A Paul Mankowski Collection
edited by philip f. lawler
ignatius press, 294 pages, $19.95
Paul Mankowski, S.J., who died unexpectedly in 2020, was a rare ecclesiastical commodity. He pursued expertise in philology because, as he put it, the meanings of words form the battle lines in the Church. He was an old-fashioned Jesuit with an extraordinary gift for raucously intelligent satire. His literary talents ranked alongside those of his exemplar, Evelyn Waugh. Diogenes Unveiled is a compilation of Mankowski’s internet posts, gathered by Philip Lawler. This book should be required reading in seminaries everywhere.
Although Mankowski was always upright and obedient, his superiors considered him a problem child. Today’s Jesuits—with some notable exceptions—rarely make a compelling defense of Catholic orthodoxy. Mankowski's “transgressions” included his stands on such hot-button issues as abortion, homosexuality, women’s ordination, and celibacy—all covered in this book. His Jesuit authorities found his dissent from the Jesuit company line annoying because he unapologetically subscribed to Church teaching.
Mankowski’s vow of obedience—like his fidelity to the Church—was a matter of conscience. But he also knew that most religious superiors cloak their own disobedience to Church doctrine in ambiguity. When the Jesuits sought to halt his public writing, he (much like St. Thomas More) lawfully took advantage of his superiors’ lack of clarity. Still strictly complying with the decrees of his Jesuit elders, he began writing under the pseudonym “Diogenes” on the Catholic Culture website.
Many of the columns in Diogenes Unveiled concern the post-2002 Boston Globe child abuse revelations, which deeply disturbed many faithful priests, including Mankowski. The hierarchy often seemed to circle the wagons with evasions. Then-president of the USCCB Bishop Gregory explained: “The law rightly makes it clear that sexual abuse of minors is a crime. We have all been enlightened.”
Enlightened? Protecting child molesters is obviously wicked. Mankowski loathed the hierarchy’s reliance on the language of secular moral positivism—terms such as “boundaries” and “good touch.” Bishop Gregory’s comment so irked Mankowski that he penned a satire featuring a fictitious USCCB meeting. With erudite sardonic humor, he used the “We have all been enlightened” refrain to ridicule the absurdities of such episcopal posturing. (You will have to wait for another Phil Lawler compilation of Mankowski’s hilarious private emails for more details.)
Mankowski also tackled other aspects of the bishops' inadequate response. The bishops implemented child protection programs that targeted priests, but not bishops, with one-size-fits-all dismissals (except for the likes of “Uncle Ted” McCarrick and Rembert Weakland). The “zero tolerance” child abuse policy put every priest at risk and systematically seemed to exclude the lavender mafia.
One of Mankowski's posts targets Father (now Msgr.) Stephen Rossetti (who today manages an exorcist website), a psychologist and sex abuse consultant to the USCCB. In the aftermath of the Boston Globe explosion, Rossetti warned: “What I'm afraid of is we're going into this witch hunt for gays.” Rossetti spent twelve years as president of St. Luke Institute, a treatment center for priests and religious with psychological problems such as substance abuse and, well, molestation of minors. The founder of the institute, Father Michael R. Peterson, died of AIDS in 1987. Such facts led Mankowski to observe in one post that most bishops and their experts were not serious about confronting the prevalent homosexuality responsible for most clerical child abuse. More than 80 percent of the victims of abusive priests were males.
New USCCB “child protection” policies proliferated. Diocesan review boards fed the frenzy. Every allegation invited an immediate chancery media release without due regard to a priest’s reputation. In an unprecedented violation of the Eighth Commandment, various bishops across the country released priest personnel files to state attorneys general for detailed reviews. Unsurprisingly, a majority of priests in 2022 do not trust their bishops.
Mankowski captured the bizarre nature of the moment in 2006 when he penned his satire, “The Ballad of Petey the Parrot.”
Petey the Parrot served twenty-one months
On a rap for indecent exposure.
His Bishop paroled him and gave him a perch
On his pear-wood episcopal crosier.
He scolded the skeptics who labeled the bird
Unsuited for pastoral placement:
“I'm giving him charge of the CCD staff
And an office in Barney Frank's basement.”
Hide the eggs, Gwendolyn, hide the eggs, Tom!
Hide the eggs, Kate and Kareem!
Petey the sinister Young Adult Minister's
back on the pastoral team!
With an aawk! and a squawk! twenty months and you walk,
back on the pastoral team!
Petey was therapized, pampered, prepared,
Pronounced cured by professional weasels
Who shortly thereafter were found to have died
From a sorrowful shortage of T-cells.
The cops nearly nabbed him at Cock-à-Two's Bar
But Petey was just enough quicker
To fly through the window, and home, where he found
He'd been named archdiocesan vicar.
When the parents complained that his ministry style
Included non-standard relations,
The kindly old bishop asked Petey to screen
First his phone calls, and then his vocations.
It didn't take long for the entering class
To grow from near thirty to—zero.
Now Petey's a bishop himself, don't you know,
And described as “The NCR's hero.”
Father Mankowski was anything but boring.
When they realized Diogenes was Mankowski, his superiors abruptly muzzled his apostolate, once again proving: “Scratch a liberal, and a tyrant bleeds.” After his death, his laptop went missing—it is probably collecting algae on the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Phil Lawler provides a valuable service by harvesting Diogenes’s outbursts of sanity from the internet and email. Buy his book, read it, and gift-wrap it for a seminarian near you. They need the intellectual ammo.
Fr. Jerry J. Pokorsky is the pastor of Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls, Virginia.
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Image by Pxhere licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.