Silent but worried: a faithful Jesuit witness

By Phil Lawler (bio – articles – email) | November 17, 2021 | In Reviews

Would you like a brilliant critique to be unleashed on Father James Martin’s subversive pro-homosexual views? It is done. A dazzling review titled “Pontifex Minimus” appeared in the August-September 2017 issue of First things.

Have you often wondered why so many American bishops, including some whose personal orthodoxy seems unassailable, routinely cede ground to dissidents? The best available explanation, a witty and insightful essay, “‘Tames’ in Clerical Life,” was published in Latin mass magazine in the summer of 1996.

Would you be intrigued by an article appearing under the explicit title, “In Praise of Conformity: Why Priests Should Stop Having Fun with the Liturgy?” It’s from Crisis, February 1991.

Or would you rather relax and read something from a brilliant writer, commenting on the work of another brilliant writer? Then “Waugh on merit”, from First things October 2017, should do the trick.

All these essays, and many more, are now available in one volume, Jesuit in freedom, a collection of published works of the late Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, edited by George Weigel. Readers who are already familiar with Father Mankowski’s work will want this book. But I would say that those who have not discovered the work of this remarkable man need the book, as an introduction to one of the best writers in the contemporary Catholic world: a faithful priest, an incisive analyst and an extraordinary prose writer.

A skeptic might ask: if he was that good, why haven’t we heard more from him? Ah! A good question, for which there is a ready-made answer, and this answer is also provided in this collection. Throughout his priestly life, Father Mankowski had a strained relationship with his liberal Jesuit superiors, and tension boiled over when he denounced the cynical manipulation and outright deception that enabled a Jesuit who supported the abortion, late Father Robert Drinan, to come forward and serve. in Congress despite the clear ban issued by Pope John Paul II. For the “crime” of exposing the fraud perpetrated by Father Drinan – and by the Jesuit leaders who cooperated in his campaign – Father Mankowski was severely disciplined, his work subject to Jesuit censorship. So the gems that appear in Jesuit in freedom are only a fraction of what he could have produced during his years in the niche.

A talented Jesuit, disciplined for standing up for the integrity of the faith: The situation was clearly unfair, but it did not surprise the victim. Father Mankowski expressed (when he could be) both his love for the Jesuit vocation and his gratitude that the order had become utterly corrupt. Among friends, he compared his situation to that of a husband who knew his wife was unfaithful, but was determined to honor his own vows.

Still, if that sounds like a sad story, then it’s not a true portrayal of his life, for Father Mankowski was a cheerful and witty man. He excelled in satire, and although he was still licensed to write (but not under his own name), he delights seasoned readers of this site as “Diogenes”. When he could no longer write for the publication, he maintained a lively electronic correspondence with dozens of friends, of whom I was fortunate to be one. More than once, after he made a particularly sharp point, I reminded him of the danger of plagiarism, and as he was not responding, I whispered “who tacet consent, ”And posted thoughts like mine.

Yet Mankowski’s thoughts, reported second-hand, never had quite the same driving force as the originals. He said that Evelyn Waugh, one of his literary heroes, seemed unable to write an uninteresting sentence; the same could be said of Father Mankowski. He had a remarkably broad expertise – he could speak knowledgeably about trout fishing and architecture, football and auto repair, not to mention his own areas of theology and scripture study – and had a strange ability to tap into different wells to produce unexpected results. comparisons and comparisons. If you knew the Mankowski style and knew that he had written a review of Father Martin’s book on homosexuality, you would sit down to read with a smile thinking, “This is going to be fun.” And it was.

The fun came to an abrupt end in September 2020, when Father Mankowski passed away suddenly from a brain hemorrhage. But for readers who take a liking to his writing, I have good news. I edited another collection of his essays – this time the works under pseudonym, featuring the hilarious articles that appeared here under the signature “Diogenes” – which should be on the market next spring.

Jesuit in General: Essays and Criticisms by Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, edited with an introduction by George Weigel. Ignatius Press.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for over 30 years. He edited several Catholic magazines and wrote eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is News Director and Senior Analyst at See the full biography.

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