My column does not conventionally review books, but one book has been on my desk for months as a prompt for something on which I wanted to comment.
This week, fortuitously, friend Kevin Christiano of Notre Dame, knowing of my interest in the subject, sent a copy of a review from Contemporary Sociology.
To the point: the book is “Chicago Catholics and the Struggles within Their Church.” The author is Father Andrew Greeley, Catholic sociologist based in Chicago.
As I said, I had wanted to comment on this book, but more on its author. “Andy” and I have been close for 60 years, through vocations and interests involving The University of Chicago, Chicago itself, sociology of religion, and so much more.
He has written scores if not hundreds of books and countless articles, surveyed and commented on the opinion of Americans (and more).
He respected me because of my age and, he said, the perspective seniority brings – I am literally three hours older than he.
When I am occasionally “on the road” to campuses and so on as he was, no question do I get more frequently than, “How’s Greeley?” Since we live in the same building, I should know.
Sadly, there is not enough good news. Three and a half years ago as he exited a cab, he was dashed to the pavement, his coat having been caught in the door. Serious brain injury occurred.
I see him, wheelchair bound, on our elevators on occasion and, with my wife Harriet (for whom he careth more than he does me), at Mass in his condo.
Concelebrators, e.g., David Tracy, hold up the book; Greeley cannot mouth the words but, remarkably – experts on the brain might ponder – he can gesture the gestures, even if wanly.
In my visits, we finally come to communicate through few words. His family gives more details on his interests on his web page.
Now Christiano tells of this book as a cobbled-together set of bridges from one packet of data to another, gathered and edited by friends, to form an admittedly slight book, but one which – Greeley being Greeley – does not lack punch.
He and his team had interviewed a sample of Chicago Catholics, while Greeley summarized the findings. He lists 11 things which “everyone knows” about the people in his sample.
And then, Greeley being Greeley – he leads off with a sentence that typified his writing pre-accident: “The only problem … is that none of the propositions happens to be true.”
I think that more of them than he thinks are at least half-true, but that’s not the point of his book. His sample of the Catholic population does not match the stereotypes.
Christiano says regular Greeley readers will not be surprised to read Greeley saying: “Faith persists, obedience does not.”
Greeley finds not a crisis of faith, as many do, but a crisis of affiliation. Many of those interviewed are now “ex-Catholics” who left not for cosmic faith/unfaith reasons but for “mundane or unspectacular reasons.”
Those who stayed, he finds, “are loyal, extremely loyal, exceptionally loyal, but neither blind nor unthinking.”
The vast majority do not follow the church’s teachings on sexuality. They trust their local priest and parish more than they do hierarchs. So did he in his long prime.
I know that this column is not devotional, but it would be untrue to Father Greeley did I not say that through all the vagueness of his mind, this would be his firm plea: “Pray for me.” He’d plead in a sort-of Irish accent, tempered by Chicagoese.
Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. His column first appeared in Sightings.