A reviled but faithful Jesuit

Review by Joanna Bogle

In the 1990s, at a time when an ardent lobby for female ordination, and for rewriting prayers to eliminate the notion of God as Father, was reaching something of a peak in the Church in the Anglosphere, it was enormously refreshing to come across the writings of a thoughtful and large-minded American Jesuit, Fr Paul Mankowski.

I first encountered him through the work of Helen Hull Hitchcock’s group Women for Faith and Family and its associated newsletter Voices. With goodwill and good humour, and with a desire to communicate theological insights rather than to score points, Mankowski explored the issues. He recognised – as not everyone did – that simply sneering at extreme feminism or ridiculing it was not really helpful. Questions were being raised that needed answers; and in answering them the Church would reveal more of the beauty and truth of her authentic teachings. In answering heresy, true development takes place. God is indeed our Father, and this is more important than we had perhaps ever fully realised.

Writing under a pen-name

So it came as a real pleasure, all these years later, to discover this new book which brings together several of Fr Mankowski’s essays and reviews. It is something of a revelation: I had imagined Mankwoski to be an elderly professorial priest when he wrote those essays that so inspired me – but at that time he was youngish, just approaching middle-age. And he wrote much more than I knew, using a pen-name for some of his work, partly because some of his Jesuit confrères so loathed what he was saying and tried to block his work in various fields. In fact, at one point they very nearly succeeded, when his role in exposing the appalling pro-
abortion tactics of the (alas Jesuit) Congressman Robert Drinan emerged.

Fr Mankowski wrote wittily and well about liturgical abuses and pompous modernist crusaders. He was effective in his work on liturgy, and today attempts to recast the Lectionary into “inclusive” language have rightly been abandoned. He was forthright and amusing in his challenge to the ardent feminists, explaining the nature of language and giving some important examples of its abuse by the politically powerful.

He loved the Church

Above all, he was a man who loved the Church and understood her mission. His essay on St John Paul II reveals real anguish at the ways in which some of his Jesuit confrères sneered at that great Pope and sought to undermine his work. But Fr Mankowski also had full confidence in the role of Peter, and not only of the great JPII, noting of any future Pope that “the deposit of faith he inherits at the outset of his papacy will be intact at its end”. This sense of balance extends to the issues on which many lesser writers have got into great confusion, including what Mankowski describes as “the crisis of disordered sexuality”. Writing of his fellow Jesuit Fr James Martin, he analyses expertly the profound errors the latter makes in campaigning for a change in the Church’s teaching on homosexual activity. And he offers, in some detail, the authentic response: the work of the Church’s pastors in the confessional “to reconcile the sinner and to strengthen the weak, so as to be a conduit of supernatural aid”. He reminds us of the parable of the pharisee and the publican, in which we learn that spiritual renewal may well not take place at centre stage where “everyone is watching and public congratulations are fulsomely exchanged” but often out of sight “in the darker and more private precincts of the temple, where humility and remorse seek the truth and are rewarded with new life”.

Jesuit at Large carries a Foreword by George Weigel who notes some of the unpleasantness and harassment that Fr Mankowski endured for defending Catholic orthodoxy, and also the good-natured way in which the Jesuit handled this. It is to Weigel that we should express thanks for bringing together these essays, which have lasting value not only for their trenchant comments on important issues but for their message of confidence in the Church and rejection of that message of gloom that too often characterises some Catholic orthodoxy.

Joanna Bogle DSG is the author of numerous books and is the editor of FAITH magazine.

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