Father Greeley wrote a weekly column on the relationship between religion and politics.
Father Greeley wrote a weekly column on the relationship between religion and politics.
University of Chicago

CHICAGO — The Rev. Andrew Greeley was, it seems, always writing. At home on a typewriter, later on a computer, then on a plane with a laptop and even in his car dictating into a tape recorder as he drove.

By the time he finished, the outspoken Roman Catholic priest and Chicago newspaper columnist had written more than 100 nonfiction books and some 50 novels, many international mystery thrillers that routinely climbed onto bestseller lists. They were translated into a dozen languages.

And he also often spoke out about various religious topics, even criticizing the hierarchy of his church over the child sexual abuse scandal.

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‘‘His mind was never idle,’’ said Tom Smith, Greeley’s longtime colleague at the University of Chicago, where Father Greeley spent years as a sociology researcher.

‘‘He was the kind of person who could be writing a column and get an idea for a novel, have a conversation he would use in a novel, use his novels to inspire his academic work and his academic work to inspire his novels,’’ Smith said Thursday.

On Wednesday night, nearly five years after he suffered a fall that injured his brain and put him in a coma for weeks, Father Greeley died in his home in downtown Chicago. He was 85.

‘‘He served the church . . . with a prophetic voice and with unfailing dedication,’’ his niece, Elizabeth Durkin, said in a statement. She also praised Father Greeley as a loving uncle who ‘‘tremendously enriched’’ the lives of family members.

Ordained in 1954, Father Greeley wrote a weekly column that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers on the relationship between religion and politics. An internationally recognized scholar, he also was a contributor to the New York Times, National Catholic Reporter, and other publications.

His final book, ‘‘Chicago Catholics and the Struggles Within Their Church,’’ was published in 2010, exploring a topic that he had written about for years, sometimes giving him a reputation for generating controversy in the church.

‘‘Sometimes I think that we as priests and bishops have done everything we possibly could to drive away the laity during the last 20 years,’’ Father Greeley wrote in his book ‘‘Catholic Contributions: Sociology and Policy,’’ published in 1987.

He had said that neither the church nor the government was willing to do much about priests who sexually abused children, telling a lay Catholic group in 1992: ‘‘The sexually maladjusted priest has been able to abuse the children of the laity and thus far be reasonably secure from punishment.’’

And during a press conference in 1987, Father Greeley said that if he were heading a church fund-raising campaign, he would admit to church members that ‘‘we’ve really goofed.”

“People are resentful over what they take to be the insensitivity of church leaders, particularly on matters relating to sex,’’ he added.

Andrew Greeley was born in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park in 1928, and he spent much of his life close to home. He worked as a sociology professor at the University of Arizona and a researcher at the University of Chicago’s NORC, formerly known as the National Opinion Research Center. He earned postgraduate degrees from the University of Chicago in the 1960s.

The priest was often quoted and interviewed in the media. In a biography published on his website, he described himself as having ‘‘unflinchingly urged his beloved church to become more responsive to evolving concerns of Catholics everywhere.’’

The same biography noted he was a Chicago sports fan and cheered for the Bulls, Bears, and the Cubs, ‘‘while praying for them to improve.’’

Bill Clinton listed Father Greeley among those who had stayed the night at the White House.

Clinton’s deputy White House press secretary said Father Greeley’s novel ‘‘Irish Lace’’ was one of the books the president had on a vacation reading list in July 1997.

In 1986, Father Greeley offered the Archdiocese of Chicago $1 million to create a foundation to help Catholic students in urban neighborhoods. The archdiocese refused the money, but would not say why.

Father Greeley set up his own Catholic Inner-City School Fund to distribute money to the 80 Catholic schools in the city with student enrollments that are more than 50 percent black or Hispanic.