Georgetown has its fair share of legends and heroes. Some of the legends are true; some of the heroes are real. One of them entered my life before I had ever heard of Georgetown.
In 1974 I was an eighth-grader in Tempe, AZ. The Watergate hearings were underway, and my family was regularly glued to the TV. I remember one afternoon of that year with particular clarity. I was sitting at the dining room table doing my social studies homework. My mom was in the kitchen making dinner. Both of us could see and hear the TV.
It was a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. They were voting on something related to Watergate. The camera moved from one congressman to another. "Aye," said many. "No," said some. Then, the camera settled on a congressman wearing a Roman collar. Sure enough, a Catholic priest. I couldn't believe it.
"Mom," I said, "who's that?" She looked up. "Father Drinan. He's from Massachusetts. He's a Jesuit. We love him."
"We," it turns out, was not just my mom and I, but our whole clan and clans like ours: Irish Catholic folks whose roots run through the factories and mills of New England. I wasn't exactly sure what a Jesuit was, but I knew from my mom's tone of voice that Drinan was one of us, and then some.
He was a Jesuit priest and a Democrat. His example led me to think for the first time of becoming a Jesuit and coming to Washington. I was 13. He was instantly my hero. Thirty years later, he still is. Father Drinan was minding his own business in 1970, doing his job as the dean of the law school at Boston College, when he was approached by some folks who were concerned that their congressman wasn't doing enough to oppose the Vietnam War. They wanted Drinan to run against him.
Long story made short: Drinan ran and won. Five times.
Drinan's career in Congress is a matter of public record. It's a record that has been assailed by some. "Un-Catholic," they rail, with the smug certitude of Pharisees in every age.
Never mind that an honest accounting based on a papal scorecard of issues could similarly be used to consign many of Drinan's modern detractors to the ranks of the "un-Catholic."
Capital punishment. The war in Iraq. Human rights. The plight of refugees, migrant workers and the uninsured. Stewardship of the environment. Workers' rights, including the right to unionize and to earn a living wage. The teachings of John Paul II are as clear on these issues as they are on any other. Many of Drinan's detractors, thumping their chests as they profess their papal allegiance, find it easy to brush aside such inconvenient papal teachings.
But, for me, Father Drinan is a whole lot more than a former Congressman or a voting record.
I first met him in 1986 when I was a Jesuit novice. I was visiting Georgetown for a weekend. I walked into the old Jesuit residence at about 10 o'clock one night, and there he was, drinking a beer and eating a bologna sandwich.
"Hi, I'm Bob Drinan." We spent the next 15 minutes or so talking about me and my experience as a novice. He was genuinely interested, and I was so flummoxed at being in the presence of the man who had been a hero of mine since grade school, that I couldn't summon the courage or presence of mind to ask him about himself.
He finished his sandwich and went to bed.
Fifteen years later, I returned to Georgetown as a priest and a dean. Bob Drinan was still here, living in the Jesuit residence, teaching at the Georgetown Law Center, as he still does at age 83.
Slowly, we got to know and like one another. I think my bred-in-the-bone love of the Roman Catholic Church and my dyed-in-the-wool allegiance to Democratic politics has assured him that the torch has indeed been passed to a new generation.
Last summer, on the feast of St. Ignatius, the Georgetown Jesuits gathered in Dahlgren Chapel to celebrate Mass. As we were vesting in the sacristy, I found myself standing next to Drinan. He leaned over to me and quietly asked, "Know what I did 30 years ago today?" There was a bright Irish twinkle in his eye. "No, Bob. What?"
"Thirty years ago today I introduced the first measure in the House calling for Nixon's impeachment."
I wanted to stop everything and ask him to tell me the whole story, every detail. I was bursting with curiosity and pride. But we couldn't stop. We had to celebrate Mass, my brother and I.
Some Georgetown legends are true, and some Georgetown heroes are real.
Father Ryan Maher, S.J. (CAS '82) is an associate dean for the College. "As This Jesuit Sees It É" appears every other Friday.
4 February 2004
Rev. Ryan Maher, S.J.
Washington, D.C. 20057
Dear Fr. Maher:
After reading your hymn of praise to Fr. Drinan ("The Man Behind the Legend" The HOYA) in which you referred to those who do not share your adulation as chest thumping "un-Catholics," who "rail with the smug certitude of Pharisees," allow me to paraphrase Shakespeare: "Me thinks thou doth protest too much."
Irrespective of Fr. Drinan's history as a politician, his legacy as a Jesuit priest is his publicly documented support of abortion, a fact you failed to address while listing his concerns for human rights, the plight of refugees, migrant workers and the uninsured, the environment, and other political issues. Do you think this agenda somehow exempted him from upholding the teachings of his primary employer, The Catholic Church, and, because he was a Member of Congress, he was allowed to disobey the rules set down in his job description as a priest?
May I suggest the next time you stand in awe in his presence, you muster enough theological courage to ask him about his published statement supporting Clinton's veto of the ban on partial birth abortion; about his support for the funding of the student pro-abortion group "G.U. Choice"; and about the Canon Court proceedings the Ignatian Society (1) Brought against Georgetown, which ultimately forced the University to stop funding "G.U. Choice" and (2) The petition under Canon 1369, which the Ignatian Society filed to Cardinal Ratzinger, the outcome of which was that Fr. Drinan was forced publicly to retract his support of Clinton's veto. I also suggest you ask him if, as a consequence of that petition, he has been canonically silenced in the matter of abortion.
Fr. Drinan's "voice" is the voice of a priest and gives authority to his statements, a fact he is required to know. He is also required to know that abortion is a mortal sin and his support for the act amounted to aiding and abetting both those who sought the procedure and those who performed it, ergo his actions were seen as representing a Catholic position, which made him an accessory to scandal before and after the fact. If this history makes him a "hero" in your estimation, be careful, Fr. Maher: "We are known by our heroes." Even though you are employed by a University that continues to use aborted fetuses for research, there comes a time when we will all face our God and when that happens, we don't get a plea bargain: Our record stands.
With every prayer that you will avail yourself of the Holy Spirit and do a comprehensive analysis of your spiritual priorities while you're proclaiming your political and social priorities, I remain,
Yours in Christ and for the Innocents,
President, The Georgetown Ignatian Society
"Not to Oppose error is to Approve it. Not to Defend Truth is to Suppress it." Pope St. Felix III
To the Editor:
After reading Fr. Maher's hymn of praise to Fr. Drinan ["The Man Behind the Legend, 30 Years Later," The HOYA, Fri., Jan, 30, 2004, p 3], in which he called him a "hero" and referred to those who do not share his adulation, as chest-thumping "un-Catholics," who "rail with the smug certitude of Pharisees," I would remind Fr. Maher that "We are known by our heroes."
Fr. Drinan's legacy as a Jesuit priest is rife with his publicly documented support of abortion, a fact Fr. Maher dismissed while praising him as a politician who cared for "human rights, the plight of refugees, migrant workers and the uninsured, the environment," none of which exempted Fr. Drinan from upholding the teachings of his primary employer, the Catholic Church, nor was he allowed to disobey the rules set down in his job description as a priest when he became a member of Congress.
What Fr. Maher did not address: Fr. Drinan's published statement agreeing with Clinton's veto of the ban on "partial birth" abortion; his support for the student pro-abortion group "G.U. Choice"; The Canon Court proceedings the Ignatian Society brought against Georgetown which ultimately forced the university to stop funding "G.U. Choice"; The petition under Canon 1369 the Ignatian Society filed to Cardinal Ratzinger, resulting in Fr. Drinan being forced to publicly retract his support of Clinton's veto.
Fr. Drinan is required to know that abortion is a mortal sin. He is also required to know that his "voice" as a Catholic priest gives authority to his statements. His abortion rights advocacy position was interpreted by many who both sought the procedure and performed it, as representing a "Catholic" position, thereby making him an accessory to scandal before and after the fact.
In closing, I would also remind Fr. Maher: "Not to oppose error is to approve it. Not to defend truth is to suppress it." Pope St. Felix III
President, The Georgetown Ignatian Society
Feb. 4, 2004