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Silenced but Unquiet: a Faithful Jesuit’s Witness

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 17, 2021 | In Reviews

Do you wish some brilliant critic would let loose on the subversive pro-homosexual views of Father James Martin? It’s been done. A blistering review entitled “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—regularly surrender ground to dissidents? The best available explanation, a witty and perceptive essay, “’Tames’ in Clerical Life,” was published in Latin Mass magazine in Summer 1996.

Would you be intrigued by an article appearing under the self-explanatory headline, “In Praise of Conformity: Why Priests Should Stop Fooling Around with the Liturgy?” That’s from Crisis, February 1991.

Or would you prefer to relax, and read something by a brilliant writer, commenting on the work of another brilliant writer? Then “Waugh on the Merits,” from First Things of October 2017, should fit the bill.

All these essays, and many more, are now available in a single volume, Jesuit at Large, a collection of the 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’d argue 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 stylist.

A skeptic might ask: If he was so good, why haven’t we heard more about him? Aha! A good question, for which there is a ready answer, and that answer, too, is supplied in this collection. Throughout his priestly life Father Mankowski had a tense relationship with his liberal Jesuit superiors, and the tension boiled over when he exposed the cynical manipulation and outright deceit that enabled a Jesuit who supported legal abortion, the late Father Robert Drinan, to run for and serve in Congress despite the clear prohibition issued by Pope John Paul II. For the “crime” of revealing the fraud perpetrated by Father Drinan—and by the Jesuit leaders who cooperated with his campaign—Father Mankowski was severely disciplined, his work subjected to Jesuit censorship. So the gems that appear in Jesuit at Large represent only a fraction of what he might have produced during his years in the doghouse.

A talented Jesuit, disciplined for defending the integrity of the faith: The situation was manifestly unfair, but it did not surprise the victim. Father Mankowski was vocal (when he could be) about both his love for the Jesuit vocation and his recognition that the order had become thoroughly corrupt. Among friends, he likened his situation to that of a husband who knew his wife was unfaithful, but was determined to honor his own vows.

Yet if this sounds like a sad story, then it is not an accurate portrayal of his life, because Father Mankowski was a cheerful, witty man. He excelled at satire, and while he was still allowed to write (just not under his own name), he delighted veteran readers on this site as “Diogenes.” When he could no longer write for publication, he carried on a lively email correspondence with dozens of friends—of whom I was blessed to be one. More than a few times, after he made a particular trenchant point, I reminded him of the danger of plagiarism, and when he did not reply, I muttered “qui tacet consentit,” and published the thoughts as my own.

Still, Mankowski’s thoughts, related second-hand, never had quite the same lively force as the originals. He said that Evelyn Waugh, one of his literary heroes, seemed incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence; the same might be said of Father Mankowski. He had a remarkably broad range of expertise—he could speak knowledgably about trout-fishing and architecture and football and auto repair, not to mention his own fields of theology and Scripture study—and had an uncanny ability to draw from different wells to produce unexpected comparisons and similes. If you were familiar with the Mankowski style, and you knew that he had written a review of Father Martin’s book on homosexuality, you settled down to read with a smile, thinking: “This is going to be fun.” And it was.

The fun came to abrupt end in September 2020, when Father Mankowski died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. But for readers who develop a taste for his writing, I have good news. I have edited another collection of his essays—this time the pseudonymous works, featuring the hilarious posts that appeared here under the “Diogenes” byline—which should be on the market next spring.

Jesuit at Large: Essays and Reviews by Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, edited with an introduction by George Weigel. Ignatius Press.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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