Robert Drinan: Wikis


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Robert Drinan

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 3rd & 4th district
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1981
Preceded by Philip J. Philbin (3rd)
Harold Donohue (4th)
Succeeded by Harold Donohue (3rd)
Barney Frank (4th)

Born November 15, 1920(1920-11-15)
Boston, Massachusetts
Died January 28, 2007 (aged 86)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Profession Priest, legislator, professor
Religion Roman Catholic

Robert Frederick Drinan, S.J. (November 15, 1920 – January 28, 2007) was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, lawyer, human rights activist, and Democratic U.S. Representative from Massachusetts. He was also a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center for the last twenty-six years of his life.


Education and legal career

Drinan grew up in Hyde Park, Massachusetts and graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1938. He received a B.A. and an M.A. from Boston College in 1942 and joined the Jesuit Order the same year; he was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1953. He received an LL.M. and LL.B. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1950, and a doctorate in theology from Gregorian University in Rome in 1954, in addition to receiving 21 honorary degrees throughout his life.

He studied in Florence for two years before returning to Boston, where he was admitted to the bar in 1956. He served as dean of the Boston College Law School from 1956 until 1970, during which time he also taught as a professor of family law and church-state relations. During this period he was also a visiting professor at other schools including the University of Texas School of Law, and served on several Massachusetts state commissions convened to study legal issues such as judicial salaries and lawyer conflicts of interest.

Society of Jesus

History of the Jesuits
Regimini militantis

Jesuit Hierarchy
Superior General
Adolfo Nicolás

Ignatian Spirituality
Spiritual Exercises
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam

Famous Jesuits
St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Francis Xavier
Blessed Peter Faber
St. Aloysius Gonzaga
St. Robert Bellarmine
St. Peter Canisius
St. Edmund Campion

Service in Congress

In 1970, Drinan sought a seat in Congress on an anti-Vietnam War platform, narrowly defeating longtime Representative Philip J. Philbin, who was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in the Democratic primary. Drinan went on to win election to the House of Representatives, and was re-elected four times, serving from 1971 until 1981. He was the first of two Roman Catholic priests (the other being Robert John Cornell of Wisconsin) to serve as a voting member of Congress.[1][2] Drinan sat on various House committees, and served as the chair of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice of the House Judiciary Committee. He was also a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention.

Drinan was the first member of Congress, in July 1973, to introduce a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, though not for the Watergate Scandal that ultimately ended Nixon's presidency. Drinan believed that Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia was illegal, and as such, constituted a "high crime and misdemeanor". However, the Judiciary Committee voted 21 to 12 against including that charge among the articles of impeachment that were eventually approved and reported out to the full House of Representatives. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Drinan played an integral role in the Congressional investigation of Nixon Administration misdeeds and crimes.

Drinan's consistent support of abortion rights drew significant opposition from Church leaders throughout his political career, who had also repeatedly requested that he not hold political office in the first place.[1][3] Drinan attempted to reconcile his position with official Church doctrine by stating that while he was personally opposed to abortion, considering it "virtual infanticide,"[4] its legality was a separate issue from its morality. This argument failed to satisfy his critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, Drinan played a key role in the pro-choice platform becoming a common stance with politicians in the Kennedy family.[5]

In 1980, Pope John Paul II unequivocally demanded that all priests withdraw from electoral politics. Drinan complied and did not seek reelection.[1] "'It is just unthinkable,' he said of the idea of renouncing the priesthood to stay in office. 'I am proud and honored to be a priest and a Jesuit. As a person of faith I must believe that there is work for me to do which somehow will be more important than the work I am required to leave.'"[6]

Following his death, members of Congress honored Drinan's memory with a moment of silence on the House floor on January 29, 2007.

Teaching, writing, and later life

Drinan taught at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. from 1981 to 2007, where his academic work and classes focused on legal ethics and international human rights. He privately sponsored human rights missions to countries such as Chile, the Philippines, El Salvador, and Vietnam. In 1987, he founded the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics. He regularly contributed to law reviews and journals, and authored several books, including The Mobilization of Shame: A World View of Human Rights, published by Yale University Press in 2001.

Drinan continued to be a vocal supporter of abortion rights, much to the ire of the Catholic Church, and notably spoke out in support of President Bill Clinton's veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1996.[7] In his weekly column for the Catholic New York,[8] John O'Connor sharply denounced Drinan. "You could have raised your voice for life; you raised it for death," the cardinal wrote, "Hardly the role of a lawyer. Surely not the role of a priest." In 1997, Drinan publicly retracted his opposition to a legal ban on late-term abortion.[citation needed]

Drinan died of pneumonia and congestive heart failure on January 28, 2007 in Washington, D.C.[9]

Associations and awards

Drinan served as a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates until his death and was chair of the ABA Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities. In 2004, Drinan received the ABA Medal, the organization's highest honor for distinguished service in law. On May 10, 2006, Drinan was presented the Distinguished Service Award by then Speaker Dennis Hastert and then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on behalf of the House of Representatives.

Drinan served on the Board of Directors of People for the American Way, the International League for Human Rights, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the International Labor Rights Fund, Americans for Democratic Action, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. For many years he was chairman on PeacePAC, a division of Council for a Livable World, and a Director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.


  1. ^ a b c Nancy Frazier O'Brien; Catholic News Service; February 2, 2007; Page 4; The Compass (official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay)
  2. ^ Father Gabriel Richard served from 1823 to 1825 as a non-voting delegate from the Michigan Territory. Father Robert J. Cornell, a Norbertine priest, became the second Roman Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress as a Representative from Wisconsin, 1975–1979.
  3. ^ Hitchcock, James (July 1, 1996). "The Strange Political Career of Father Drinan". Catholic World News. Retrieved 2007-02-03. 
  4. ^ "New Chair For Drinan Draws Ire", The Hoya, October 27, 2006.
  5. ^ Anne Hendershott (2 January 2009). "How Support for Abortion Became Kennedy Dogma". The Wall Street Journal. 
  6. ^ Mark Feeney (January 28, 2007). "Rev. Drinan, first priest elected as voting member of Congress, dies". The Boston Globe. 
  7. ^ Drinan, Robert F. (June 4, 1996). "Posturing on Abortion". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  8. ^ "Catholic New York (June 20, 1996)"
  9. ^ "Friends and Students Remember Jesuit Pioneer". Georgetown University. 5 February 2007. 

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Philip J. Philbin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 3rd congressional district

January 3, 1971–January 3, 1973
Succeeded by
Harold Donohue
Preceded by
Harold Donohue
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 4th congressional district

January 3, 1973–January 3, 1981
Succeeded by
Barney Frank


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