The Strange Political Career of Father Drinan.
When he wrote to applaud President Clinton's veto of a ban on partial-birth abortions,
a controversial Jesuit priest was clearly out of step with the thinking of the Catholic Church.
But his behavior was perfectly consistent with an ideological pattern
that first became obvious when he ran for Congress
in direct defiance of orders from Rome.
By James Hitchcock (a historian at St.
and a founder of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.)
(Reprinted, with permission, from the July 1996
issue of The Catholic World
which is published monthly except bimonthly Aug./Sept. by Ignatius Press, 2515 McAlister Street, San Francisco, CA 94118. Subscription: $29.95 per annum.)
In the summer of 1992 a Jesuit graduate student at Harvard, Paul Mankowski,
completed the background research for an article
on the relation of the Society of Jesus to the congressional candidacy of Robert Drinan,
with a particular focus on Drinan's voting record on abortion.
With the knowledge and consent of the New England Province archivist,
Father Mankowski made photocopies of the correspondence and office memos pertinent to the issue.
For various reasons Mankowski subsequently decided not to write an article.
However, he then sought the opinion of a professional historian, James Hitchcock,
in determining how the various documents could be of use for the historical record;
he provided Hitchcock with a copy of the correspondence for that purpose.
With the re-emergence of Father Drinan as a political player in the abortion debate,
the documentation now has a new timeliness.
In the United States even many liberal Catholics support Church teaching about abortion.
This spring, when Congress passed a bill outlawing partial-birth abortions,
the leftist National Catholic Reporter sharply criticized President Bill Clinton for vetoing the bill.
A journalist who normally supports Clinton unwaveringly, Mary McGrory,
reported having attended a gathering of liberal Catholics who were outraged at the President's action,
which was condemned in the strongest terms by the Holy See and by the leaders of the American hierarchy.
It was therefore shocking to many people that one of the President's strongest defenders was a Jesuit priest, Father Robert Drinan,
who published articles in both the Reporter and the New York Times attacking the bill
and praising the President for having vetoed it.
In both articles he accepted at face value the claim - refuted by knowledgeable people -
that the brutal "dilation and extraction" method is sometimes medically necessary.
He also demanded that Congress include an exception to allow the use of the partial-birth procedure
if a doctor deemed it necessary to preserve the "health" of the mother
- a vague phrase which pro-lifers long ago realized could be used to justify practically any abortion.
Drinan also attacked the bill as a mere political weapon to be used against the President,
and in his Reporter article twice urged that the bill be rejected
because it is likely to help Republicans in this year's presidential campaign.
All in all, the column was as blatantly partisan an argument as it would be possible to find.
Such open partisanship is unusual among American priests,
but it was not surprising in view of the fact that Father Drinan himself for ten years (1971-81) served in Congress, as a Democrat,
and that while there was perhaps the single most reliable supporter of abortion "rights."
His public espousal of that issue this year recalls the unusual circumstances of his congressional service.
On January 25, 1970 - at a time when Father Drinan was planning his first campaign for a seat in Congress -
the BBC television network broadcast an interview of Father Pedro Arrupe, conducted by Malcolm Muggeridge.
The text of that interview was published in Letters and Notices,
an internal publication of the British Province of the Society of Jesus.
Muggeridge: As I understand it, Jesuits traditionally have mixed themselves up in politics,
in the struggle for power that's going on. For instance, they used to hear confessions of important people.
Well, I don't suppose you will be able to hear [Prime Minister] Harold Wilson's confession,
though it might be rather interesting and take quite a long time.
Arrupe: We never go into politics, never; politics as such.
It is true we try, for instance today, in the whole question of international justice,
to help the underdeveloped countries and so forth.
We are for truth, for justice. If you call politics this high idea of justice, fine.
But if you speak of politics in the sense of parties, or working for governments,
we are completely out of this.
A simple order - Do not run
In 1970 Drinan was a well-known priest-lawyer and an official of Boston College.
Ironically, in view of his present support of late-term abortions,
he once proposed that abortion be legal during the first six months of pregnancy,
after which point he proposed that it be treated simply as homicide.
In February 1970, Father Pedro Arrupe, the Father General of the Jesuits worldwide,
queried the provincial of the New England Province, Father William G. Guindon,
concerning a rumor that Drinan was planning to run for Congress.
Arrupe had recently delivered a speech in Spain in which he had urged Jesuits to become socially involved,
but also forbade partisan political activity. Citing his own speech, Arrupe warned Guindon
that Jesuits could not endorse the actions of any political party.
The warning was especially significant because Arrupe was generally viewed
both by Jesuits and others
as a highly "progressive" man who was moving the Society in new directions.
About a week after Arrupe's warning, Drinan informed Guindon
that he would indeed seek the Democratic nomination for Congress from a suburban Boston district
and, in a curious twist, cited Arrupe's speech in Spain as his warrant for doing so.
Although Guindon knew at that point how Arrupe intended that his speech should be understood,
he evidently did not inform Drinan that he had misinterpreted it.
After Drinan's candidacy was publicly announced, Arrupe on February 25 cabled Guindon,
saying flatly that Drinan could not run for office, and if elected could not serve.
With Guindon out of the country, another New England Province official, Father Paul T. Lucey,
replied with a cable asking Arrupe to withhold all public comment
until he received word from New England officials.
While Guindon was out of the country, Drinan telephoned the provincial's office
and dictated to Lucey the draft of a letter to be sent to Arrupe.
Whether that letter was ever sent is not clear,
but it is illustrative of the thinking of both Drinan and his superiors at the time.
Lucey responded to Arrupe by saying that the General's query about Drinan was surprising,
because Drinan had Guindon's full support and his candidacy was fully in keeping
with the official commitments of the Society.
Lucey went on to say that Guindon regarded Arrupe's letter of warning as a mere suggestion
and that Lucey had told the press that no special permission was needed for Drinan's candidacy.
A reversal of that announcement would be a rebuke to Guindon, Lucey argued,
and would also be unfair to Drinan.
The order is rejected
Although Drinan sought to become the candidate of the Democratic Party,
Lucey assured Arrupe that the priest would not be affiliated with any political party in a negative sense.
He was not being nominated or endorsed by a political party, Lucey claimed,
but merely by a group of citizens.
Warming to a theme which American Jesuit leaders would adhere to over the next decade,
Lucey again told Arrupe that he had kept the General's query confidential
because he thought that disclosure of its contents would have severe negative consequences
for the Jesuits and for the Church in America.
Although the Jesuit order traditionally laid great stress on obedience,
even to the point of urging Jesuits to follow superiors' wishes as well as their formal commands,
Father Lucey now told Arrupe that he was refusing to act on the latter's letter
because such action would violate Drinan's rights.
He even accused Arrupe of failing to understand his own speech about Jesuit involvement in political life.
Drinan himself contacted Guindon, predicted that a scandal damaging to the Catholic Church would result
if he were forced to withdraw his candidacy, and asserted that no serious argument against that candidacy
had been advanced by anyone. If Arrupe attempted to enforce his policy, he argued,
it would provoke a crisis of authority among American Jesuits.
Guindon subsequently met with Drinan and told him that it was the consensus of New England Jesuit officials
that he should continue his campaign for Congress. It was also their consensus
that public knowledge of Arrupe's position would create a scandal
damaging to the interests of the Church and the Jesuits.
In March, Guindon was in Rome and met with Arrupe,
who summarized their conference by telling Guindon
that the provincial had the responsibility to develop a plan
whereby Drinan would withdraw from the congressional race,
since his candidacy was contrary to the official policies of the Society.
Assuring Guindon that he understood the reasons for the candidacy,
the General nonetheless ruled that they were not sufficient to outweigh Jesuit policy.
The bishops circumvented
In April the issue took an unexpected twist
when Guindon denied the request of Father John McLaughlin, another Jesuit priest of the New England Province,
to become a Republican candidate for the Senate from Rhode Island.
Guindon specifically cited Arrupe's wishes and the policies of the Society forbidding the candidacy,
and urged McLaughlin to show loyalty toward Arrupe,
even as he himself facilitated Drinan's candidacy.
A few days later, after receiving a reminder from Rome to reply to Arrupe's order,
Guindon told a member of Arrupe's staff that he had delayed doing so
because for the first time in his life as a Jesuit he sensed a real conflict between conscience and authority.
Affirming his obedience to Arrupe, Guindon nonetheless told the General
that he found himself in a quandary of having to choose between that obedience and his own conscientious judgment.
Drinan's candidacy seemed to him such a good thing for the Church in America
that decisively outweighed Arrupe's command to the contrary.
At the end of April, however, Arrupe again told Guindon
that no Jesuit could run for public office without the General's express permission.
In addition to the permission of his Jesuit superiors,
Church law also required that a priest in Drinan's situation receive the permission of the bishops in whose dioceses he was working.
At the beginning of his candidacy Drinan told his Jesuit superiors
that he had received informal assurances of approval
from the Archdiocese of Boston and from the Diocese of Worcester,
and the New England Province had forwarded this claim to Rome.
However, Arrupe now queried the two bishops
and reported to Guindon that he had received letters
from Cardinal Richard J. Cushing of Boston and Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan of Worcester
stating that their permission had never been sought and thus had never been granted.
Jesuit headquarters then pointed out to Guindon that canon law requires
a priest in Drinan's situation to obtain the bishop's permission.
Guindon told Arrupe that he had been unaware of the relevant section of canon law governing the case,
and had interpreted the silence of Cardinal Cushing and Bishop Flanagan as tacit consent.
He also reported to Arrupe that he had been asked by Boston archdiocesan officials
about a rumor that Arrupe had forbidden Drinan to run.
Guindon admitted that he did not acknowledge the truth of the rumor
- which he thought would not be helpful to anyone -
but had satisfied the official by stating that Guindon's own permission was sufficient.
A week later Guindon proposed to a Boston archdiocesan official
that Cardinal Cushing write a second letter to Arrupe stating that he was not opposed to Drinan's candidacy.
The suggestion was rejected. In June, Drinan wrote to Arrupe
saying that Bishop Flanagan had offered to issue a public statement on his behalf, although this was never done.
Arrupe replied that he accepted these reports and believed that they constituted the requisite canonical approval.
However, he also warned that further matters of this kind would have to be decided by his office.
In his reply to Arrupe, Guindon developed what would be the American Jesuits' basic argument
against requiring Drinan to withdraw from the election:
that it would be seen as Church interference with democratic politics.
In making the case Guindon condemned past Vatican interventions in Italian politics,
which he said had been one of the reasons for the rise of Fascism.
Guindon also defended Drinan's candidacy as essential
because of the stands the priest would take in Congress - against racism, against the Vietnam War,
and in favor of increased foreign aid. If Drinan were forced to withdraw, Guindon warned,
the Church would be seen as supporting racists, militarists, and selfish nationalists.
Guindon asserted that no one whose judgment he valued thought Drinan should withdraw from the race;
the only people opposing him being one embittered older Jesuit and a few lay people adverse to change.
But Guindon went further still in his claim that Drinan's candidacy was not a proper concern of the Jesuit General.
At a recent meeting of the New England Province, a proposal had been introduced
to ask the General to clarify the conditions under which a Jesuit might run for public office.
The proposal had received practically no support,
since it was deemed completely outside the General's competence.
During this same province meeting, Guindon reported, Drinan had defended his position,
in part by charging that Jesuit higher education had failed morally
and that it was necessary for him to seek office
because none of the thousands of graduates of Jesuit schools were willing to fight against racism, war, and selfish nationalism.
The Jesuits present applauded Drinan vigorously,
the only time this happened during the meeting.
No meeting with the General
Drinan's candidacy also escaped the strictures of canon law, Guindon argued,
because of the nature of American politics.
Republicans and Democrats scarcely differed from one another
except on petty issues of local politics, he said.
Drinan, although seeking election as a Democrat, was supported by a broad bipartisan group
and if elected, would not be known by the label "Democrat."
This was a truly extraordinary argument, given the fact that Richard Nixon was then in the White House,
after an unusually bitter election, and that the country was perhaps more divided along partisan lines
than it had been for decades.
Guindon accused Drinan's critics of hiding under a cloak of anonymity
because their arguments could not with stand public scrutiny,
and he charged that local diocesan officials would not dare publicly oppose him.
He apologized to Arrupe for not being able to carry out the General's direct command,
but concluded that in conscience he simply could not do so.
Arrupe then requested that Drinan come to Rome to meet with him - a request Drinan apparently ignored
as he began his campaign for Congress. Following his election in November, he wrote to Arrupe
informing him of his success and stating that he viewed his entry into politics
as fully in keeping with the Society's commitment to social justice.
Although promising to keep in mind Arrupe's warning about the intrinsic difficulty of a priest's serving in politics,
he made no reference to the General's repeated prohibitions of his candidacy.
He said nothing to Arrupe about having been asked to come to Rome,
but reported to Guindon that his political schedule now precluded it.
Arrupe in turn sent Drinan good wishes on the occasion of his election.
Guindon met with Drinan and told him that Arrupe was subject to Vatican pressure over the Jesuit's election.
Arrupe, the provincial reported, wanted to extract from Drinan a promise
that he would not seek reelection and that he would not oppose any legislation
which the American bishops favored.
Guindon told the Congressman that he personally was opposed to both of Arrupe's requests,
and suggested that Drinan meet with Arrupe when the latter next visited the United States.
Guindon then proposed such a meeting to Arrupe,
adding not only that Drinan was not free to go to Rome
but also that it would be dangerous if the Congressman were seen in Rome in the company of the Jesuit General.
Guindon also informed Arrupe of his own opposition to the promises the General was hoping to extract from Drinan.
One ranking New England Jesuit, Robert J. Starratt (who later left the Society),
wrote to Arrupe warning in the strongest terms against such a meeting;
once again on the grounds that it would constitute scandalous interference by Rome in American politics.
When Arrupe came to the United States in April of 1971 he did meet with Drinan,
but apparently the results were inconclusive.
While Arrupe was in Washington, Drinan arranged for him to offer a prayer at a session of Congress
- an occasion when Drinan seemed happy to be seen in public with his General,
despite all the warnings Arrupe had received that such an appearance would be damaging to the Church.
Among other things, Arrupe's appearance before Congress helped quiet rumors
that he disapproved of Drinan's candidacy.
Priests attacking bishops
However, early in 1972 the president of the American bishops' conference, Cardinal John J. Krol of Philadelphia,
indicated publicly that Drinan's presence in Congress was contrary to Church policy and against the wishes of the bishops.
In response a Jesuit historian, Vincent A. Lapomarda, publicly criticized Cardinal Krol as ignorant of Church history,
charging that to require Drinan to resign from Congress would be to "thwart the teachings of the New Testament on these issues."
Guindon himself stated on national television that Cardinal Krol's remarks
were "completely impertinent" and "unwarranted and unjustified."
A week later Arrupe formally told Drinan that he could not run for reelection,
basing his decision on the judgment of the American bishops
that the appropriate circumstances did not exist which would justify it.
Guindon protested to Arrupe because the letter had been sent to Drinan without prior consultation with the provincial.
Once again he repeated his arguments why the priest should be free to seek reelection.
Guindon again charged that Arrupe's letter was inconsistent with his own past statements
about Jesuit involvement in social apostolates. He denied Arrupe's claim, based on the reports of American bishops,
that qualified laymen were available to run for Drinan's office,
and stated flatly that no layman had demonstrated the moral vision necessary for such an office.
The American bishops had a surreptitious political agenda of their own, he asserted,
and their judgment in the Drinan case was based on outdated theology.
In general the reputation of the American bishops, including Cardinal Krol, was low, he concluded.
Arrupe responded by repeating that he could not reverse his decision
and specifically that he could not approve an arrangement
whereby Drinan would make the decision based solely on his own conscience.
Larger issues were at stake, the General noted,
and he would not approve Drinan's bid for reelection
unless he received written statements of approval from Bishop Flanagan and the new Archbishop of Boston, Humberto S. Medeiros.
He also hoped that Guindon's criticism of Krol on national television would not have negative repercussions.
Guindon replied that he was certain Drinan would obtain formal permission from the two prelates
and said that his criticisms of Cardinal Krol were made necessary by the latter's entry into the political arena.
Meanwhile Guindon responded to a letter from Father John Foley, editor of the Philadelphia archdiocesan newspaper,
by asserting that the question of whether Drinan had received episcopal permission
was of no concern to anyone except those immediately involved.
(Foley is now an archbishop, and head of the Vatican Office of Communicahons.)
And Guindon responded to letters of criticism against Drinan
by assuring people that the priest had full ecclesiastical permission to run for office
and that Cardinal Krol's statement was false.
In mid-March, Arrupe informed Drinan that he had received a letter from Bishop Flanagan
stating that both he and Archbishop Medeiros disapproved of Drinan's running for re-election.
Arrupe then repeated his own prohibition.
Drinan did not respond to the letter and a few weeks later Arrupe contacted him again,
expressing concern over newspaper reports that the priest was in fact already running for re-election.
Guindon now argued that in 1970 Drinan sincerely believed he had all necessary ecclesiastical permission to seek office
and that no further permission was needed for re-election.
Drinan made the same argument in a letter to Arrupe,
and also claimed that Bishop Flanagan agreed with him.
He said he had also met with Archbishop Medeiros,
who made no objections to his renewed candidacy.
Arrupe now, for the first time, retreated from his consistent positron.
He informed Drinan that although he was troubled by the absence of written statements from Archbishop Medeiros and Bishop Flanagan,
he would accept Drinan 's assurances that the hierarchy did not oppose him,
and would therefore withdraw his own objection
while refraining from granting actual permission.
The abortion issue surfaces
In due course Drinan was reelected and in 1974 prepared to run for a third term.
In the meantime, however, the face of American politics had changed irrevocably
by the sudden intrusion of the abortion issue into the national arena
after a 1973 Supreme Court decision finding a constitutional "right" to abortion.
Drinan's position has always been that he fully accepted Catholic teaching on the subject.
However, even before the Supreme Court decision, he had supported, with increasing passionate intensity,
every proposal to make the procedure legal and to fund it with tax money.
The elevation of the issue in 1973 was especially sensitive in Drinan's case
because of his repeated claim, endorsed by his superiors,
that he brought a unique perspective of Catholic moral awareness to public life
- a perspective which no layman was qualified to bring.
Shortly after Roe v. Wade, Drinan wrote a public defense of the decision,
recognizing that it had flaws but finding it on the whole a beneficial judgment.
He then proceeded, over the next several years, to compile an almost perfect pro-abortion voting record in Congress,
often speaking passionately about a woman's "constitutional right" to abort,
even while stating that this right went completely contrary to his own conscience.
If Drinan's superiors, prior to 1973, had found practically no one who criticized the priest's presence in Congress,
they now found themselves barraged with statements of outrage from all kinds of people,
including other Catholic members of Congress.
And if Drinan's critics had once concealed their identities, as Guindon had charged,
they were now more than willing to speak publicly.
In May 1974, Guindon's successor as New England provincial, Father Richard T. Cleary,
called a press conference concerning the status of John McLaughlin,
the New England Jesuit who had been denied permission to run for the Senate in the same year
in which Drinan had been encouraged to run for Congress.
McLaughlin was by then one of President Richard M. Nixon's White House staff members,
and Cleary was concerned that his public statements would be construed as reflecting his status as a Jesuit.
McLaughlin's position was religiously indefensible,
since he was not living as a Jesuit and made public statements dismissing the importance of poverty and obedience.
Recalled to Boston for "reflection," McLaughlin instead left the Society and married;
he eventually built a successful career as host of the popular television program "The McLaughlin Group."
At his press conference Cleary faced the inevitable question about Drinan's position,
and responded by saying that as a lawyer Drinan was free to advocate legal abortion,
if as a priest he continued to oppose the practice on moral grounds.
It was an odd defense on behalf of a man whose entry into politics had been passionately defended by his superiors
precisely on the grounds that he was bringing moral principles to bear on public policy.
The story unravels
Early in the Fall of 1974, with another election a few weeks away,
the question of Drinan's permission to run again became public,
after Drinan told the press "I have permission in black and white."
This time Bishop Flanagan stated publicly that he had not given permission,
while Cardinal Medeiros merely stated that the issue was an internal one for the Jesuits.
When National Jesuit News, the Society's official American publication,
also implied that Drinan did not have the requisite permissions
and that this would be used against him in Rome,
Drinan denounced the Jesuit editor as "a kid" (he was 44).
Cleary then issued a statement that Drinan had run with Guindon's permission
and that this had been "ratified" by Arrupe,
a claim which hardly seemed borne out by Arrupe's own repeatedly stated position.
At this point the official story concerning Drinan's permission began to unravel publicly,
as Father Vincent O'Keefe, the highest ranking American Jesuit in Rome,
told the press that, despite his claim, Drinan had never had Arrupe's permission.
Recalling that Drinan had assured Arrupe that he already had
the permission of the two Massachusetts dioceses where his district was located,
O'Keefe indicated that belatedly Arrupe had learned that this was not true.
However, to confuse matters still further, Father Paul O'Connell, a Worcester diocesan spokesman,
told the press that the failure of the two Massachusetts bishops to speak publicly had amounted in effect to permission.
A lay staff member of the New England provincial's office, James Boiselle,
sent a detailed memorandum to Cleary summarizing the relations
between Drinan and both the Jesuit and diocesan hierarchies since 1970,
and concluding that Drinan was the victim of various clerics' evasion of their own responsibilities.
Boiselle speculated that the press's sudden interest in the question of Drinan's status
was stimulated by some unspecified enemies of the Congressman, possibly within the Vatican itself.
Cleary now wrote to Arrupe, once again claiming that Drinan was morally certain
he had received permission from the two Massachusetts bishops in 1970,
and issued a press release repeating the same claim
and stating that Drinan had every right to seek office.
Having previously declined public comment, Cardinal Medeiros in early October
at last told the press that he did not approve of priests in politics,
which was the position of the international Synod of Bishops.
He also said that Drinan's having received permission from his provincial
was not sufficient to justify his holding office.
Around the same time Bishop Flanagan again noted that Drinan had never sought his permission
and judged that the Congressman was "technically in violation of canon law."
In June 1975, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas V. Daily, the chancellor of the Boston archdiocese
(who is now the bishop of Brooklyn), wrote to a pro-lifer who had complained about Drinan.
"Although Father Drinan claims that his Eminence, Cardinal Cushing, gave him permission to campaign,
we have no record of that permission," Daily wrote.
"Cardinal Medeiros has never given permission to Father Drinan, either orally or in writing . . ."
Cardinal Medeiros, Bishop Daily said, saw no need to make any exceptions
to the general rule forbidding priests to hold public office.
Thus, if they had previously had any, doubts about the cardinal's position,
New England Jesuit leaders knew the facts of the situation definitively by that date.
(A copy of Bishop Daily's letter was placed in the Province archives.)
Despite these developments, Drinan proceeded with the campaign
and was duly returned to Congress by his constituents.
On election night he was sent a telegram by Father Joseph Devlin, a New England Province official,
exulting that all the Jesuit saints were dancing with joy at the priest's victory.
(As late as the Summer of 1975, Devlin was writing to Drinan's critics
claiming that the priest fully supported Catholic teaching on abortion and birth control,
gratuitously adding that Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts was also "firmly" opposed to abortion.)
As the furor over Drinan's abortion stand continued to mount,
Cleary for the most part ceased responding to complaints,
often referring them to Drinan himself.
From time to time Drinan reiterated his moral opposition to abortion,
along with his doubts as to the proper way to oppose it.
Sometimes he encouraged pro-life groups to work to overturn Roe u Wade,
without telling them that he himself was working to support it in every way possible.
The General backs off
In July 1975, more than a year prior to the next congressional election,
Arrupe wrote to Cleary stating once again that he saw no reason why Drinan should seek reelection.
He had communicated this decision to the Congressman, but had received no reply.
In a letter to Father Robert A. Mitchell, head of the Jesuit Conference, made up of the American provincials,
Arrupe specifically rejected the familiar arguments about the nature of American politics
and said that various trustworthy Americans had advised him that Drinan's presence in Congress was not desirable.
Cleary responded to Arrupe by repeating those arguments yet again,
and insisting that Drinan brought to bear on American politics a moral presence
superior to the influence of almost any other Jesuit in the world.
The fact that Drinan had attracted criticism merely demonstrated the honesty of his position, he insisted.
While not stating flatly that he would disregard Arrupe's orders,
Cleary argued that the General's ruling was contrary
to the intentions of the recent international Jesuit Congregation in Rome.
Drinan also wrote to Arrupe, after a silence of several months,
defending his record in Congress in general terms
and repeatedly asserting that he had a unique moral perspective on politics.
His critics, he insisted, were simply unaccustomed to the idea of a priest in politics;
he did not attempt to defend his controversial stand on abortion.
Arrupe responded by saying that the matter needed further clarification.
By the Spring of 1976 the New England provincial's office was receiving several letters a day
relating to Drinan's abortion stand, but Devlin advised Cleary that they appeared to be orchestrated
and need not be taken seriously. Drinan himself was becoming increasingly sensitive to criticism,
on one occasion saying publicly that pro-life groups were guilty of "lies and calumny"
because they accused him of supporting abortion.
The year 1976 brought another Congressional election,
and in April Arrupe significantly backed away from his earlier position,
informing Cleary that he withdrew his objections to Drinan's reelection bid but withheld any endorsement.
Cleary then wrote to Arrupe summarizing Drinan's position on abortion,
which was that the practice was morally wrong but that no proposed legal restriction on it should be supported.
(For example, he explained his support for government funding of abortion
on the grounds that it was consistent with Roe v. Wade,
although in fact the Supreme Court had ruled that no such funding was required by that decision.)
A short time later an American Jesuit on Arrupe's staff, Father Gerald R. Sheahan,
reaffirmed that Drinan abhorred abortion
and that his support of government funding was merely his desire to provide equal benefits for the poor.
Meanwhile the largest anti-abortion organization in the country, the National Right to Life Committee,
documented Drinan's virtually perfect pro-abortion voting record
and the way in which his votes were used by other legislators to justify their own support of the practice.
Without a re-play of the earlier controversies over his having ecclesiastical permission to run,
Drinan was again reelected to Congress in November of 1976.
However, in the Spring of 1977, Sheahan informed Cleary
that Arrupe wanted this to be Drinan's last term in office.
Apparently the matter was not pressed
and, as criticism over his voting record on abortion continued,
Drinan again sought and attained reelection in 1978.
The Holy See ends the game
In the spring of 1979, Arrupe once again informed Drinan
that he wished him not to seek reelection.
Drinan responded with his familiar arguments,
concluding especially with an affirmation about his strong moral presence in Congress.
He said nothing about the abortion question.
In February 1980, another election year, Arrupe wrote to Father Edward M. O'Flaherty, now the New England provincial,
again urging that Drinan retire from Congress.
This time Arrupe expressed the personal opinion
that Drinan's position on abortion was indefensible
and his distinction between law and morality unacceptable.
Arrupe said he had been approached on this issue by several bishops,
and that he agreed with their criticisms of Drinan's position.
How far that position actually extended was illustrated in a fund-raising letter mailed that year
by the National Abortion Rights Action League, which denounced the pro-life movement in the strongest terms
and cited Drinan as a friend whose reelection to Congress was essential to the abortion cause.
That spring the Holy See issued a general order requiring all priests to withdraw from politics,
and in early May Father O'Flaherty announced that indeed Drinan would not be a candidate for reelection.
O'Flaherty said he had received a telephone call from Arrupe's office
informing him of the decision, which he had immediately communicated to Drinan.
Various prominent Jesuits made clear their deep disagreement with the decision,
and once again Drinan was lavishly praised for his moral stand in politics, with no reference to abortion.
Arrupe himself expressed high personal regard for the Congressman.
Drinan said that he was submitting to the decree "with regret and pain."
Again he summarized all the work for good he had been able to do while in Congress,
while omitting all mention of abortion.
Drinan's departure from Congress hardly marked his departure from politics,
as in due course he became president of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)
and remained politically involved in other ways.
His partisanship became increasingly shrill during the 1980s,
as he accused the administration of President Ronald Reagan of destroying American liberties
and made strong personal attacks on the President's character.
He also became increasingly vituperative in his criticisms of the pro-life movement,
and as head of the ADA sent out a fund raising letter specifically urging
the moral necessity of electing pro-abortion candidates to Congress.
A case for the 1960s
The Drinan case, stretching over a quarter of a century of American Catholic life,
is an obvious paradigm of post-conciliar Catholicism,
but at the same time remains puzzling in some respects.
It is now clear that, despite what Drinan and his supporters often claimed,
he never had authority from Father Arrupe to run for Congress.
Even Arrupe's eventual withdrawal of objections
occurred only after Drinan had several times run for Congress
in defiance of the General's express command.
It is equally obvious that Drinan never had the permission of the Archbishop of Boston or the Bishop of Worcester,
despite what he told Arrupe. However, none of the three Massachusetts prelates involved at various times
seems to have wanted to take a clear stand on the matter,
and apparently they hoped that Drinan's Jesuit superiors would resolve the problem.
Within the New England Province of the Jesuits,
Drinan had support from his superiors which went beyond toleration to exhilarated enthusiasm,
even to the extraordinary point where the first provincial to deal with the case, Father William Guindon,
overtly defied orders from his own superior in Rome.
One of the puzzles of the case is why the stakes were so high
- why Drinan and his local superiors were willing to risk the wrath of cardinals and of the Jesuit General.
More was at stake than merely one man's political ambition;
Drinan's candidacy, and the way in which it was advanced,
had great importance even apart from the issue of a priest in politics.
Drinan first proposed running for office as the cultural upheaval of the 1960s was reaching its crescendo,
in the Church as well as in secular society,
and his candidacy promoted "the 1960s agenda" in numerous ways.
Many Jesuits were in the process of re-defining the nature of their religious vocation,
and for some a commitment to a certain kind of social justice was now primary.
Furthermore, this was a concept of justice impatient with traditional Catholic doctrine,
eager to plunge directly into the contemporary political maelstrom as part of progressive movements.
For some Jesuits this meant an alliance with Marxists.
For Drinan and his supporters it meant diving into American politics
without the restraining mediation of authentically Catholic social doctrine.
President John F. Kennedy had also conferred on politics a permanent glamour,
perhaps especially for Catholics, and in 1970 the prospect of serving in Congress seemed to many people,
including priests, an opportunity so enticing as to dwarf all other considerations.
In their letters to Rome, Drinan's local superiors continually stressed the fact
that, as an elected politician, he could do more good than almost any other Jesuit
- as though traditional priestly activities had dwindled into insignificance.
The priestly vocation no longer had to do primarily with saving souls
but rather with helping build a perfect society on earth.
Publicly, progressive-minded Jesuits always hailed Pedro Arrupe as an enlightened man
who was leading the Society precisely in these new directions.
But as the Drinan case shows, even he could be ignored or defied
when he did not live up to the expectations of the people he was supposed to be leading.
Thus in making it possible for Drinan to run for Congress,
his local superiors were also weakening the authority of the Jesuit General,
a result which may have been more than merely incidental.
The Society of Jesus has a long history of tension with bishops,
although in the past this was usually because the Jesuits were seen as "the pope's men,"
especially in cases where a local bishop was in conflict with Rome.
In the Drinan case his local Jesuit superiors instinctively resisted the bishops,
whose wisdom and motives they suspected.
Thus the fact that both Arrupe and the local episcopacy opposed Drinan's candidacy for office
was actually something in his favor, in the minds of some of his supporters,
and part of the significance of his running for office was precisely that it undermined the authority of the hierarchy.
Religion serving a secular agenda
The New England Jesuits repeatedly expressed fear that Drinan would be compromised
if he were seen to be subject to ecclesiastical authority.
But Drinan himself was sometimes eager to emphasize his clerical identity
- for example, in arranging for Arrupe to pray before Congress,
or when insisting that his political stands all stemmed from his Catholic principles.
But to the degree that there were potential conflicts
between a priest's duty to the Church and a politician's dudes to the voters,
this actually proved definitively why priests should not be in politics
- Drinan was bound to the Church and to the Society of Jesus by solemn vows much older and deeper
than anything which bound him to the citizens of Massachusetts.
In advising that it would be unwise for Drinan even to be seen in the company of the Jesuit General,
these Jesuits were in fact saying that there was indeed a basic conflict
between Drinan's duties as a priest and his dudes as a politician,
and that the latter were paramount.
This too was an important result of the case,
as part of a much wider process of "demythologizing" the priesthood.
Apparently the officials of the New England Province, like Drinan himself,
essentially embraced a left-liberal understanding of American life
as it had developed during the 1960s.
Thus when they told Arrupe that Americans would be scandalized
if Drinan were forced to withdraw from politics,
they simply ignored the large number of people
(more and more as time went on)
who would instead have been edified.
Only belatedly, as a result of the abortion issue,
did Arrupe consult Americans who gave him a different view of the situation.
On the surface Guindon's assurances to Arrupe
that Drinan's role was strictly non-partisan appears mendacious,
since Drinan was among the most emotionally partisan of liberal Democrats.
However, Guindon may have offered his judgment in all sincerity,
since men like Drinan (and presumably Guindon also) had simply come, by 1970,
to equate morality with the platform of the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Thus in adhering to this platform Drinan was thought to be allying himself
with transcendent moral principles which were self-evidently true,
to the point that only evil people - racists, militarists, and fanatical nationalists (as Guindon put it) -
could possibly oppose them.
The claim that Drinan had to run for office because he was the only qualified person in his very liberal district,
which boasted a high level of education and political awareness among its residents, was preposterous,
even though it was often repeated.
But that claim, however false, raises finally the most intriguing question about the Drinan phenomenon
- why was he chosen by the liberal leadership of his district
to hold an office eagerly sought by many other qualified people?
Although Drinan's publicly expressed views on abortion seemed more moderate before 1970
than they would later turn out to be, it was already evident
that he was a priest-lawyer with whom Catholic moral teachings sat uneasily at a number of points.
Abortion had not yet become a national issue,
but it was already a state issue in some places,
and the legalization of abortion was one of a widening circle of radical proposals for the re-shaping of society,
many of them in direct opposition to Catholic doctrine.
The Catholic Church would inevitably be a major obstacle to such changes,
and it probably occurred to at least some secular liberals
that it would be an inestimable advantage to have in Congress
a Jesuit priest willing to support virtually all of those changes enthusiastically.
Thus even before he announced his candidacy
Drinan told his superiors that the American Civil Liberties Union,
an organization normally hyper-vigilant against religious "intrusions" into public life,
was prepared to state that it was entirely appropriate for him to seek public office.
When the priest first announced his candidacy, Guindon sought to mollify his critics in part
by suggesting that the American bishops might find it desirable to have a priest in Congress supporting Catholic positions.
Yet from the beginning Drinan made it clear that he would not be bound by any official Catholic position,
and his superiors supported him in this as well.
Often Drinan did indeed passionately assert that he was motivated by Catholic morality,
but only on issues where "Catholic" morality could be made to coincide with secular liberal positions.
(Thus, he once insisted on the floor of Congress
that the American bishops were officially opposed to the military draft,
which was quite untrue.)
At every point where Catholic morality deviated from secular liberalism,
Drinan retreated from his claim that he was motivated solely by moral principle
and instead argued that moral compromise was necessary in a democracy.
As early as his first term, for example, he was criticized for being among a bare two dozen congressmen
who voted against a bill outlawing the sending of pornography to minors through the mail.
(National Jesuit News defended his vote.)
Abortion was the great chasm,
and as it opened Drinan soon ceased even trying to straddle the gulf,
except in purely verbal ways,
and moved as far leftward on the issue as his constituency required.
Although repeatedly insisting that he acted independently of Church teaching,
he never acknowledged that his conscience might ever require him to offend those constituents
or the liberal organizations which kept endorsing him so enthusiastically.
In 1970 abortion had not yet become a partisan issue;
there were many prominent pro-life Democrats.
However, as the party moved toward an implacably pro-abortion position,
and the number of pro-life Democrats steadily dwindled,
Drinan's example was consistently cited as justification.
How could any layman - especially one who was not a Catholic - be faulted
for supporting abortion, if the most prominent Catholic priest in public life did the same?
Drinan bore heavy responsibility for making the Democratic Party the party of abortion.
And he himself has come a long way down the same road,
so that in 1996 he can dismiss opposition to late-term abortions
- which he once characterized as homicide -
as a merely partisan Republican trick.