Sed Contra: Poisonous Charm

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 2000

Fr. Andrew Greeley has been quite busy lately. In the October 30 issue of America, he spent a full page lambasting the Crisis Catholic Voter Report, saying it “would probably earn a failing grade in most graduate seminars on survey research.” Then on the November 29 Early Show, he said to Bryant Gumbel it was “probably” a mortal sin for a Catholic to vote Republican since they “tend to be the party of the affluent, the self-righteous, the haters and racists.”

These kinds of expectorations are what I have come to expect from Fr. Greeley, who is so fearful that his grip on America’s Catholics is slowly slipping away. The Catholic Voter Report told a story he didn’t want to hear, certainly not with the numbers and analysis to back it up.

What makes Greeley’s present bitterness so interesting is the article he published in the November 20 America (thanks for the birthday present, Father!) entitled “Authority as Charm” Here Greeley exhorts “authority figures” in local parishes to “invite, charm and enchant the laity…instead of imposing rules and regulations:’ After all, Greeley points out, “Jesus was perhaps the most charming man who ever lived.” Talk about a low Christology!

For the reader who suspects I am making this up in the sense of playful parody, I should explain that Greeley is arguing that the beauty of the Church’s message is crucial to her evangelical mission. Absolutely! I am not sure that the place to learn the how-to of the Church’s beauty is from the management of the Four Seasons Hotel, as Fr. Greeley suggests. But then, I’ve never had the pleasure of staying there.

Although his wry attempts at charm fail to shine very brightly through the aforementioned Crisis critique, Fr. Greeley’s arsenal of winks and nods was on full display when asked by Gumbel if he recalled calling all Republicans “racists” in his recent memoir. “I said that, did I now?,” Greeley winked. Gumbel laughed, “You want me to show you in the book?” “No, I said it,” Greeley admitted. “I’m a Chicago Democrat, you know.” I suppose being a Chicago Democrat does justify describing 52 million people as racists and 16 million Catholic Republicans as “probably” in a state of mortal sin.

I happened to catch Greeley’s appearance on the Early Show and thought he extricated himself, with the help of Gumbel’s charm, from an embarrassing situation. Too bad Gumbel hadn’t seen Greeley’s encomium to “authority as charm”; he could have asked Greeley if he thought what he said about this nation’s Republicans was a luminous witness to the encompassing heart of the Catholic Church.

In his critique of the Catholic Voter Report, Greeley also complains that Steve Wagner of QEV Analytics did not make use of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center with which Greeley is associated. A few days after reading his column, I interviewed William Prendergast, the author of the now-definitive study of the Catholic vote in the United States, The Catholic Voter in American Politics: The Passing of the Democratic Monolith. Prendergast, who penned an as yet unpublished letter of protest over Greeley’s column to America, laughed that during his research he had sent several letters to Greeley asking for an audience but received no word back.

I myself wrote to Fr. Greeley suggesting a public debate on the Catholic vote, saying we could explore “common ground,” but his reply was a charmingly terse, “Thanks, but no thanks.” You’d think Father would feel spiritually obliged to meet with a man whom he had labeled as sectarian, exclusionary, racist, self-righteous, and in a state of mortal sin.

All from a Catholic priest (and don’t forget Chicago Democrat) who writes, “Beauty and the charm it exercises are not options.” Yet they do seem optional for Fr. Greeley when he hears bad news from people he refuses even to talk to. The trouble with Greeley’s charm is that it masks a type of authoritarianism far worse than the one that troubles his dreams.

Upon going to press, we received news of the passing of William B. Prendergast. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, Dr. Prendergast taught at the U.S. Naval Academy and various Catholic universities before becoming a researcher, writer, and consultant for the Republican National Committee, U.S. Department of Defense, NATO, and the Office of Economic Opportunity. Bill Prendergast was a wise and generous man who will be missed by all who knew him.


By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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