Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Ask the intercession of St. Ignatius to reform the corrupt Jesuit order

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 31, 2023

On this feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I hope you will join me in praying for the reform of the order that he founded. Heaven knows the Jesuits are long overdue for reform.

My own attitude toward the Society of Jesus has been shaped by years of watching developments in the Church, and seeing the enormous mischief created by Jesuit priests and Jesuit institutions. The order that once gave America saints like Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf has more recently provided such questionable characters as Robert Drinan and James Martin—not to mention Jesuits in higher ecclesiastical posts.

Yes, there are still wonderful Jesuit priests to be found, and I have been privileged to know several of them. But they are in the minority. More to the point, they are currently unable to bring about the radical changes that would make their Society healthy again.

So it is with the Society of Jesus. A good Jesuit, intent on restoring the order to reflect the vision of St. Ignatius, will be thwarted. I know; I have seen it happen.

My friend, the late Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, uncovered clear evidence of corruption among the Jesuits. He worked to expose it, hoping that the exposure might bring some “outside agency”—such as the Vatican, or perhaps outraged lay Catholics—to initiate a reform. Instead he was silenced by his religious superiors, and lived for years under a cloud of official disapproval, periodically threatened with expulsion from the religious order to which he had offered his life and his obedience.

What was the offense for which Father Mankowski was punished? He helped to show, beyond reasonable doubt, that a fellow Jesuit priest, Robert Drinan, had run a successful race for Congress—and then for re-election—as a candidate who actively supported legal abortion. His candidacy for public office, in a partisan contest, was in direct disobedience to an order from then-Pope John Paul II. (So, of course, was his advocacy for legal abortion.) Yet at every level, the leaders of the Society of Jesus—an order whose members take a vow of loyalty to the Holy See—connived with Drinan to support his political candidacy.

The full story of the Drinan candidacy—and the long-running campaign of Jesuit misrepresentations and demurrals that supported it—was told by historian James Hitchcock in an article that appeared in Catholic World Report in July 1996. (At the time I was that magazine’s editor.) Hitchcock identified Father Mankowski as the source of the astonishingly damaging information, taken from Jesuit archives, on which his article was based.

With this unmistakable evidence of widespread internal corruption now on the public record, the Jesuit leadership took action. Not against Father Drinan, who was then teaching at another Jesuit institution, Georgetown Law School. Not against the provincials who had misled both the Jesuit superior general and the Roman Pontiff. But against Father Mankowski, who had blown the whistle.

Because he was barred from publishing works that had not been vetted by Jesuit censors (who were not likely to approve anything even mildly controversial), the output of an unusually brilliant Jesuit thinker was stunted. Fortunately some of his essays have been collected into two volumes: Jesuit at Large, a selection of his scholarly works, edited by George Weigel; and Diogenes Unveiled, a sampling of his satirical and pseudonymous online offerings.

As a bonus, the Weigel volume includes a detailed account of how Father Mankowski came across the Drinan records in the Jesuit archives, and why he felt obligated to make them public, in hope that other Jesuits would join him in the call to reform their Society. Sad to say, the vast majority of Jesuits took no notice of the scandal. Perhaps they were not scandalized, in the sense that they were not surprised, by the corruption within their order.

Another loyal Jesuit (not surprisingly, a friend and sometime collaborator of Father Mankowski), once gave a nice summary of what institutional corruption means:

If we examine any trust-invested agency at any given point in its history, whether that agency be a police force, a military unit, or a religious community, we might find that, say, out of every hundred men, five are scoundrels, five are heroes, and the rest are neither one nor the other: ordinarily upright men who live with a mixture of moral timidity and moral courage. When the institution is healthy, the gutsier few set the overall tone, and the less courageous but tractable majority works along with these men to minimize misbehavior; more importantly, the healthy institution is able to identify its own rotten apples and remove them before the institution itself is enfeebled. However, when an institution becomes corrupt, its guiding spirit mysteriously shifts away from the morally intrepid few, and with that shift the institution becomes more interested in protecting itself against outside critics than in tackling the problem members who subvert its mission. For example, when we say a certain police force is corrupt, we don’t usually mean that every policeman is on the take—perhaps only five out of a hundred actually accept bribes. Rather we mean that this police force can no longer diagnose and cure its own problems, and consequently if reform is to take place, an outside agency has to be brought in to make the changes.

Today the Society of Jesus needs “an outside agency” to kick-start the much-needed reform. Thus my call for prayers.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: ewaughok - Aug. 02, 2023 3:45 AM ET USA

    I’ve been praying this for almost 20 years… Also, praying to St Aloysius Gonzaga too… I lived and worked with Jesuits for many years, and while I admired many of them as individuals, I found the Society itself sadly corrupt and dishonest.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Aug. 01, 2023 11:02 PM ET USA

    Hmmm. All the Saints better fire up their engines as corruption exists on a massive scale invading every particle of life. In short, the world needs an outside kick-start agency (be careful what you wish for!) Also, a variation of the above works on many levels: take culture and politics as starting points.