What the Church needs to learn from Fr. Greeley

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 23, 2004

Let's listen to Fr. Andrew Greeley (quoted by Rob Warden in the Chicago Lawyer, October 1981) on the conclave that elected Pope John Paul I:

"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."

Pretty much typical Greeley: Rome is wrong, and stupid too. Everybody is a buffoon. What makes this particular remark interesting is that it was recorded on November 15, 1975, almost three years before the event it describes. The quote comes from a cassette tape in which Greeley addressed ideas to editor James F. Andrews, with whom he was doing advance planning for a book on the conclave that would follow the death of Pope Paul VI (it eventually was published as The Making of the Popes 1978). One hears of the sportswriters' crime called "writing the lead on the way to the ballpark"; Greeley had his conclusion pat 34 months in advance of the pope's death and the gathering of the "buffoons." By a truly marvelous Greeleyism, he calls the runner out at first even before play has begun, and then congratulates himself on an "insight."

Well boys and girls, Father Greeley has gifted us with ten more pages of equally judicious "insights" in the latest Commonweal. His subject: "Why the Church's Hierarchy Isn't Working." The answer -- don't be shocked -- is that they simply don't listen to Father Greeley.

Yet the truth is that the Vatican is largely clueless, not simply because of its anti-American bias or because of stupidity (though one must not exclude those factors), but because there is no way for the curia to acquire adequate information about the United States or any other country.


Now comes the Greeley Gamble. Which persona will be presented for our admiration? Will it be wee Father Andy the voice of the little man, the humble parson pleading for the bishops to leave their mansions and listen to the woes of the simple folk in their linoleum-floored kitchens? Or will it be Professor A.M. Greeley, PhD, the arch-academician, the brilliant sociologist and management expert whose dazzling intellect is no match for the drooling, pen-sucking curialists? It's impossible to predict which mood he'll bring to the problem, as he changes wildly from essay to essay and sometimes from one paragraph to another. This week, at any rate, Greeley is Harvard Business School, and the Vatican is Fat Sammy's Live Bait & Sinclair Service:

The pope must supervise several thousand bishops. Yet corporate theory suggests that an executive should supervise no more than seven subordinates. ... Even if it were possible for the pope to personally supervise every bishop in the world, he does not have good information about the local churches on which to base his decisions. The leadership structure of the church has changed little since it supervised Europe primarily and communicated by stagecoach over the Alps.

But Professor, surely you haven't forgotten your memo of November 1975? Who needs instant information about strange people in a far country, when we can generate all the data (and insights) we need by gabbling them into a dictaphone?

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 27, 2004 7:59 PM ET USA

    Dear pseudo, An interesting exchange of roles, as I feel I am generally more militant than most of the others who write into this website. But contrary to what some people might think, I would prefer to find reasons to "include" rather than to "exclude." Perhaps this man (Father Greeley) IS a chameleon, then, I have nothing to say. But I would prefer to think that this priest is perhaps badly conflicted, a victim of Rome's disciplinary ambiguity and lack of practical caring. JJP

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 11:15 PM ET USA

    JJP: Love is too young to know what conscience is -- CS Lewis quoting Shakespeare in the preface to Till We Have Faces. Being a B-School grad, I'll scrap with anyone over the Greeley quote. This is just more smarmy epithets -- dissident eye for the diocese guy. I don't think it takes advanced management training to realize that branch managers get real uppity if they don't think there's any chance of their brother mgrs being launched by catapault over the tower walls.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 23, 2004 8:49 PM ET USA

    is the nuncio for each country supposed to report to the pope re what's going on in that country? can't there be some kind of supervision of these bishops? the commentary re Dallas is a good example, as well as other dioceses in the news in previous off the record commentaries. something has to change. it's not working. i don't want a democracy or anything approaching it, but each little "kingdom" (diocese) is independent. and it looks like the "king" can do what he wants. no waves please.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 23, 2004 6:52 PM ET USA

    I thinkest thou lovest Diogenes too much, pseudo.Up till now from what I've read on this site it was easy for me to be condascending towards Fr Greeley, but after reading these most recent quotes I am far more sympathetic, even compassionate. I don't have to have "priests" as supermen. They are human beings, forced to walk a narrow line between reality and obedience. Rome DOES strike me as being clueless, and even backward. Yet his interior struggle is shown by his sympathy in the second comment

  • Posted by: - Mar. 23, 2004 6:31 PM ET USA

    when I was in academia more than 30 years ago, i was to be astonished at the shallowness and ignorance of the dissenting Catholic intellectuals like Greeley, O'Brien, Curran, Kung, Reuther, Brown, and the whole crowd, some of who I knew. I also wondered why they didn't become Episcopalians ? I guess they thought they could recreate the Catholic Church according to their image. How sad! Too bad they refused to learn from a real Catholic intellectual, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 23, 2004 12:38 PM ET USA

    And as Enron, Worldcom and other debacles attest, Corporate Theory has no holes or untested hypothesis. Thank you, Fr Dilbert.