Friday, May 31, 2013

A Priest Who Always Flew First-Class

Andrew M. Greeley has died at the age of 85, described by the New York Times as “Priest,  Author,  Scholar, Scold,” writer of 120 books including steamy novels, one of which was a best-seller.

Father Greeley was a combative polymath, often at odds with his Church’s hierarchy. A quarter of a century ago he denounced pedophile priests and later gave a million dollars from his book earnings to an organization for their victims.

Twenty years ago, we shared an airplane ride. He had been a guest speaker at the Magazine Publishers Association in Bermuda and somehow contrived to have my coach ticket upgraded so I could sit next to him in First Class. We spent the two hours parsing a new movie, Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical masterwork “Fanny and Alexander,”  the shaping of an artist’s sensibility by his widowed mother’s remarriage to a tyrannical Lutheran bishop.

On our plane trip, we traded reactions to Bergman’s brilliant imagery including his boyhood refuge in the home of his grandmother’s Jewish lover and a wistful speech by his uncle about “the little world” of theater that their family inhabited:

“Therefore let us be happy while we are happy. Let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.”

In today’s scandal-plagued Catholic Church, Father Greeley in his prime would have been a rallying figure for dissidents. Even diminished by illness, he wrote his last book about the US in Iraq titled “A Stupid, Unjust and Criminal War.” 

Back in 1983 as we landed at Kennedy, I offered to share my taxi into Manhattan with the celebrity priest. “No, no.” he said. “You must ride with me. My publisher always sends a limousine.”

Even a non-believer can be sure that wherever Andrew Greeley now is, he is still going in style.

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