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He’s back! Diogenes Unveiled

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 18, 2022 | In Reviews

Longtime readers of CatholicCulture.org will remember the satirical wit of Diogenes, now known to be the late Fr. Paul Mankowski, SJ, whose biting commentaries on Church affairs were published on CatholicCulture.org until his Jesuit superiors ordered him to stop writing under that name. Phil Lawler had been the key to publishing Diogenes’ material, both in Catholic World Report when Phil served as editor, and on Phil’s Catholic World News website. CWN eventually merged with CatholicCulture.org, where Phil continues to serve as News Director, and we happily hosted these entertainingly trenchant pseudonymous writings through 2010, when Fr. Mankowski was ordered to cease and desist.

Although a few others wrote under the same pseudonym, the cut-gemstone brilliance of Fr. Mankowski’s style was unique and unforgettable. Therefore, when Fr. Mankowski died in 2020, Phil decided to make the Diogenes story better known, and to republish the best of his pseudonymous work. The result is a new book from Ignatius Press, Diogenes Unveiled.

Phil has included in the collection pseudonymous writings by Fr. Mankowski from all the relevant sources. The wisdom of his selections has guaranteed that these are as well-targeted, as biting, and as unimaginably entertaining now as they were when they first appeared. The collection includes three items which were not published under the Diogenes name. It begins, very appropriately, with the deeply Catholic Jesuit priest’s diary written during Fr. Mankowski’s visit to Romania in 2002 to minister to the poorest of the poor, published under the pseudonym Francis X. You will, of course, find no satire there; the poorest of the poor neither invite nor deserve it.

It ends with an almost overwhelmingly satirical play on a theme and in a poetic form borrowed from Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Macdeth” (which originally appeared in The American Spectator under the pseudonym of Francis X. Bacon), revealing, as Phil points out, the extent of Mankowski’s literary power. And it also includes, penultimately, one work under his own name: His brilliant exposure of the “The Pagels Imposture” which, in 2006, had the world believing that ancient texts had been discovered which proved that Christianity had no cohesive origin. This one, like all the later Diogenes commentaries, was published on CatholicCulture.org.

Organized by target and on target

After the introduction, two tributes which followed Fr. Mankowski’s death, the diary, and an excellent sampling of the very earliest Diogenes material, Diogenes Unveiled is divided handily according to the predominant subjects of the various posts. The topics covered are as relevant today (sadly) as they were ten to twenty years ago:

  • The use and abuse of language
  • Assaults on the dignity of life
  • The political world
  • What we believe
  • The Anglican alternative
  • Abusing the liturgy
  • Holding the Hierarchy accountable
  • The sex-abuse scandal
  • The Lavender Mafia
  • Why be a priest?

The last section, as you might imagine, considers many of the bad reasons for becoming a priest in an era which has largely lost the faith. An example from one commentary:

His game was to get little boys to join a soccer club he had started: “Fr Joseph Jordan was a modern priest, always dressed in a baseball cap, tracksuit and trainers. One mother remarked that the only time she had seen him in clerical garb was in the dock at Cardiff Crown Court.”
Love these guys. When it’s a matter of barhopping, or going to restaurants, or taking in a movie, they’re invariably in civvies (“I find the collar to be a vestige of an antiquated clerical caste system that puts a barrier between me and the people I serve”). When their recreations finally catch up with them and they end up facing a five-to-eight from conducting underage Listening Sessions, what emblem of 1950s piety and propriety do they hide behind? [from “Sporadically Authentic Priests”, 11/6/2003, pp. 252-3]

Sharp diversity

One could go on quoting until the whole collection is used up, but I’ll confine myself to one more from the section “What we believe”. Here Diogenes comments on a National Catholic Reporter story in which the publisher asks whether it is not possible “that the Catholic Church still has it wrong on sexual morality and needs to reconsider church attitudes and teachings? This would require admitting the church is, like other institutions, capable of making mistakes, even big ones. It would require becoming a more humble church, perhaps one with less sweeping claims to infallibility.” In response, Diogenes does two things:

First, he notes that “an honest man does not speak of ‘less sweeping claims to infallibility.’ If my calculator gives me a wrong answer for a sum, I don’t stroke my chin and suggest that Texas Instruments make ‘less sweeping claims to accuracy’—I say the calculator’s worthless and throw it away.”

Second, he compares babies in the womb to tapeworms as a way of recognizing the difference between Catholics and dissenters:

Dissenters are tapeworms. Both a tapeworm and a fetus may simultaneously draw nourishment from the same woman. But whereas the baby is nourished bloodstream to bloodstream, as it were, and so extends and continues the mother’s life, the tapeworm feeds her blood into its gut. The tapeworm is an alien, no matter how intimate and “inside” it may be, no matter how furiously it insists it is feasting at the same table as the baby.
In the Church, at the altar, fetuses and tapeworms share one loaf and one cup. From the outside, it’s impossible to tell us apart. And note that what makes a baby and what makes a tapeworm (in this sense) has nothing to do with sinfulness. Many babies fall frequently into grave sins, and many tapeworms lead lives of continence and generosity. Tapeworms are often more likable and usually more presentable than babies. It’s not a question of “we’re better than you”; it’s an admission that the relation of mother and child and the relation of host and parasite are radically contrary. For us, the Church is mater et magistra; for dissenters, she is a source of jobs, or Marty Haugen music, or chances for self-display, or political soapboxes, or hiding places, or access to important people, or opportunities for sabotage. [from “Tapeworms”, 8/7/2003, pp. 105-6]

The books

Last year, Ignatius Press published a collection of the best essays Fr. Mankowski wrote under his own name—longer, often more scholarly, and generally less biting pieces which are also singularly well-written and a pleasure to read, edited by George Weigel. Phil Lawler began edging toward the revelations of Diogenes in his review of that book (see Silenced but Unquiet: A Faithful Jesuit’s Witness, in which the link to purchase the book is given at the end). But now Phil himself has edited what he alone could edit, the ultimate and unparalleled collection of Fr. Mankowski writing as Diogenes, a formidable Catholic voice for whom Phil himself held the microphone.

Thankfully, despite the best efforts of her internal and external enemies, the Catholic Church is not really, after all, the Land of Oz. No good Catholic will be disappointed by this opportunity to look behind the curtain…and see the truth.

Philip F. Lawler, ed. Diogenes Unveiled: A Paul Mankowski Collection: Ignatius Press, 2022. Paper, 294pp. $17.96.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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