Good obituary essay on Fr. Robert Drinan, SJ

Sometimes one person an make a big difference.  His influence though subtle at the moment can begin a trend or influence future events for good or evil.

Fr. Robert F. Drinan, SJ, died recently.  It may be that younger people don’t know who he was or what he did.  Here is an article from the The Catholic Times of the Diocese of LaCrosse (WI).  The editor is an old friend with a razor sharp mind and very good training in philosophy.  Here is the 8 February obituary essay for Fr. Drinan.  It merits a close reading.  My emphasis.

Father Drinan, ex-congressman, Jesuit and law professor, dead at 86.
   Jesuit Father Robert F. Drinan, the first Catholic priest to vote in the U.S. Congress, died Jan. 28 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, where he had been treated for pneumonia and congestive heart failure for the past 10 days.
   Although recognized as a brilliant civil law scholar at Georgetown University and praised as an anti-war and human rights activist, Father Drinan generated controversy for pursuing elected office without Church approval andfor his support for legalized abortion while in Congress.
   Like current Church law, the law in effect when Father Drinan made his first congressional run in 1970 forbade a cleric to hold political office-unless he received permission ftom his local ordinary.
   Fr. Drinan had not obtained the permission of either Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing or Worcester’s Bishop Bernard Flanagan when he successfully ran for Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional seat, nor did he get approval from Jesuit Father General Pedro Arrupe. Though Father Drinan was re-elected four times during the 1970’s, he never acquired the necessary permissions[One could argue that the superiors who did nothing to discipline Fr. Drinan were complicit in his actions.]
   Soon after Father Drinan’s 1970 election, the head of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, publicly announced that Father Drinan’s holding,public office went against both the law of the Church and the express wishes of the U.S. bishops.
   It was only after a general order from the Holy see [given early in the Pontificate Of Pope John Paul II] that required all priests to withdraw from politics that Father Drinan announced "with regret and pain that he would not seek re-election for a sixth term. " Father Arrupe said at the time that the 1980 order to resign reflected "the express wish" of Pope John Paul II. ["With regret and pain".  Jesuit spirituality suggests that it should have been a joy for him to obey from the beginning.]
   At the press conference announcing his withdrawal from the race, Father Drinan said his goal in Congress had been to work for justice in America and for peace throughout the world."
   Among Father Drinan’s historic moments in Congress was his July 31, 1973, introduction of the first formal resolution to impeach President Nixon. "The time has arrived when the members of the House must seek to think the unthinkable," he said from the House floor.
   He served on House committees on the Judiciary, Internal Security, and Government Operations and on the House Select Committee on Aging, and chaired the Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice from 1979 to 1981.
   He was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War, and in a 1974 speech to the American Academy of Religion he criticized the churches of the United States for failing to speak out on such political issues as the threat of genocide from nuclear weapons and the danger of worldwide famine.
   Senator John F. Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran for president in 2004, told the Boston Globe that Father Drinan "lived out in public life the whole cloth of Catholic teaching."  [With a few excisions!  Indeed, "out" of whole cloth is just about right.]  Kerry, who served as the priest’s campaign manager during his first election run in 1970, called him "a forever gentle, resilient, tenacious advocate for social justice and fundamental decency. "
   But George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and a syndicated columnist, told Catholic News Service January 29 that Father Drinan’s reputation as a fighter for human rights was tainted by the fact that he was "on the wrong side" of the abortion issue and played "a pivotal role in the transition of  the Democratic Party"from a pro-life party to one that ardently supported keeping abortion legal.
   That role "cannot be ignored in assessing his record in general or the claims made about him as a great advocate of human rights," Weigel said.
   As a legislator in the years following the Roe v. Wade decision, Father Drinan had a near-perfect anti-life voting record and was a vocal supporter of what he passionately termed a woman’s "constitutional right" to abortion, which he considered a separate issue from his "personal opposition" to the practice.
   After leaving congress in 1981, Father Drinan returned to Georgetown, and also became President of Americans for Democratic Action, on whose behalf he urged the moral necessity of electing abortion "rights " candidates to Congress.
   Notably, in 1996, Father Drinan spoke in favor of President Clinton’s veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Act. His celebration of a January 3 Mass at Trinity University in honor of new speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who supports legal  abortion, brought new criticism
   In his Web log or blog for First Things magazine January 19, Father Richard John Neuhaus called him "a Jesuit who, more than any other single figure, has been influential in tutoring Catholic politicians on the acceptability of rejecting the Church’s teaching on the defense of human life."

How would you like that for a legacy? 

A priest friend commented in his parish bulletin about Drinan’s death:

The words of Psalm 55 (54) could serve as his epitaph, harsh. to be sure, but apt: "His speech was smoother than butter, yet war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil. yet they were drawn swords!" Let us pray that he received from God’s mercy, if only at the very last moment, the grace of conversion of heart! 



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  1. Paul Haley says:

    “At the press conference announcing his withdrawal from the race, Father Drinan said his goal in Congress had been to work for justice in America and for peace throughout the world.”

    Justice, that is, except for the unborn. As one born in the state of Massachusetts who left the state in 1962 never to return to live there, I wholeheartedly reject Drinan’s political views and those of his confreres in the Congress. At the same tgime I’m ashamed that none of the Archbishops of Boston never took him to task publicly for his views.

  2. Jordan Potter says:

    God have mercy on him.

    That he remained “a priest in good standing with the Church” throughout all the years that he publicly worked to increase the numbers of unborn babies slaughtered is a grievous scandal. God have mercy on us.

  3. Al says:

    I cannot add anything to the 2 previous posters. A shame to be noted for such things, and to have been left unchastised..

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