Summer civics and stem cells

George Weigel

On May 24, the U.S. House of Representatives accelerated America’s descent into Huxley’s brave new world by voting to provide Federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had made clear that this issue involved fundamental issues of justice; yet seventy-three Catholics — 57% of the Catholics in the House — voted to spend taxpayer dollars to destroy human life for research purposes.

Here they are, by name and district:

Joe Baca (CA-43); Xavier Becerra (CA-31); Sanford Bishop (GA-2); Sherwood Boehlert (PA-24); Robert Brady (PA-1); Ginny Brown-Waite (FL-5); Michael Capuano (MA-8); Dennis Cardoza (CA-18); Michael Castle (DE-At Large); William Clay (MO-1); Jim Costa (CA-20); Joseph Crowley (NY-7); Henry Cuellar (TX-28); Peter DeFazio (OR-4); William Delahunt (MA-10); Rosa DeLauro (CT-3); John Dingell (MI-15); Michael Doyle (PA-14); Anna Eshoo (CA-14); Lane Evans (IL-17); Mark Foley (FL-16); Vito Fossella (NY-13); Charles Gonzalez (TX-20; Raul Grijalva (AZ-7); Luis Gutierrez (IL-4); Brian Higgins (NY-27); Maurice Hinchey (NY-22); Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15);

Paul Kanjorski (PA-11); Patrick Kennedy (RI-1); Dennis Kucinich (OH-10); James Langevin (RI-2); Rick Larsen (WA-2); Stephen Lynch (MA-9); Connie Mack (FL-14); Edward Markey (MA-7); Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4); Betty McCollum (MN-4); James McGovern (MA-3); Cynthia McKinney (GA-4); Michael McNulty (NY-21); Martin Meehan (MA-5); Charlie Melancon (LA-3); Robert Menendez (NJ-13); Michael Michaud (ME-2); George Miller (CA-7); James Moran (VA-8); John Murtha (PA-12); Grace Napolitano (CA-38); Richard Neal (MA-2); David Obey (WI-7); Frank Pallone (NJ-6); Bill Pascrell (NJ-8); Ed Pastor (AZ-4); Nancy Pelosi (CA-8);

Jon Porter (NV-3); Charles Rangel (NY-15); Silvester Reyes (TX-16); Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34); Tim Ryan (Oh-17); John Salazar (CO-3); Linda Sanchez (CA-39); Loretta Sanchez (CA-47); Joe Schwarz (MI-7); Jose Serrano (NY-16); Clay Shaw (FL-22); Hilda Solis (CA-32); John Sweeney (NY-20); Ellen Tauscher (CA-10); Mike Thompson (CA-1); Nydia Velazquez (NY-12); Peter Visclosky (IN-1); Diane Watson (CA-33).

If your representative is on this list, take some time this summer to write him or her a letter; better yet, arrange a meeting in person. In either case, demand answers to these questions:

1) Why did you support legislation that, for the first time in American history, requires the Federal government to promote and support the destruction of innocent human life? (If the solon in question says that it’s impossible to recognize the humanity in these tiny embryos, remind him or her that that’s exactly what he or she looked like at that stage of life.)

2) Why did you vote for a bill that tramples on the moral convictions of the majority of the American people who do not favor embryo-destructive stem cell research?

3) Why did you vote for a bill that deflects scientists’ attention from forms of stem cell research that have already shown great promise, or may show such promise in the future? Were you aware that, to date, not a single therapeutic application has been derived from embryonic stem cell research, while miracles of biblical proportion — the blind recovering their sight, the lame walking — are being performed with therapies using adult stem cells and stem cells from umbilical cords?

4) Why did you vote for H.R. 810 when the President’s Council on Bioethics reports that there may be ways to create the kind of “pluripotent” stem cells sought by scientists without destroying embryos in the process?

5) Why did you vote for embryo-destructive stem cell research while knowing that this practice will strengthen pressures for cloning, against which the United States has no federal legal barrier today? (And if you didn’t know this, why didn’t you?)

Lay responsibility is clear here; so is episcopal responsibility. Raising these questions this summer is one way for the bishops to fulfill their commitment to take the pro-life argument to misguided Catholic legislators. We’ve all got our work cut out for us.

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.