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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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Apr. 22, 2004 9:21 AM ET USA

    The problem isn't the Church's "control" of forgiveness but its neglect. Rather than "demand more frequent confession", it would be radical for a priest merely to mention at Mass the existence of sacrament of Reconciliation. Most Catholics I know of my own age have not been to confession in decades. Many young Catholics I know have never made their Second Confession. If I had Greeley's perch to complain it would be about the utter ignorance of how God forgives sins.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 21, 2004 10:43 PM ET USA

    Trolling through the inventory of homilies is quite amusing; check out the Easter Sunday homily.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 21, 2004 6:18 PM ET USA

    All I know is the Greeley is the first Catholic Cleric the "mainstream press" will run to when they want to distort the Church position on a moral issue. Greeley suffers from the sin of most intellectuals --the sin of pride. However, any intellectual with Greeleys postitions that is true to his conscience would have left the Church long ago.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 21, 2004 2:52 PM ET USA

    Greeley, at least in what is said here, is right in saying that the Church is meant to forgive freely, generously. What he is wrong about, however, is the nature of forgiveness itself. Forgiveness is not pardon for on-going worngdoing; it is the re-admittance to the fold of the one who has strayed away and desires to return. Thomas was forgiven, as he saw his folly and repented his disbelief. Had Thomas persisted, no forgiveness would have been forthsoming. We ARE free to flee from God.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 21, 2004 12:32 PM ET USA

    I think Shakespeare could see the good Fr. Greeley and his ilk when he said: "Use the carp as you may, for he looks like a poor, decayed, ingenious, foolish, rascally knave." All's Well that Ends Well V:2:22-4

  • Posted by: Ezekiel - Apr. 21, 2004 11:43 AM ET USA

    Greeley who?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 21, 2004 9:30 AM ET USA

    To exploit the bird analogy, Fr Greeley has laid another egg; late for Easter, but still in time for Pentecost.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 21, 2004 7:48 AM ET USA

    Greely is a spiritual Taliban. He does not mind destroying his own chances of salvation in the hopes of taking others with him. He exploits the priesthood and his Catholic roots to schock and amaze his audience. A bird soiling its own nest is really a sick bird.