The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, the Roman Catholic priest and writer whose outpouring of sociological research, contemporary theology, sexually frank novels and newspaper columns challenged reigning assumptions about American Catholicism, was found dead Thursday morning at his home in Chicago. He was 85.
His niece Laura Durkin confirmed the death, saying he had died overnight in his sleep. She said he had been in poor health and under 24-hour care since suffering severe head injuries in 2008 when his clothing caught on the door of a taxi as it pulled away and he was thrown to the pavement.
In a time when the word "maverick" is often used indiscriminately, the Rev. Greeley priest, scholar, preacher, social critic, storyteller and scold was the real thing. He was exuberantly combative. He could be scathing about Roman Catholic U.S. bishops, but equally critical of secular intellectuals.
He wrote more than 120 books, many published by university presses, and countless articles about Catholic theology in both sociological journals and general-interest magazines, often incorporating the latest scholarship. He wrote op-ed pieces and syndicated columns in both religious and secular publications.
His greatest readership stemmed from his scores of novels, many of them rife with Vatican intrigue, straying priests and explicit sex. At least 10 of them appeared on the New York Times' best-seller list, including his first, "The Cardinal Sins" (1981), a tale of two Irish American boys from Chicago's West Side who enter the priesthood together, one of whom contrives to become the cardinal of Chicago, takes a mistress and fathers a child.
"Sometimes I suspect that my obituary in the New York Times," the Rev. Greeley once wrote, "will read, 'Andrew Greeley, Priest; Wrote Steamy Novels.' " The books made him rich, though he gave his first $1 million to charity and continued to aid various causes, including a donation, decades ago, to the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, then a fledgling advocacy group.
If there was anything tying his torrent of printed words together, it was a respect for what he considered the practical wisdom and religious experience of ordinary believers and an exasperation with elites, whether popes, bishops, church reformers, political radicals, secular academics or literary critics.
His writing style made him an alienating figure to some. "Andy Greeley shoots from the hip at practically everyone with whom he has some grievances," Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, a leading advocate of improving relations between Judaism and the Catholic Church, complained to the Times in 1976.
Andrew Moran Greeley was born on Feb. 5, 1928, in Oak Park, Ill., the son of Andrew T. Greeley, a businessman, and the former Grace McNichols. Besides his niece, he is survived by a sister, Mary Jule Durkin; four other nieces; two nephews; and 18 grandnieces and grandnephews.