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"We called each other friends and counted on each other but our friendship had been tested by times in which we drifted apart but could still hear each other's voices," Kennedy wrote. "Irish brothers have a way of falling out and then finding each other again." The finding was Greeley's doing, Kennedy allowed. "When I had cancer surgery and was sitting quietly, sorting out the situation with my wife at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Andrew came through the door to bring me his blessing, to cheer us up, and, in less than the time it takes to tell about it, to restore our friendship. As he said to me later with a smile, 'Reconciliation is supposed to work that way.'"
Kennedy's story rang a bell. Hadn't I, at some time long past, written something that described the bad blood between the two men? I searched the Reader's archives.
I had. My story, written in 1997, didn't get to the root of their enmity, but it marveled at the effects of it. That said, the story was primarily about something else. After years of research, investigative journalist Jonathan Kwitny had published a biography of Pope John Paul II, Man of the Century, and both Greeley and Kennedy had been among Kwitny's sources—Kennedy a source primarily on Greeley.
For all the help Greeley gave Kwitny in his research, he was most unhappy with the final product. We know exactly what Greeley thought because he reviewed Man of the Century for the Washington Post and trashed it. The book's "frequent inaccuracy and occasional meanness make it untrustworthy. Caveat emptor," Greeley wrote.
Kwitny was furious with the Post for giving Greeley the assignment. It's likely the Post was furious with Greeley for not refusing it. My assignment was to look closely at Greeley's case against Kwitny's book and Kwitny's case against Greeley's review and suggest who might be right about what. As for Kennedy, my suggestion was that he might not have been the most objective guide to Greeley's actions.
Greeley's actions? What actions?
In his letter to the managing editor of the Post, Kwity explained. "Many months ago, Andrew Greeley let me know repeatedly by phone and e-mail that he was extremely angry because in my book . . . I would include two episodes from his past that are rightly embarrassing to him. One . . . was his naivete in what he had earlier called a 'conspiracy' to 'rig' the papal election in 1978, a scheme that blew up in his face. The other . . . was his effort to oust Cardinal Cody in Chicago."
I concluded Kwitny was righter than Greeley about some things and Greeley was righter about others and the Greeley-Kennedy relationship was bizarre. "I think Greeley from the beginning was not too keen on Eugene Kennedy," Kwitny told me. "Eugene Kennedy, despite what he said in his book, wouldn't say a bad word about Andrew Greeley."
But what had Kennedy said in his book, the biography Cardinal Bernardin? He'd said that after Greeley made a lot of money writing novels with sex scenes, he'd offered $1 million to the Chicago archdiocese. Kennedy had written:
"If the archbishop accepted money that had been earned through novels that had, among other things, savaged his predecessor and attacked him as well, Bernardin would be indirectly approving of them, granting the imprimatur that Greeley wanted for himself. Such a public endorsement would redeem Greeley from the widespread criticisms that he was a purveyor of sado-masochistic themes rigged up in ecclesiastical settings."
Bernardin turned down the money. "Those voices, official and unofficial, that had clamored for some canonical penalty for the priest writer were suddenly stilled," Kennedy wrote. "It was as if Father Greeley's position and his relationship with Bernardin had finally been put into a clear perspective."
But just as my column, when read 16 years later, isn't about Greeley and Kennedy, it isn't ultimately about Greeley and Kwitny either. It's about proud men who labored long and hard and now were acting out because they believed their good names were at risk. I began my reporting hoping Kwitny, whom I'd gone to college with, would turn out to be right on all counts. But he wasn't. Nobody was. And even though I'd written the damn story, I had to reread it very slowly because I constantly felt on the verge of getting lost in its convolutions.
I like the piece because it doesn't reduce Greeley to somebody simpler than he actually was. Perhaps he became simpler later. The reconciliation of which Kennedy just wrote is a tribute to the ameliorative power of faith, charity, and old age.