Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

back to the future

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 21, 2004

Many clergymen publish the sermons they've delivered. To my knowledge, Fr. Andrew Greeley ("Author, Priest, Sociologist," as he reminds us on his website) is unique in treating his flock to the homilies he has yet to give. Following are his reflections on next Sunday's Gospel (John 20:19ff, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained"):

Often this Gospel is used as an occasion to prove the Church’s control of the forgiveness of sins and even to demand more frequent confession. The Church, in this perspective, has a monopoly on forgiveness and must be stern in its use. Patently this narrowly circumscribes the passionate forgiveness of God which Jesus came to reveal. God may be generous with forgiveness, it is implied, but the Church cannot and should not. Yet the story of Thomas, immediately after suggests that such an interpretation of the words of Jesus missed the points. To forgive is not a right to be jealously guarded, but an obligation to be exercised generously. We do not earn our own forgiveness by forgiving others. Rather we manifest the generosity and implacability of God’s forgiveness of us.

Right, right, Doc Greeley doesn't know what "implacable" means. But my beef goes deeper. How many Catholics have ever heard this Gospel used to prove (!) the Church's "control" of forgiveness? How many homilists claim a "monopoly on forgiveness" for the Church, or argue she must be stern in its use? What universe does Greeley inhabit in which this brand of meatball apologetics is employed "often"?

The universe, clearly, of his own over-heated imagination.

Note that the targets at which Greeley aims the nerf gun of his indignation are larger-than-life cardboard cartoons -- two-dimensional caricatures of conservative pulpit orators -- and that the "originals" from which they were drawn have been extinct for forty years. This argues a disconcerting pastoral obtuseness on Greeley's part. Putting us post-Bernardin Catholics on guard against confessional triumphalism is like warning us about Dobie Gillis or the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

Yet Greeley claims to be a sociologist (if you press him hard enough and overcome his natural bashfulness, he'll admit he has a doctorate in the subject). One is moved to wonder whether the same data bank that informs his sermonizing provides the basis for his opinion research as well. Not to worry -- in that business, forgiveness is implacable.

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