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Ever Greeley

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 19, 2005

I was surprised, to put it mildly, when I saw that the Chicago Sun-Times is running Andrew Greeley's columns on the conclave, in which he is reporting from Rome. Perhaps "reporting" is not the best word here. Ponder the following remarks by Greeley regarding an earlier conclave -- the one consequent on the death of Pope Paul VI:

"I have two insights. The first is that the best way to treat this whole show is to consider it a comedy -- people parading around in robes, fans and banners being waved. ... Everybody is a buffoon. The other happy thought I have as I slip into sleepiness tonight is that I have finally found out how to get rid of [Chicago cardinal] John Cody."

What makes this an especially Greeleyesque specimen of journalistic craftsmanship is that it dates from November 15, 1975 -- nearly three years BEFORE the event it depicts. This quote comes from transcripts of tape recordings Greeley made while in Rome to gather background information. Many of the tapes are in the form of memos addressed to James F. Andrews, then chairman of Universal Press Syndicate, which through a subsidiary was to publish the book that ultimately was issued as The Making of the Popes 1978. Several years worth of tapes were later transcribed and archived in the library of what was then called Rosary College in suburban Chicago. The transcripts were made available without Greeley's knowledge to Rob Warden, editor of a now-defunct journal called The Chicago Lawyer, and it is from an October 1981 article that the following quotations are taken:

In a tape to Andrews on November 22, 1975, Greeley talks about the college of cardinals: "If you have a really tough, disciplined block of voters you can have an influence all out of proportion to your size, just like Mayor [Richard J.] Daley and the Cook County delegation."

Later in the same day, in another session with his tape recorder, Greeley said, "there are no Daley-style great electors building coalitions behind any particular candidate." He added that the cardinals "with a few exceptions area dreary, unimaginative, timid lot, not likely to organize a conclave or, once the conclave has begun, to select a pope who might take the church out of the deep-freeze into which Pope Paul VI has placed it."

On November 23, 1975, according to a tape dictated in the early hours of the following morning, Greeley had dinner with Hans Küng, the controversial Swiss theologian. "As the ... night wore on," Greeley said of the dinner, "we began to face the fact that we were in a very fluid situation where it was not clear who the next pope would be, and where nobody has the votes and where the only people in the world who are busy organizing for it are the same people who are always bust organizing for it -- the conservatives, the reactionaries, the kooks. The liberals go about their business not doing anything, so Küng and I kind of decided it would be a shame to let this happen and that, in the immortal words of Richard J. Daley, 'We godda organize da voters.' We decided that if anyone is going to rig the next papal election, it must just as well be us."

Keep that in mind when you read Greeley's reportage on the current conclave, especially his estimate of the players. When Greeley found out, in September 1981, that a reporter had gotten access to his transcribed recordings, he went ballistic, issuing a lengthy denial-cum-harangue through his attorneys that included the following:

"They [the recordings] describe the moods, feelings, fantasies and emotions of the moment; the things I would like to have seen happen in my late night, sleepy musings in a hotel in Rome. They also represent my own imagination and no one else's. They were dreams of many years ago which patently did not materialize. The theft of my private documents ... are a form of psychological rape of which all the journalists involved, the actual thieves and those who used stolen property, ought to be ashamed....

"The words will necessarily be torn from all their context -- from their original meanings as private reflections -- and all their original style as flights of imagination after wine and pasta dinners. ...

"Since those who will accept stolen documents are quite capable of changing them, it is possible that words, phrases and sentences have been distorted, added to, subtracted from, or even manufactured. Stripped of my context, style, purpose and meaning, the words are no loner mine in any real sense. I therefore deny and repudiate them."

What a guy. I leave the reader to decide whether or not the quotes reflect what he knows of Greeley's context, style, purpose and meaning, and will simply express my astonishment that the Sun-Times still regards him a reliable eyewitness.

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  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Apr. 19, 2005 11:56 PM ET USA

    I take some small satisfaction from imagining the weeping, waling and gnashing of teeth that will take place tomorrow morning when Kung-Greeley (sounds like a speed metal band) awake and realize that the nightmare has come true Ratzinger is Pope. Hopefully, they wake up one morning not too far away to hear the phrase "Cardinal Fessio". I love the smell of repudiation in the morning, it smells like....victory.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 19, 2005 10:31 PM ET USA

    Scratch a liberal and you find a tyrant -- vicious aren't they. I would guess the lawyer by-passed the pornographic and perverted musings of the soft porn author. However, last time I saw, Greeley still appears in public wearing a (bufoonish?) Roman collar. But I will accept the new papal election as a divine comedy in the same vein as but not to be confused with the infinitely more literate musings of the late Italian genius. by the way, this didn't affect the Sun-Times (lack of) credibility.

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