Fr Paul Mankowski SJ, who has died at the age of 66, was a Jesuit priest of immense erudition.
A linguist and literary critic, and an extraordinarily insightful analyst of the ills besetting the Church in his time, Fr Mankowski was also an inveterate controversialist who combined Midwestern frankness with his keen intellect and profound learning to powerful effect.
Fr Mankowski was born to the late James and Alice (née Otorepec) Mankowski on November 15 1953 in South Bend, Indiana, one of five children. He attended the University of Chicago and entered the Society of Jesus after completing his undergraduate studies in 1976.
Fr Mankowski continued to pursue advanced study in the Classics at Chicago and Oxford, and was ordained a priest in 1987.
Fr Mankowski held a PhD in Comparative Semitic Philology from Harvard University. His dissertation would become an acclaimed book, Akkadian Loanwords in Biblical Hebrew, a standard reference for scholars of ancient Near Eastern language and literature. He read Hebrew, Latin and Greek with the same facility with which I read English; I don’t think he owned an English language breviary.
Fr Paul Mankowski succumbed to an aneurism on September 3, aged 66, leaving the world untimely bereft not only of his immense intellectual talents, but of his spiritual acumen and his rare capacity for friendship, of which the writer of this remembrance was a beneficiary.
Fr Mankowski was at his best – and most at odds with some of his Jesuit and ordinary superiors – when he turned his critical gaze to problems besetting the Church.
He had a deep love for the Church and an abiding devotion to the Society of Jesus. It was because of those that he wrote sternly about maladies affecting both, and the feckless responses from many of those charged with responsibility to attend to them.
In the 1991 article “In Praise of Conformity: Why Priests Should Stop Fooling Around with the Liturgy” (a piece as timely as today’s headlines), Fr Mankowski addressed the “say the black do the red” problem.
“Liturgical deviation is essentially manipulative,” he explains. “It trades on the docility of the community of the faithful … by assuming that in almost every case considerations of good will and respect for the clergy will overcome any bafflement or uneasiness occasioned by novelty. The game is to present the Church with a fait accompli, and then wait for doctrine and practice to catch up at their own pace.”
In a 2003 essay, “What Went Wrong?”, Fr Mankowski addressed the clerical sexual abuse crisis and – even more trenchantly – the bishops’ deliberately ineffectual responses to it. Whether kicking the problem upstairs, or quietly shifting large sums of silence-inducing cash from diocese to victim, what the bishops by-and-large failed to do was look to the root cause of the crisis or to address the problem as pastors, choosing instead to conceal it as bureaucrats. What is that root cause?
“I believe the sexual abuse crisis represents no isolated phenomenon and no new failure, but rather illustrates a state of slowly worsening clerical and episcopal corruption with its roots well back into the 1940s. Its principal tributaries include a critical mass of morally depraved and psychologically defective clergymen who entered the service of the Church seeking emoluments and advantages unrelated to her spiritual mission, in addition to leaders constitutionally unsuited to the exercise of the virtues of truthfulness and fortitude,” he wrote.
Whether foolish or brave, it is difficult to challenge the accuracy of this conclusion. One sees how this and similar observations so often put Fr Mankowski in the soup with his Jesuit and ordinary superiors.
One could argue, as his critics often did, that Fr Paul sought out conflict, and revelled in the combat for combat’s sake. He was a fighter, certainly.
Having known him and seen his dismay over the failure of the Church’s appointed guardians to correct the course, I am confident that Fr Mankowski’s motivation was always and only his deep and abiding love for Christ and his Church, and his corollary devotion to his priestly mission as a protector of souls.
The Rev Paul V Mankowski, SJ was – is – a priest forever.