Fr Andrew M Greeley, an outspoken Catholic priest who wrote more than 50 novels and feuded publicly with his superior Cardinal John Cody, has died at the age of 85 in his Chicago home.
"Fr Andrew Greeley was the most influential American Catholic sociologist of the 20th century," said Fr Tom Reese, a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. "He was the first to show how Humanae Vitae, the encyclical on birth control by Pope Paul VI, split the church and made the laity question church authority."
Fr Greeley had been silenced in 2008, when he suffered a fall after his clothing caught in the door of a taxi as it pulled away. A resulting brain injury left him unable to write or make public appearances, according to his niece, Laura Durkin.
He died in his sleep early on Thursday morning, his spokeswoman, June Rosner, said.
A proponent of reform within the church, Fr Greeley also wrote more than 100 works of non-fiction, including Priests: A Calling in Crisis and The Catholic Revolution: New Wine in Old Wineskins and the Second Vatican Council.
'He loved the church'
"He was first and foremost a parish priest . . . his parish were the people who read his columns and his books," said Ms Durkin. "He was a priest and he loved the church."
Fr Greeley's sometimes racy fiction dealt with some of the challenges facing the church. The Priestly Sins, published in 2004 during the height of the sex abuse scandal, focused on an idealistic priest after he reported child abuse by a fellow priest.
Fr Greeley, who recently celebrated his 59th anniversary as a priest, criticised the church leadership over its position on birth control and the handling of the sexual abuse crisis.
“He served the church all those years with a prophetic voice . . . and the church he and our parents taught us to love is a better place because of him,” read a family statement, supplied by Ms Rosner.
Fr Greeley, who had a website, www.agreeley.com, had masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago. He was also a research associate with the university’s National Opinion Research Center and a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona.
'Most truly evil men'
Many of his novels were bestsellers. The Cardinal Sins in 1981 sold more than three million copies, according to the University of Chicago. It is the story of an archbishop who fathers a child.
Fr Greeley famously feuded with Cardinal Cody of Chicago – whom he called a monster, crazy and "one of the most truly evil men I have ever known" – but denied Cody was the basis for the Cardinal Sins archbishop.
“People like stories. We are all storytellers,” Fr Greeley once said. “I’m convinced that people followed Jesus because he was a good storyteller.”
His writings and engaging manner made him a sought-after interview subject on TV.
"I suppose I have the Irish weakness for words gone wild," he once told the New York Times. "Besides, if you're celibate you have to do something."
His books made him wealthy and he owned an apartment in a downtown skyscraper. He responded to criticism of his wealth by telling People magazine: "What I do with my money is between me and God and the IRS. I think I'm generous with it. I'm willing to face God on the way I've spent it." – (Reuters)