By Fr. George Welzbacher
February 25, 2007
If you're looking for an example of how great a force for good just one single saint can be, particularly when that saint's holiness is linked to high office, one need look no further than to the history-making pontificate of Pope John Paul the Great. God alone knows how many souls will rejoice forever in the Kingdom of Heaven thanks at least in part to the inspiring force of that pope's fearless faith, Christ-like warmth, and indomitable zeal, and to the stirring challenge to heroic greatness that he offered especially to the young. One genuinely holy man--or one holy woman: witness Mother Theresa!--can indeed make a difference, a difference that is immense.
But to a saint's contribution to the triumph of good there is often a counterpart in the world of evil. The blood-drenched century to which we recently said goodbye offered instance after instance of catastrophic devastation that sprang directly from the obsessions of a single evil man. A case in point, and one on which we offered comment last week, is the highly effective calamitous campaign waged over the course of many a year by Jesuit priest-professor and five-terrn U. S. congressman Robert Drinan to persuade a host of American Catholics elected to political office to judge support for abortion as in no way in conflict with the Catholic faith, in total contempt for such fearful admonitions as that given by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (3:17): "He who destroys the temple of God-- and that temple you are--him will God destroy!" To the magnitude of the evil to which this priestly Pied Piper gave years of passionate service unrebuked by his Jesuit superiors, more than forty million "missing Americans" now offer ghostly witness.
Of the legacy left behind by this rebel against Christ's Church and against the fundamental dictates of the natural law may I share with you a supplementary appraisal taken from an excellent newspaper, The Catholic Times, the official publication of the Diocese of La Crosse. Its editor, Dan Rossini, is the son of Dante and Mary Rossini of our parish. The obituary essay was composed by members of the paper's staff with contributions from Catholic News Service. It appeared in The edition of February 8. 1 reprint it here in full.
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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.
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.
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." [Well, maybe with afew excisions! And, come to think of it, is the Senator here in his choice of words perhaps ringing the changes on a hallowed phrase? I think, Senator, we catch your drift! "Out" of "whole cloth?" Yessirree!] 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."
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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!