- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007


The Rev. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit who — over the objections of his superiors — was the only Roman Catholic priest elected as a voting member of Congress, died yesterday.

Father Drinan, 86, had suffered from pneumonia and congestive heart failure the past 10 days, according to a statement by Georgetown University, which said he died at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington.

“His death was peaceful, and he was surrounded by his family,” said the Rev. John Langan, rector of the Georgetown University Jesuit Community, where Father Drinan lived.

An internationally known human rights advocate, Father Drinan was elected on an anti-war platform and represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House for 10 years during the turbulent 1970s.

He stepped down only after a worldwide directive from Pope John Paul II barring priests from holding public office.

During his congressional tenure, Father Drinan continued to dress in the robes of his clerical order and lived in a simple room in the Jesuit community at Georgetown.

But he wore his liberal views more prominently. He opposed the draft, worked to abolish mandatory retirement, and raised eyebrows with his views on abortion and birth control.

“Father Drinan’s commitment to human rights and justice will have a lasting legacy here at Georgetown University and across the globe,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia.

“Few have accomplished as much as Father Drinan, and fewer still have done so much to make the world a better place,” said Alex Aleinikoff, dean of the George University Law Center.

Father Drinan, dean of the Boston College Law School from 1956 to 1970, called for the desegregation of Boston public schools during the 1960s and challenged Boston College students to become involved in civil rights issues.

Father Drinan was elected in 1970, after he beat longtime Democratic Rep. Philip J. Philbin in a primary — and again in the November election, when Mr. Philbin was a write-in candidate. The only other priest to serve in Congress was a nonvoting delegate from Michigan in 1823.

Father Drinan’s run for office came a year after he returned from a trip to Vietnam. In a book the next year, he urged the Roman Catholic Church to condemn the war as “morally objectionable.”

He became the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of President Nixon — although the call wasn’t related to the Watergate scandal, but rather the administration’s policy in Cambodia.

“Can we be silent about this flagrant violation of the Constitution?” Father Drinan demanded back then. “Can we impeach a president for concealing a burglary but not for concealing a massive bombing?”

Decades later, at the invitation of Congress, he testified against the impeachment of another president: Bill Clinton. Father Drinan said Mr. Clinton’s misdeeds were not in the same league as Mr. Nixon’s, and that impeachment should be for an official act, not a private one.

After leaving office in 1980, he served as president of Americans for Democratic Action.

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