Colorful Priest Offers Opinions at Tcu Fund Drive

By Jim Jones
Downloaded March 7, 2003

FORT WORTH - Sex scandals in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church have "absolutely destroyed" the credibility of church leadership, but grassroots Catholics remain solidly supportive of the church, the Rev. Andrew Greeley said Thursday.

"We've done everything we could in the last 35 years to drive Catholics out of the church, and they wouldn't go," Greeley told more than 1,000 people at Ed Landreth Auditorium.

Greeley, an often controversial Chicago priest, sociologist, professor and bestselling novelist, spoke on "The Present Condition of the Catholic Church" at the launch of a drive to start a Roman Catholic studies program at TCU's Brite Divinity School.

In an earlier interview, Greeley said that the recent sex scandals have not caused church attendance or financial support to drop in Catholic parishes.

"I think people are shocked and angry, but they distinguish between the stupidity of some bishops and the sexual urgings of some priests and the Catholic heritage in which they believe," he said.

"Catholics like being Catholic," he said. "They like the stories. They like the metaphors. They like the sacraments."

Giving examples of support by grassroots Catholics, Greeley noted that a recent $220 million fund drive was successfully completed in his Chicago Archdiocese. He said it was the largest amount ever raised by U.S. Catholics for one project.

"The pledges are coming in on schedule, despite the sex scandal," he said.

Also, he said, a priest in Tucson, Ariz., charged with sexual abuse recently cost the diocese $16 million in legal settlements, but people are still strongly supportive of a current bishop's fund drive.

Greeley is perhaps best-known for his many bestselling novels, such as The Cardinal Sins, which have brought him criticism because of their sexual imagery.

"Most people who criticize my novels have never read them," he said. "I believe sex is a sacrament. It reveals God's love for us."

Greeley said that two perennial problems that should have driven Catholics away long ago are bad preaching and a lack of respect for women.

"We need to begin treating women like human beings," said Greeley. He advocates giving women greater leadership roles and hopes for the day when they will be ordained to the priesthood.

A strong supporter of priestly celibacy, Greeley said the priest shortage in the United States is caused by many factors, including a failure to aggressively recruit new ones.

"Some of my priest friends say they are not going to try to recruit young priests until the Vatican abolishes the celibacy rule," Greeley said. "That might hurt the Vatican, but it also hurts the people.

"If we abolished the celibacy rule tomorrow, I'm not sure we would get a lot of priests joining. The role of priest has been so discredited by the sex scandal."

Greeley has long advocated a "priest corps," in which priests would serve five or 10 years, and then be free to leave if they so choose. It would bring in more priests and more priests would voluntarily stay in the ministry, because they would discover they could live with the celibacy rule, he said.

Greeley teaches sociology at the University of Arizona. He is also a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and a longtime research associate at the university's National Opinion Center


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