An unnecessary and untoward controversy

George Weigel

Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the Taize Community in France, was one of the great Christian spirits of the 20th century. An ecumenical pioneer, Brother Roger, in the apt words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, promoted an “ecumenism of holiness, that holiness which changes the depths of the soul and which alone leads toward full communion.” Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of spiritual wayfarers have tasted something of that holiness in visiting the ecumenical monastery at Taize. The late John Paul II once described the experience in evocative terms: “One passes through Taize as one passes close to a spring of water.”

Cardinal Kasper’s tribute to Brother Roger took place at his funeral, this past August 23. On August 16, while attending evening prayer at Taize’s Church of the Reconciliation, the 90-year old monk was stabbed to death by a deranged woman, dying almost instantly. One might have hoped that the death of such a great soul would have become an opportunity to ponder a life lived in complete dedication to Christ, and to Christ’s reconciling work in the world.

It was not to be, though, as the New York Times ran a story on Brother Roger’s funeral that launched an unnecessary and untoward controversy. Here is the lead of the Times story: “Brother Roger Schutz pursued many ecumenical dreams in his life, but in death one of them came true. At a Eucharistic service celebrated Tuesday by a Roman Catholic cardinal for Brother Roger, a Swiss Protestant, communion wafers were given to the faithful indiscriminately, regardless of denomination.” The first falsehood here is that Brother Roger believed in open and “indiscriminate” intercommunion, which he did not. The second falsehood is the suggestion that Cardinal Kasper (who presided at the funeral at the request of the Taize Community) distributed holy communion “indiscriminately, regardless of denomination” – which he did not.

But what with the Times’ (ever-increasingly unwarranted) position as the newspaper of record, a controversy was soon raging in the blogosphere and elsewhere, to the point where the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, of which Cardinal Kasper is president, prepared a note for those interested in what had really taken place at Taize on August 23. The note explains that the celebration of Brother Roger’s funeral “followed the usual practice at Taize,” which had developed during the 1970s, in conversation and agreement with the Vatican, “for the singular circumstances” of this ecumenical monastic community and the pilgrims who spend time there. As the note put it, “everything possible is done to ensure that the Eucharist is celebrated in a way that excludes confusion regarding Church membership, or is against the rules in force.”

Since the 1970s, all Eucharistic celebrations at the Church of the Reconciliation at Taize are Catholic liturgies, presided over by priests or bishops. “For those who…cannot or do not wish to receive communion in the Catholic Church, a special arrangement enables them to receive the ‘blessed bread.’ After the Gospel reading…a basket of small pieces of bread is blessed by the celebrant and set on a table next to the altar. At the moment of communion, the distribution of the Eucharist and the distribution of the blessed bread are done in a way that clearly indicates the difference. In this the Orthodox and Easter-rite Catholics recognize their traditional practice of distributing the ‘antirodon,’ namely parts of the altar bread that have not been consecrated. At Brother Roger’s funeral, in accordance with the usual practice at Taize, those present could receive either the consecrated Eucharistic species or the blessed bread.”

The Times’ story suggests that a policy decision was made to give holy communion to non-Catholics at Brother Roger’s funeral. That is simply not true. The suggestion demeaned both the faith of Brother Roger in the Real Presence and the delicacy and integrity with which Taize has tried to live both the truth of the Eucharist and the quest for ecclesial reconciliation. It also set off a wholly unnecessary controversy that would have pained Brother Roger deeply. The Times owes Taize (and Cardinal Kasper) an apology.

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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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.