Andrew M(oran) Greeley Essay - Critical Essays

Greeley, Andrew M(oran)


Andrew M(oran) Greeley 1928–

American nonfiction writer, novelist, poet, and journalist.

Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, an educator, and a sociologist whose numerous studies of religion within modern society have earned him the reputation as an authority on the sociology of religion. His recent ventures into novel writing reveal yet another dimension of this Irish Catholic writer.

In his nonfiction Greeley writes about Catholics and their role in American society by delving into such topics as the effectiveness of Catholic education, the presence of anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States, and the value of ethnicity. His liberal opinions concerning ordination of women, birth control, and divorce have sometimes brought him into conflict with official Catholic doctrine. Much of his writing is based on data collected by The National Opinion Research Center with which he has been connected. While critics sometimes question his conclusions, most admit that Greeley stimulates discussion of neglected issues and that he often anticipates sociological trends. The Making of the Popes 1978 (1979), his diarylike record of the two papal elections of that year, is a revealing study of ecclesiastical politics. Critics praised the book for its lively, penetrating look behind the scenes but faulted it for its lack of focus and documentation.

Greeley's most popular novels are The Cardinal Sins (1981), Thy Brother's Wife (1982), and Ascent into Hell (1982). In these fast-paced, sensational narratives, Greeley fictionalizes the world of Irish Catholic politics and intrigue in Chicago.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed. and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 7.)

Robert M. Brooks

In this impressive study of the influence of religion upon the career and graduate school plans of the nation's college graduates of June, 1961 [Religion and Career], Fr. Greeley documents the recent and dramatic rise in status of American Catholics….

Fr. Greeley finds no evidence among the current Catholic crop of college graduates to support the oft-repeated allegations that Catholic colleges are notably inferior, that Catholics are making but a negligible contribution to the intellectual life of America, or that American Catholics are prone to undervalue economic achievement….

This study has many virtues. Not only does it provide a factual base for moving ahead the "great debate" on the intellectual qualities of American Catholicism, but it should help to dispel the notion that sociologists merely count noses. The author teases out many provocative conclusions from his data, but always with the restraint and caution of the trained social scientist (let Catholic apologetes take note!). His prose is characterized by a lucidity and wit that are rare in sociological reporting.

Robert M. Brooks, "Scholars and Schools: 'Religion and Career'," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc., © 1964; all rights reserved), Vol. 110, No. 3, January 18, 1964, p. 102.

Michael Morrison

The multi-talented Fr. Andrew Greeley has turned his energies to the interpretation of American Catholic history. In [The Catholic Experience] he gives a series of intellectual biographies of the men who have tried to adapt the Catholic Church to the political and social life of the United States…. Fr. Greeley has a definite interpretation that he wants to get across: the struggle between Americanizers and those conservatives who did not want to make Catholicism a fully American Church.

The book is a combination of summarized secondary-source history and interpretation of the efforts to accommodate Catholicism to American life. The history is well told, interesting and informative to readers who do not know of the life of John Carroll, the controversies of the 1890's and the social doctrine of John A. Ryan. The interpretation is valuable because it brings the insights of a liberal of the present to the men and events of the American Catholic past, and also because it is a pioneer attempt in the interpretation of American Catholic history. Fr. Greeley describes the great efforts to acculturate Catholicism and Americanism; these efforts were usually frustrated. Despite these setbacks, he thinks, American Catholics of today have achieved this synthesis, though their bishops may be slow in recognizing the fact.

At times Greeley paints his "bad guys" too darkly. He seems unable to appreciate the reasons why the anti-Americanizers held their point of view…. The author is too quick to judge figures of the past by our present-day insights, rather than by the criteria of the times.

Fr. Greeley desires that his book be taken seriously, and it certainly should be; but the absence of footnotes, bibliography and index makes this difficult. In quite a few instances the reader would like to know the sources of Greeley's information, or the origin of the material that is found in quotation marks.

All in all, Greeley has produced an informative introduction to American Catholic history for beginners and a thought-provoking interpretation for those with more background. (pp. 297-98)

Michael Morrison, in a review of "The Catholic Experience," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc.; © 1968; all rights reserved), Vol. 118, No. 9, March 2, 1968, pp. 297-98.

Naomi Bliven

["Why Can't They Be Like Us? America's White Ethnic Groups"] is a short, intelligent work that its author, Andrew M. Greeley …, announces is both a preface to and a plea for further studies he thinks should be done about the individual natures and peculiar qualities of those American groups that still identify themselves with a European ethnicity. Some of the chapters report on surveys, some argue, some are anecdotal or impressionistic, but the theme is all one—a plea for the rights of ethnicity. The book is informative, pleasant to read, sometimes diverting, and sometimes surprising. It is also frequently perplexing, since findings about ethnic groups can be mysterious, at least to outsiders: Why do Polish-Americans and Irish-Americans get along badly? Greeley's enthusiastic espousal of ethinc nationalisms in the United States is even more puzzling, inasmuch as he admits that the European contributions to these hyphenated American cultures are not especially glorious but merely the cultures of European peasant villages that—both cultures and villages—failed to sustain themselves in nineteenth-century Europe. One of Greeley's points—the most important, perhaps—is indisputable: prejudice against members of white ethnic groups is as unjustifiable as any other prejudice. But on this matter, too, Greeley is puzzling. He keeps saying that ethnic groups dislike each other …, but just as often he suggests that prejudices against ethnic Americans are held only, or mainly, by left-wing intellectuals....

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Raymond A. Schroth

Frankly, I would like to suggest, knowing that Fr. Greeley's other great work cannot be diminished by my criticism, that [The Jesus Myth] need not have been written. First of all, I don't think he's answering the right question. There's no problem demonstrating the relevance of Jesus. He has seldom been more popular or relevant. It's the Church that appears irrelevant. Perhaps Fr. Greeley should have written a book demonstrating the relevance of the Church. There's a real challenge.

Rather, we have a work that smells of scissors, paste and the tape recorder. We have long paragraphs from Scripture scholars followed by the rambling "reflections" of the author. (p. 126)

Raymond A. Schroth, in a review of "The Jesus Myth," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc.; © 1972; all rights reserved), Vol. 126, No. 5, February 5, 1972, pp. 126-27.

Thomas H. Clancy

The Irish, according to George Bernard Shaw (himself a Gael), have only enough sex life to perpetuate their cantankerous species. Fr. Andrew Greeley's fleshing out of this charge is only one of the things in [That Most Distressful Nation] to make the Irish even more cantankerous. There are also chapters on their (or should I say "our"?) history, culture, politics, drinking, religion, family life and future to give them more excuses for both rage and amusement. Some pages might even give a boost to their fragile pride.

The story is written from the inside, for Greeley had four Irish grandparents when he was born in Irish middle-class respectability in Oak Park, Illinois, and he has lived all of his forty-odd years among the Irish of Chicago. The subtitle tells the story, "The Taming of the American Irish."…

With the exception of the Jews [the American Irish] have achieved the most remarkable success of any European immigrant group. They have made notable contributions to the American church, to politics and to the bar (both kinds). Contrary to one of the most widespread myths of "pop" social science, they are not bigots in the mode of Archie Bunker. On the liberalism scale they are second only to Jews among identifiable ethnic groups and way ahead of WASPs.

But in the process of climbing economically and socially they have lost their soul. They are still remarkably faithful to their religion,...

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William L. O'Neill

[That Most Distressful Nation: The Taming of the American Irish] will come as a great relief to Irish-Americans (hereinafter known as the Irish), intellectuals especially. To be Irish has not been a handicap for some time, but neither has it seemed to offer many advantages. It is still a common impression, shared frequently by Irish liberals, that the race is notable chiefly for producing drunks, bigots and politicians. How pleasing it is to have Irishman Andrew Greeley, a sociologist (and priest) associated with the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago, tell us that the Irish are affluent, well-educated and politically liberal, and that they even value independence in their children. Greeley's book...

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Peter L. Berger

Andrew Greeley possesses what is probably the sharpest tongue in American sociology…. [He] has for several years been busy sending out books and articles, most of them broadside attacks on prevailing views both inside and outside his own field.

Of late one of his favorite targets has been the view that religion is declining in contemporary society, a view now commonly called secularization theory. He has previously castigated its proponents in his book "Religion in the Year 2000."… ["Unsecular Man: The Persistence of Religion"] is mainly notable because Greeley now places his analysis of contemporary religion in a broader theoretical framework, coupling his attack on secularization theory with a...

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Alan L. Mintz

In Unsecular Man and in an earlier volume, What Do We Believe?, [Greeley] demonstrates that in the past twenty years there have been very few changes in the high degree of group affiliation and religious belief among Americans. Where most of us would expect to find significant decline Greeley shows us evidence of even more astonishing continuity. Why is this so? To explain, Greeley posits a universal and unchanging need for "meaning systems" which provide "an ultimate explanation" of the world, a need which penetrates and transcends man's rationalism and self-sufficiency precisely at critical moments: the sense of bafflement about the nature of things, the need to integrate "the troubling forces of...

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James Hitchcock

It is a compliment to a book to say that it should have been longer, which is my main criticism of Father Greeley's [An Ugly Little Secret: Anti-Catholicism in North America].

Both title and subject are very apt, in that anyone who has paid even perfunctory attention to what is going on in America is aware that it has been open season on Catholics for well over a decade. Father Greeley has ample documentation, particularly in terms of newspaper articles of the How-the-Catholic-Church-Oppresses-People-and-Distorts-Their-Psyches type…. Father Greeley's cases are choice; each one has at least another ten standing behind it.

In an age when the molders of "enlightened" opinion...

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[In An Ugly Little Secret] Greeley has drawn upon decades of work in the sociological study of ethnics and Catholicism to present his interpretation of why anti-Catholic nativism continues to exist in America. He offers documented evidence of discrimination against Catholics, especially among the intellectual elite within the U.S., and concludes that anti-Catholic bigotry continues in subtle forms because of inattention to its possible existence, ignorance of its dynamics, and residual bias remaining from the nativism of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The chapter on Catholics and Jews is especially significant for future Catholic-Jewish dialogues. Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest, notes Catholic duplicity...

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Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.

["The Making of the Popes 1978" is Father Andrew Greeley's first venture] into the New Journalism.

His model, he says, is Theodore H. White, his fellow witness to history; and with his teasingly disguised sources (two, he says, for every allegation), he clearly identifies with Woodward and Bernstein. But sometimes he seems closer to Lincoln Steffens, whipping up, for Playboy serialization, "The Shame of Vatican City," discovering some of the same intrigue and disillusionment in Rome that the famous muckraker found in St. Louis and Philadelphia, but ever hopeful that his journalistic "shaming" would help inspire the city's reform.

True to the New Journalism genre, Father Greeley...

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Garry Wills

[In The Making of the Popes 1978 Greeley] rambles, tells bad jokes, blows his own horn, indulges in guess and gossip. He pretends to know what he obviously doesn't (e.g. what cardinals were thinking in their sequestration). We have to rely on his unnamed informers for the count of votes in both conclaves. But he brings to papal politics the skills and interests of a sociologist who studies voter behavior through computer models. He knows there is hard bargaining behind the hocus pocus, and he thinks the papacy needs a kind of demythologizing for its own good. I'm not sure John Paul II would disagree with him. The papacy will probably have to mean less, in terms of conventional piety, before it can mean more...

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George W. Cornell

[The Making of the Popes 1978 is] a fascinating chronicle, marvelously candid, rippling with pointed anecdotes, revealing conversations, rumors and rivalries, the sights, manners and sounds of old Rome, crisp, quick sketches of personalities and issues, fleshed out with emotional tension and relevant dashes of history. It looks like a real winner.

Because of the book's particular sequential mode and Greeley's fidelity to it before the unexpected tumble of events, the account is also essentially self-effacing. (p. 4)

The running, diary entries, recorded with the freshness of immediacy, are interspersed with subsequent, time-ripened passages set apart in boldface type. They...

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Thomas P. Faase

With [Crisis in the Church: A Study of Religion in America], Greeley fulfilled his commission from the American Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Evangelization, to study the phenomenon of the unchurched in America. He concludes that evangelization "would represent a misplaced emphasis." The unchurched are so by their own design, he says; religious affiliation is more complex than evangelization can itself address; and it is better to strengthen family life for the sake of greater religiosity. The greatest stumbling block to Catholic evangelization is the Church's ban on birth control.

As sociology, this work is a spotty potpourri of secondary analysis of survey data…. After expressing due...

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Publishers Weekly

Flying from his expatriate digs in Paris, famous novelist Jimmy O'Neill lands in his home city, Chicago, and literally bumps into Lynnie, the love of his youth. Lynnie is now a business-woman, widowed mother of five and still gorgeous. The flame between the two burns anew, leading Jimmy into a fight for her honor. Corrupt politicians are about to indict Lynnie on trumped-up charges of bribery, a threat the novelist tries to dispel by oneupmanship against the Chicago archbishop, district attorney and others. This is the heart of the plot in Greeley's novel ["Death in April"], hard to extract from a mass of excesses including views on modern literature, the mob, Roman Catholicism, discrimination, etc. It's even harder...

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Hugh M. Crane

Novelists usually describe the Church's impact on childhood to explain the importance of adult faith. [In The Cardinal Sins] Father Greeley sins by omission, therefore, in beginning with the adolescence of his main characters. Fortunately, the author resists the temptation to make them allegorical figures. Instead, he dramatizes through their lives the course of postwar American Catholicism. Scholar-priest Kevin Brennan infrequently comforts his friends as he tells what he knows of them: fellow seminarian Patrick Cardinal Donohue, in whom zeal vies with concupiscence; rich "cousin" Maureen Cunningham, whose prophetic perception of others doesn't save her; and old flame Ellen Foley, who survives tragedy and...

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Webster Schott

[In "Thy Brother's Wife"] Greeley proposes to show us how an American Catholic bishop … can love his brother's wife for most of a lifetime and still keep the faith as he fights for a more humane and sexually informed Catholicism.

Greeley's principal characters are a tyrannical Chicago multimillionaire named Mike Cronin; his two sons, Paul and Sean; and his adopted daughter, Nora Riley….

Mike decides things, and he has decided that someday Paul will be President of the United States and Sean will become a cardinal. (p. 7)

Trouble comes because, while everyone sets out to fulfill Mike Cronin's expectations, Sean and Nora are attracted to each other like magnets,...

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[In] The Cardinal Sins and now Thy Brother's Wife, the politics is as corrupt, the priests as troubled, the sex as overwritten, and the malarkey as uncut as you could wish. And, of course, since Greeley is a priest … the novels carry an added, albeit extraliterary thrill. A priest, after all, writing so frankly about ecclesiastical hypocrisy and about illicit sex? Writing, God help us, about sex as if it were fun? What must the world be coming to?

Well, rather less, actually, than Greeley himself seems to think. The big news that priests can be as horny as the rest of us should shock nobody…. His descriptions of political and churchly corruption are about as daring in their...

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Mayo Mohs

The Cardinal Sins shocked many with its tortured, bisexual archbishop, whose encounters with women are invariably brutal. Thy Brother's Wife … is in fact a better, more hopeful book. The pace is quicker, the characters more firmly drawn, the sexual rites gentler. Greeley's turf remains Camelot West: the Chicago of lace-curtain Irish who have pushed their way to the top. Multimillionaire Mike Cronin, who beds women faster than Joe Kennedy could say "Gloria Swanson," has set the course for his two sons. Paul, the Notre Dame boy who goes off to win a Medal of Honor in the Korean War, is going to be President. Sean is bound for the priesthood, and will of course be a Cardinal. Paul's wife is to be Nora,...

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People Weekly

[In Ascent Into Hell a] handsome Irish-American lad in Chicago is promised to the priesthood at birth as his mother's life hangs in the balance. When he grows up, he dutifully takes his vows but is only partially successful in repressing his sexual feelings. This is the world of the American Catholic novel, and its subject is sex and more sex. All the characters are stereotypes, and the plot is utterly familiar: There is hanky-panky by the priest's bad-boy brother, and some silver ingots wind up at the bottom of a swimming pool. The priest goes to prison on a bum rap. But his sexy former teenage sweetie, who has become a bank president, comes to his rescue. Greeley … tries to justify this foolishness by...

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John B. Breslin

A decade ago in a capsule review of an early foray by Andrew Greeley into sexology, it was suggested that the prolific priest-sociologist had advanced from having no unpublished thoughts to having no unpublished fantasies. Had we only known!… [Those] fantasies, now fictionalized [in Ascent into Hell], have multiplied the biblical hundredfold with no end in sight.

Interestingly, not all the fantasies are sexual, despite those matching, tastelessly titillating jackets with their crimson draperies and statuesque women suggestive of bishops and bordellos. The fantasies have just as much to do with that broader range of human obsessions dear to commercial fiction: power, money, status. To that...

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John Guinn

Andrew Greeley is a priest-sociologist who often tangles with the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Since most of the worthwhile priests I have encountered tangle with the hierarchy from time to time, that fact has never bothered me.

What has bothered me about the good Father Greeley is that he writes novels that seem to be steamy, seamy, decidedly unpriest-like works, although I have based this knowledge only on the salacious covers of his two earlier attempts in this genre….

But since I haven't read either of Greeley's previous novels, I really had no hard evidence with which to chide him for straying so far from his anointed mission.

Now comes "Ascent into Hell,"...

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