Father Robert Drinan under siege.
New allegations dog the former congressman
on his abortion views, both now and in the past.
By Mary Meehan (a writer from Rockville, Md.)
(Reprinted, with permission, from the September 8, 1996, issue of Our Sunday Visitor,
"Father Drinan, you're dead wrong,"
thundered Cardinal John O'Connor of New York in his newspaper column.
The cardinal was one of many Catholics
who attacked Jesuit Father Robert Drinan
over his June 4 column in The New York Times.
The controversy still raged late last month.
In the column, Father Drinan said
Congress should uphold President Clinton's veto
of the bill banning partial-birth abortions.
The priest, a lawyer and former congressman
who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington,
complained that the bill "does not provide an exception for women whose health is at risk."
He also said it
"would allow federal power to intrude into the practice of medicine in an unprecedented way."
Father Drinan's column appeared
as the U.S. bishops urged Congress to override the Clinton veto.
Cardinal O'Connor, in a June 20 column in his archdiocesan paper, Catholic New York,
took strong issue with the Jesuit.
"I am deeply sorry, Father Drinan, but you're wrong, dead wrong,"
Cardinal O'Connor declared,
adding: "You could have raised your formidable voice for life;
you have raised it for death.
Hardly the role of a lawyer.
Surely not the role of a priest."
Meanwhile, the Boston archdiocesan paper, The Pilot
-- circulating in the area Father Drinan represented as a Democrat from 1971 - 1981 --
also blasted the priest's column. A Pilot editorial called it
"shocking, schizophrenic and even scandalous,"
adding that Father Drinan's "moral vision seems to be blind to the right to life.
In response, Father William McLaughlin, a pastor in Hyde Park, Mass.,
defended the Jesuit against what he called "character assassination."
In a subsequent letter to The Pilot, he said that Father Drinan
"was one oft he most conscientious, courageous and honest" persons ever to serve in Congress.
Father Drinan declined an interview request from Our Sunday Visitor
and did not respond to most of the Visitor's written queries.
Meanwhile, members of the Georgetown Ignatian Society,
a group critical of Georgetown University,
petitioned Cardinal James Hickey to revoke Father Drinan's priestly faculties
-- including his authorization to preach and hear confessions --
in the Washington archdiocese.
In a June 21 letter to the cardinal, they cited a canon law provision
calling for punishment of someone who harms public morals,
and said Father Drinan had done so.
Auxiliary Bishop William Lori responded that Church officials
had asked Father Drinan to publish -- in The New York Times and "another publication" --
a correction of his "indefensible" Times column.
The reference to "another publication " may have meant the National Catholic Reporter,
which on May 31 published a column by Father Drinan
supporting the Clinton position on partial-birth abortion.
In that column, the priest said other kinds of late-term abortions
are "statistically less safe" than partial-birth abortion.
After meeting with one or more staff of the U.S. bishops' pro-life secretariat, however,
Father Drinan wrote a letter printed in the Aug. 9 issue of the Reporter
acknowledging that he had "found reasons to doubt this assertion."
But his letter did not withdraw his support of the Clinton veto.
Georgetown Ignatian Society president Ann Sheridan described the letter
as arrogant and in "absolute defiance" of what he was supposed to do.
But Father Drinan has had a defender in Jesuit Father Leo O'Donovan,
president of Georgetown University.
According to the Aug. 24 Washington Times,Father O'Donovan said
his fellow Jesuit "is entitled to his own ideas and has a right to express them
. . . even when his opinions differ from those of other committed Christians and Catholics."
Father Drinan has been involved in the abortion issue for more than 30 years.
In 1968, he warned that abortion, if legalized, might become "the birth control of the poor."
But as a congressman in the 1970s, after the Roe vs. Wade decision,
he voted regularly for public funding of abortion.
He claimed that equal-protection court rulings required public funding
in order to avoid discrimination against the poor.
Father Drinan's congressional papers at Boston College show
that he had cordial relations with Planned Parenthood and other abortion supporters.
He assured them of his opposition to anti-abortion legislation (see enclosure below).
Yet at the same time, while writing to opponents of abortion,
he stressed his moral opposition to abortion.
Sometimes he urged pro-lifers to try to reverse the Roe vs. Wade decision through the courts,
instead of pressing for a constitutional amendment against abortion.
Writing to a fellow Jesuit on Nov. 13, 1974, he remarked that court reversal was
"precisely the route taken during the past several decades by the leaders of the civil-rights movements.
After some 50 years, the blacks of America finally got a decree in 1954
that vindicated total equality for that race."
Meanwhile, Drinan was working quietly behind the scenes to squelch pro-life initiatives.
In a Nov.26, 1974, letter he wrote to a key Planned Parenthood lawyer,
Father Drinan referred to a conference commitee's decision
to drop an anti-abortion amendment to a funding bill:
"I can take at least a little credit for that minor victory over the powers of darkness," he wrote.
In the same letter, found in unprocessed material at the Rockefeller Archive Center in North Tarrytown, N.Y.,
Father Drinan remarked that "the so-called right-to-life movement
attracts an extraordinarily large number of arrogant individuals."
He said that some pro-lifers who had met with him
"became more than a little abusive,
while others in the group made foolish claims
about their alleged power at the polls."
Father Drinan's papers at Boston College contain similar comments.
In a June 19, 1974, letter to a Harvard Divinity School professor,
he said he had recommended the professor's articles to "so -called 'right-to-lifers'" he had met.
Drinan added, "At least one of these individuals will in all probability be able to read them."
About two weeks earlier, one of Father Drinan's interns named Dawn
had written the priest a memo about a woman
who stopped by his congressional office to explain her devastating experience with abortion.
"She wanted you to know her personal history," Dawn wrote in a June 6, 1974, memo,
since the woman felt that "Congress could learn from her experience."
A handwritten note at the bottom of the memo was signed by "Abbot Robert,"
which Father Drinan has acknowledged was his nickname.
Addressed to "Dear Mother Dawn," the note said:
"I hope that you heard her confession."
Referring to the woman's personal history, the note asked,
"Any more interesting details?"
But in a June 7 letter to the woman who had the abortion,
Father Drinan said he shared her "deep concern"
and praised her "activities on behalf of the inviolability of all human life."
A house divided: Drinan vs. Drinan
IN 1974-75, THE ABORTION ISSUE deeply divided Congress,
and Father Robert Drinan, then a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts,
sent very different letters to activists on both sides of the issue.
*TO ABORTION SUPPORTERS, on Jan. 28, 1974, Father Drinan wrote:
"I agree thoroughly with you that the proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution
to forbid abortion is highly undesirable....
I will continue to resist this extraordinarily bad proposal."
*TO ABORTION OPPONENTS, on Jan. 29 1974, he wrote:
"I appreciate your letter and thank you for your deep concern
for the sanctity and inviolability of all human life, including fetal life.
You can be assured that I share the moral sentiments
which you have spelled out in your letter."
*TO ABORTION SUPPORTERS, March 11, 1974:
"I am happy to say that only a very few members of the House of Representatives
have signed the discharge petition which would bring the matter
[an anti-abortion constitutional amendment] to the floor....
It is not very pleasant to have to suggest that...
it appears that a certain small element within the Catholic Church
is seeking to impose its views on the rest of the nation."
*TO OPPONENTS, Feb. 28, 1974:
"although the possibility or feasibility of amending the U.S. Constitution
to provide against abortion remains in doubt at this time,
I know that all of those individuals working for the protection of fetal life
deepen within the mind of Americans
that reverence which all of us should have for human life."
*TO SUPPORTERS, July 8, 1974:
"I am very happy to have your letter
and assure you that I have voted the correct way
on all the foolish [anti-abortion] proposals made by Congressman Angelo Roncallo
and Congressman Harold Froehlich of Wisconsin."
*TO OPPONENTS, June 19, 1974:
"I do hope that everything that is feasible can be done
to protect the sanctity and inviolability of unborn life."
*TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE PLANNED PARENTHOOD LEAGUE OF MASSACHUSETTS, Aug. 5, 1974:
"I feel that hopefully we now have an impetus going in Congress
which will never allow such a motion [an anti-abortion amendment]
to become the law of the land.
I have regularly received excellent information from your organization
and will continue to rely upon you and your associates."
*TO OPPONENTS, Sept 11, 1975:
"Contrary to what your letter states, I have not assumed a pro-abortion position.
It is unfair and unjust for you to make that statement."
--- From the Robert F. Drinan Papers,
Legislative Correspondence, 1974 and 1975 (Abortion)