Fr. Paul Mankowski lived his life in obscurity, but it is appropriate that his friends publicly acknowledge his private achievements at his death.
After reading Tony Abbott’s eloquent tribute, my instinct was that another Australian contribution might be one too many, but distance can not only bring a wider and different perspective but sometimes enables a greater freedom to acknowledge the prophet at home.
Paul and I first met in the 1990s when I was part of a small team of English-speakers from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to meet a delegation from the United States Bishops Conference on scripture translations into English; one more round in the struggle against ideological translations which strove to improve the original. Paul provided the most important briefing papers for us, at a level far superior to other advice that was tendered. I was entirely persuaded.
Paul was blunt and courageous, formidably clever even by Jesuit standards, a man of insight and forensic skill. All this before we consider his faith, regular prayer, fasting, and his capacity as a journalist. In his intensity and single mindedness Paul reminded me of his founder, Ignatius of Loyola, the convert solider who changed the history of the Church after the Reformation.
During his year of tertianship he researched the writings of Ignatius and discovered that Ignatius contemplated trying to find the most corrupt religious order of the time to join so that he could suffer more for Christ. We thank God he did not follow this path.
Tony Abbott mentioned that Paul was one of the most trenchant critics of his own Society of Jesus in the areas of both faith and morals. He vehemently loved Christ and his Church, lamented the Christian decline in the Western world, the most significant feature of our religious landscape, and regretted particularly the eclipse of the Jesuits as they lost around two thirds of their more than 30,000 1960’s membership.
This is an incalculable loss to the Church and society, both a cause and effect of the secularizing of the Western mind. Many of our religious orders will pass into history, but the Church cannot allow this to happen to the Jesuits. How it is to be prevented provides the challenge.
For decades Paul lived with differing levels of official disapproval. Probably some superiors hoped he would move to another area of Church life, but he rejected the option; others, especially more recently, treated him with dignity and justice. His choice was to stay and put up with the situation. His revelations from the archives of the contribution of Jesuit politician Fr. Robert Drinan to abortion legislation was not welcomed by the pro-abortion brigade. He was long prevented from taking the fourth vow, banned from writing (not always successfully) and reduced to teaching Greek and Hebrew at the Biblicum in Rome. His ambitions for the reform of the Order were not realized.
I don’t think Paul ever shared my hopes that Pope Francis, a Jesuit who had his own problems with his order, would be a significant agent for reform. This has not happened, although I don’t know the reasons for the Holy Father’s quiescence. Perhaps he believes the Jesuits must purify themselves as St John Paul’s efforts were unavailing.
Prophets do not usually make good religious superiors and I never saw Paul as a regional leader. But his choices represent the only way forward. Prayer, worship, faith in the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, absolute obedience to the example and teachings of Jesus, God’s only Son (not just in poverty and social justice) and fidelity to the charism of Ignatius and Francis Xavier, which is not to be deconstructed or reduced and psychologized. Radical service, militant orthodoxy are the ideals, remembering the basic challenge is to faith even more than morals.
Paul also told me that Ignatius was warned, when he was writing the rule, about the dangers of the heavy centralization which is characteristic of the Jesuits, against the more dispersed models of authority, with greater levels of local autonomy of the Benedictine monks and the later Dominican and Franciscan friars. However, Ignatius persisted with this clear line of command.
When the central command is clear headed and resolute the regular weeding that is always needed can continue but when superiors become hostile to reform we have another situation and over the years I have never failed to marvel how sluggish non-performers can be galvanized into action to strangle good initiatives. On the other hand, I also saw what St John Paul the Great accomplished and know the first four hundred years of Jesuit history.
When I was in jail Paul wrote a couple of times, once quoting a 1989 talk of Professor John Finnis on St Thomas More’s condemnation in Westminster Hall in 1535, because this could better explain “the deeper meaning of the witness you have been called to give”.
He also endorsed Finnis’ view that the failure to take seriously Jesus’ claim to judge everyone on the last day “is the heart of the crisis of faith and morals: only if we do take it seriously can we experience a hope which goes beyond words to meet St Thomas More merrily in heaven”; and the newly arrived Jesuit Mankowski.
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