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Editorial: Father Greeley, Catholism’s loving critic

Andrew Greeley

Andrew Greeley

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Updated: July 2, 2013 7:39AM

Andrew Greeley loved the church he loved to criticize.

He wanted the Roman Catholic Church to be better and smarter, to reach out to the young souls it was losing in droves. He wanted the church — in ways that happily remind us of Pope Francis — to shake free of pomp and ossified ritual and show as much loving concern for life in this world as in the next.

Father Greeley wrote a weekly column for this paper for 40 years, which meant we got regular calls of complaint from the local church hierarchy. How, they wondered, could we run a column by a mouthy leprechaun of a priest who dares calls the cardinal — this, at the time, would be John Cody — a “tyrant”?

But our Catholic readers, many of them, knew better. In Father Greeley they saw a loyal Catholic like themselves who wanted nothing more than a livelier and more relevant church, one that got its priorities right. They shared Father Greeley’s dim view of the church’s negative attitudes toward sexuality and contraception. They refused, as he did, to deny or dismiss the church’s sexual abuse crisis. They laughed at his sharp assessments, delivered like a theater critic, of too many Sunday masses.

“How can you become enthused about a ceremony that doesn’t know how to end?” Father Greeley asks in the last of his many books, “Chicago Catholics and the Struggles within Their Church.” “If the church expects to increase the size of its Sunday congregations, it has a lot of work to do on the quality of preaching and the quality of Sunday congregations.”

Father Greeley, who died Thursday at age 85, reminded us by example that the most credible and effective critic of any institution — a church, a government, a corporation, a newspaper — is the one who boldly shouts from within, motivated by loyalty and even love.

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