The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, an iconoclastic priest and sociologist who irked the Catholic hierarchy by writing bestselling novels that featured churchly misdeeds and graphic sex, died Wednesday at his home in Chicago. He was 85.
His publicist, June Rosner, confirmed his death. Father Greeley had reportedly suffered a traumatic brain injury and skull fracture in 2008 after his jacket caught in the door of a taxi.
Ordained in 1954, Father Greeley served for a decade as a parish priest in Chicago before being assigned by the church to work full time as a writer, researcher and teacher.
As the author of more than 100 nonfiction works and 50 novels, as well as a syndicated newspaper column, the outspoken priest became a self-described "permanent outsider" in the church he served throughout his life.
As a sociologist beginning in the late 1950s, he documented that rank-and-file Catholics were ignoring the church's ban on birth control.
For the next half-century, his advocacy of more liberal church policies on divorce and the ordination of women and married men put him at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, whom he labeled "mitered pinheads." At the same time, his opposition to abortion and support of priestly celibacy offended many liberal church reformers.
He outraged defenders of conventional Catholic doctrine with his outspoken belief that sex is a sacrament and an expression of God's love rather than a sin, when not for procreation.
In his 1986 memoir, Confessions of a Parish Priest, Father Greeley wrote: "I suspect Catholic historians of the future will describe the Church's obsession with sex and particularly with an attempt to deny the pleasures of sex to married men and women as a chapter in our history comparable to the Inquisition and the Crusades."
For two decades, Father Greeley wrote about the sexual abuse of minors and repeatedly castigated bishops for failing to stop abuse by the clergy and covering up for pedophile priests.
He received thousands of letters from readers saying his books brought them back to the church. He considered novels his most important ministry.