Fr. Drinan Retracts Support Of Partial Birth Abortion.
By ANN SHERIDAN
(Reprinted, with permission, from the June 5,
1997, issue of The Wanderer,
which is published weekly by Wanderer Printing Company, 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107. Subscription: $40 per annum.)
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three hundred and forty-two days
after Fr. Robert F. Drinan, S.J., published an article in The New York Times
in which he supported President Clinton's veto of the ban on partial-birth abortion,
the Office of Communications for the Washington, D.C., Archdiocese
issued the following statement:
"On the eve of a key Senate vote on a new bill to ban partial-birth abortion,
Jesuit Fr. Robert F. Drinan has retracted his public statements of last year
in which he had urged Congress to uphold President Clinton's veto of legislation
banning the partial-birth abortion procedure.
"Fr. Drinan's comments in 1996 caused public confusion about Church teaching on abortion,
leading [James] Cardinal Hickey to ask that he clarify his position on abortion.
Fr. Drinan, a former member of Congress who teaches at the Georgetown University Law Center,
issued the following statement on May 12th:"
"Articles that I wrote in The New York Times on June 4th, 1996, and in The National Catholic Reporter on May 31st, 1996,
were used in ways I did not intend. I withdrew those statements
and any statement that could be understood to cast doubt on the Church's firm condemnation of abortion
-- a doctrine that I totally support.
"Moreover, new information about the true nature and widespread use of partial-birth abortion
renders my statements on that issue in 1996 factually incorrect.
"I do not believe that every moral evil should be outlawed.
I do, however, see abortion -- particularly partial-birth abortion --
as a grave evil and can understand why Church leaders are urging lawmakers to ban it.
I do not want anything to impede that effort.
On the contrary, I join in that effort
and stand ready to promote laws and public policies
that aim to protect vulnerable human life from conception until natural death;
I support the Catholic bishops in their efforts
to exercise moral leadership in the fight against abortion."
Why had it taken so long?
Was the inclusion of "I do not believe that every moral evil should be outlawed" necessary,
or was it intended to appease his pro-abortion friends?
In his concern that his words were used in ways he did "not intend,"
had the years of supporting abortion legislation rendered him unable
to realize that the statement was going to be used against him?
Why was there no trace of a genuine mea culpa until the last three sentences
-- and had those closing remarks been dictated to him by the Vatican?
Immediately after The New York Times article appeared,
the Georgetown Ignatian Society wrote to Fr. Drinan,
stating that "our concern encompasses . . . the scandal . . .
and the resultant danger in which it places those Catholics
who look to priests for guidance in moral matters."
The letter was not acknowledged.
Several Jesuits also wrote to Fr. Drinan
to protest his support of partial-birth abortion.
On June 21st, the Georgetown Ignatian Society petitioned James Cardinal Hickey
(under canon 1369 of the Code of Canon Law)
to remove Fr. Drinan's priestly faculties in the Washington Archdiocese
if an immediate retraction were not forthcoming.
The petition read, in part:
"Fr. Drinan's statements are directly, publicly, and defiantly counter
to the unequivocal position taken by His Holiness, the American cardinals,
and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
His identifying himself as a Jesuit priest
and, by implication, claiming to represent the teachings of the Church
are not only infamous actions, they incite contempt and ridicule for those teachings."
Washington Auxiliary Bishop William E. Lori responded on behalf of Cardinal Hickey on July 15th.
"As soon as that article was published, Fr. Drinan was asked by appropriate Church officials
to publish an article which corrects his indefensible article of June 4th.
The new article is to be submitted to The New York Times and another publication.
In the event that those publications refuse to publish Fr .Drinan's corrective article,
the bishops' conference will ask to circulate it.
"If the corrective column is judged by Church officials not to be adequate,
the situation will be reviewed. In addition, contact about this matter has been made
with Fr. Drinan's provincial, Fr. William A. Barry of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus."
The Georgetown Ignatian Society responded on July 18th
and suggested that if The New York Times refused to print a retraction,
that either Fr. Drinan or the New England Province be instructed
to buy the appropriate amount of space in the newspaper
to ensure that the same readership which had seen the original article would see the retraction.
During this time, Dr. James Hitchcock published an article in The Catholic World Report
("The Strange Political Career of Fr. Drinan" -- July, 1996),
in which he documented Drinan's long history of supporting abortion
while a member of Congress from Massachusetts.
On July 23rd, the Georgetown Ignatian Society again wrote to Cardinal Hickey
and thanked him for the statement Bishop Lori had conveyed about the efforts
to bring Fr. Drinan into line with Church teaching
and sent a copy of the Hitchcock article.
Two days later, the Georgetown Ignatian Society sent a letter
to the Jesuit superior general, Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, in Rome,
asking him to intervene in the Drinan matter.
It said, in part:
"Please do not allow yourself to be misled by certain factions within the Society of Jesus
who would have you believe that these scandals are going to disappear with time.
They are not and their resolution is fast moving beyond your administrative ability to control."
Fr. Kolvenbach responded on August 9th, saying that
"much of this had already reached me from other sources.
Certainly going against the Church's teaching on abortion...is not acceptable.
I will be looking into the matter."
In his archdiocesan paper Catholic New York, John Cardinal O'Connor wrote:
"I am deeply sorry, Fr. Drinan, but you are wrong, dead wrong.
You could have raised your voice for life; you raised it for death.
Hardly the role of a lawyer. Surely not the role of a priest."
Bishop James T. McHugh of Camden N.J. cited a law review article Fr. Drinan wrote in 1965
in which he argued that "unborn children are human beings with a right to life
over which no one else's health or happiness may take precedence."
Bishop McHugh then pointed out that over the years
"as a Democratic member of Congress and defender of the prevailing position in his party,
Fr. Drinan has retreated from his early writing
and attempted time and again to justify legal acceptance of abortion....
I believe that Fr. Drinan -- as a Catholic priest and a member of Congress --
did great harm to the efforts of the Catholic Church
to build support for the un-born child's right to life."
Ever the lawyer and too infrequently the priest,
Fr. Drinan published a statement in the August 9th issue of The National Catholic Reporter
in which he admitted to an interpretative error he made in a May 31st NCR article
regarding the risk factors involved in the dilation and extraction method
as opposed to the dilation and evacuation method.
In no quarters was this considered to be a retraction.
On August I5th, the Georgetown Ignatian Society wrote to Fr. Barry,
assuring him of its intention to see the Drinan matter through to its public conclusion.
"Your silence, compounded by the collusion of the New England Province
in allowing him [Fr. Drinan] to continue to use his position as a priest to defile Church doctrine
amounts to essential cooperation with his evil
and renders you equally guilty in furthering this carnage.
Loyalty to the Society of Jesus, Fr. Barry, while admirable in the abstract,
does not take precedence over your required loyalty to the teachings of the Magisterium.
If you cannot accept that, you are sailing under false colors."
Fr. Barry did not respond.
His Own Ideas
The Georgetown Ignatian Society submitted published material and copies of the preceding correspondence to The Washington Times.
The newspaper then published an article on August 24th in which Fr. Drinan,
in a telephone interview with reporter Shannon Young, said:
"My position is unchanged."
Georgetown University's president, Fr. Leo O'Donovan, S.J., was quoted in the article as having told an alumnus:
"Like any faculty member he [Fr. Drinan] is entitled to his own ideas
and has a right to express them, even in regard to controversies,
and even when his opinions differ from those of other committed Christians and Catholics."
Fr. O'Donovan was not available to The Washington Times for comment.
On August 30th, Fr. Barry issued a press release relative to The New York Times and NCR articles.
Some found it to be less than condemning:
"Without intending to cause scandal, these articles have scandalized many people,
Catholics as well as non-Catholics,
because they seem to support the position of those who favor abortion on demand."
Fr. Barry then quoted from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (1995)
which listed abortion as part of the "culture of death" along with other evils,
such as ". . . suicide and euthanasia; war, terrorism, violence, and capital punishment as ways of resolving issues;
the consumption of drugs; turning away from the human drama of hunger, AIDS, and poverty."
According to Fr. Barry, Fr. Drinan subscribes to that statement.
The final paragraph of the press release states that:
"since it may appear, by my silence on the issue,
that the Society of Jesus supports Fr. Drinan's position.
I want to say publicly, as his religious superior,
that I disagree with Fr. Drinan in this case
and have told him so.''
A Letter To Planned Parenthood
Eighty-seven days had now passed
since the New York Times article
and still no retraction from Fr. Drinan.
On Sept. 8th, five days before the American cardinals were to meet on the steps of the Capitol
in an effort to encourage the Senate to override Clinton's veto,
the Georgetown Ignatian Society wrote a letter to Cardinal Hickey
in which it "respectfully submitted" that His Eminence was faced with three immediate alternatives"
On the same day, Our Sunday Visitor published an article by Mary Meehan
in which she documented the story up to that time
and quoted Fr. Drinan's statements in 1974 and 1975
in which he played to both camps.
He wrote to abortion opponents that "I do hope that everything that is feasible can be done
to protect the sanctity and inviolability of unborn life,"
while to abortion supporters, he wrote:
"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."
Meehan also quoted a letter that Fr. Drinan wrote to the president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusstts:
"I have regularly received excellent information from your organization and will continue to rely upon you and your associates."
The Senate did not override Clinton's veto.
On Sept. 10th, the Georgetown Ignatian Society responded to Fr. Kolvenbach's letter
and told him that:
"it is time you yourself take responsibility for this scandal
for it is precisely at your desk where the responsibility lies.
You are not served by the advice of those who have successfully made decisions for you
which are, jurisdictionally, yours to make.
We trust you realize . . . the ensuing publicity will be extremely adverse to you,
Fr. Drinan, and the Society of Jesus."
The Georgetown Ignatian Society again wrote to Cardinal Hickey on Nov. 11th,
reminding him that it had been five months since it petitioned him
to deal with Fr. Drinan. In an interview by Raymond Arroyo on EWTN,
His Eminence said:
"I'm hoping he [Drinan] will, of himself,
respond to the invitation of his Jesuit superiors;
but it's my job to see that Catholic teaching is rightly done in the archdiocese.
If that isn't being done, then I have to take the necessary measures.
Just what those are, I would hope I would not have to use them."
Bishop Lori responded on Nov. 21st:
"Since I last wrote you, Cardinal Hickey has been in active conversation with Fr. Drinan's superiors
as well as with Fr. Drinan himself. Another meeting is scheduled in the near future.
"While I am not at liberty nor under any obligation to share with you the content of those meetings,
I can assure you that Cardinal Hickey is addressing the substantive issue with utmost seriousness."
One hundred and fifty-nine days had elapsed since Cardinal Hickey had been petitioned
to remove Fr. Drinan's priestly faculties in the Washington Archdiocese.
The Georgetown Ignatian Society wrote to Cardinal Hickey on Jan. 4th,
its final letter on the Drinan matter, reminding him that seven months had passed since the petition.
It stated, in part, that:
"the Drinan scandal should have been publicly addressed within 48 hours of the New York Times article....
Your silence is deemed to be part of his success. Qui potest et debet vetare, tacens, iubet
(He who can and ought to forbid, and is silent, orders or commands.)
"The Georgetown Ignatian Society will not attempt to do what you should have done.
We have sought to discuss this with you personally but to no avail,
and although we accept that Bishop Lori is not the final power in this archdiocese,
repeated requests to meet also with His Excellency were never honored.
Your name will regrettably be an integral part of the forthcoming news.
This is an unfortunate way to begin the year,
but to paraphrase your dismissive remark during the NCCB conference
that it was 'neither the time nor place to discuss Fr. Drinan,'
the time and place of your choosing has come and gone."
In the absence of a reply, a final letter to Bishop Lori was sent on Jan. 28th.
"As His Eminence has charged you with the responsibility of acknowledging our correspondence,
we will now address you -- on this the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas --
not as a parishioner to a bishop, but plainly and straightforwardly
as one adult Catholic to another.
In so doing, we will put aside the cardinal's demonstrated need to keep a pastoral distance.
As Catholics, we are equals and should be working for the same goals.
"By any standards it is not unreasonable to expect the spokesmen for this archdiocese
to act with speed and alacrity in stopping the spread of scandal.
Irrespective of your written statements that you are not required to divulge to us
what is being done in this matter, seven months is an unconscionable length of time
for this to not have been settled.... His Eminence and you as his ordained spokesman
are charged to protect the truth of Catholic teaching from heresy.
You work for us. We are not supposed to be doing your work for you.
Surely to God, both literally and figuratively, you both should have learned by this time
that refusing to act can only heighten the concerns of Catholics.
"It is exactly that reluctance to act and go public
which brings the competency of your stewardships into question."
During the months when the Archdiocese of Washington and various Jesuit officials
were being urged to settle the matter, Fr. Drinan continued to teach at the Georgetown University Law Center;
occasionally said Mass at St. Joseph's up on Capitol Hill
where he refused to acknowledge pro-life petitions offered by parishioners during the Mass
(Cardinal Hickey had been apprised of this);
and remarked openly that no ecclesial authority was going to govern him.
A Long Scandal
On March 25th, 286 days after submitting the petition to Cardinal Hickey across town,
the Georgetown Ignatian Society accepted the reality that His Eminence, for whatever reason,
was not effectively resolving the matter. It forwarded the accumulated correspondence
to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This decision was based on the hope that the Jesuits' unique fourth vow of obedience to the Pope
could be used as leverage. The letter concluded:
"Because the Jesuit Order at its highest levels has failed to deal with the scandal of Fr. Drinan,
we bring these concerns to Your Eminence."
Forty-seven days later, the Washington Archdiocese published Fr. Drinan's retraction.
Copies were disseminated to the Hill.
The Georgetown Ignatian Society issued a press release
in which it expressed ". . . its appreciation to those who took an active role
in dealing with the scandal of this Jesuit priest's long history of abortion advocacy,
including the ten years he served, as a Jesuit, in the United States Congress."