak Park psychotherapist and a member of St. Giles, remembered how Greeley participated in a study while was an associate at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The study revealed that many church-goers didn't trust their clergy enough to tell them that they had a paranormal or supernatural experience because "they thought the clergyman would not take them seriously and think they were sick."
Vanek repeated a statement often made about Greeley that "he didn't seem to have an unpublished thought." Indeed, the literary, scholarly and journalistic output of the priest with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago was prolific.
In addition to his 66 novels, Greeley penned 77 nonfiction books, many of which were scholarly, and for many years he wrote a column for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Kilikevice described him as frequently being part of the loyal opposition within the Catholic Church. "Andrew Greeley grew up in a church of thriving parishes and schools," he noted, "and had an accurate picture of the archdiocese when it was a forerunner to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council with such men as Cardinal [Albert] Meyer and Cardinal [Joseph] Bernardin in leadership. The truth he spoke about the Church's current struggle and malaise never diminished his love for it and hope in its future."
NCR said that of the four archbishops Fr. Greeley served under — he once called Cardinal John Cody a "madcap tyrant" — Cardinal George was his favorite. The two would go to the opera together. Greeley called George "the brightest man I've ever known."