Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

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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