Father Greeley, who was 85 when he died on May 29, was the nation’s best-known Catholic priest, having earned fame, respect and disrespect without having held higher church office. The parish priesthood was all he wanted, and when higher-ups would not assign him to one, he made the larger culture his parish.
As a sociologist he specialized in survey research and polling data that he interpreted (or overinterpreted) in provocative ways. He wrote some 150 books, many of them novels of little noted literary merit but several of them best sellers. He justified their steamy episodes as an expression of what he called “the Catholic imagination.” Fan letters came to him from marginal Catholics who had dismissed the church as grim and crabby but took a second look thanks to the robust Catholicism he pictured.
Marty is a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School
This text originally appeared in the June 17 issue of TIME magazine.
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