Father Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest and lawyer who defied directives from Rome to serve for a decade in the US Congress, died on Sunday, January 28, at the age of 86.
The combative Jesuit had been a lightning-rod for controversy throughout his political career. He came to Washington as an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam; later he became one of the most reliable votes in Congress in favor of unrestricted legal abortion.
Most of Drinan’s obituaries will tell you that he was the only priest to be elected to Congress and that he served on the Watergate investigation committee. What they won’t say is that Drinan may have been singlehandedly responsible for the specter of the pro-abortion Catholic politician. Before he arrived in Washington in 1971, just about every Catholic politician was reliably pro-life. Even Mass. Sen. Ted Kennedy, one of the biggest friends Planned Parenthood ever had, was once pro-life, giving eloquent speeches in defense of life that would be indiscernible from anything George W. Bush might say today.
Yet when Drinan came to Washington, he set an example for the Catholic laymen. If a Jesuit priest could be so outspokenly liberal and pro-abortion without any repercussions from his superiors or Rome, then why couldn’t the laymen follow suit? Then they could have the best of both worlds: They could continue to sell themselves as good Catholic boys to the little Italian and Irish grandmothers in Massachusetts while simultaneously appealing to the rising number of pro-abortion liberal voters too.
The Strange Political Career of Father Drinan