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small issues, smaller men

By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 12, 2004

It was a very bad idea for the four bishops to say they would refuse to offer Kerry Holy Communion, he said. "Abortion is a small issue."

The "he" in the quote above is Jesuit priest and former congressman Father Robert Drinan, addressing an audience at Tufts University this past November, at the invitation of chaplain Fr. David O'Leary. No one familiar with Drinan's career could imagine that he was sincere in dismissing abortion as "a small issue," but by the same token no one familiar with his career could be surprised by his flat-out lying when it suits his purposes.

Drinan's original candidacy in 1970 was itself a masterpiece of mendacity. Both the Jesuit General and the local Massachusetts bishops opposed his running for Congress. Yet with the connivance of his New England provincial Drinan pulled off an ingenious double-bluff whereby he lied to the Jesuit General that he'd gotten the support of the local bishops to run for office, and then lied to the the local bishops that he'd gotten the support of the Jesuit General. By the time the two hierarchies sorted out the predicament (made doubly awkward by the reluctance of each to clash with the other), Drinan was already elected. But this scam, though brilliantly successful, is still a touchy point with the good father -- as is evident from the Tufts address:

Father Drinan said he never had trouble with bishops. "I received permission to run for Congress from Cardinal Cushing."

Father Pinocchio's nose must have knocked against the wall opposite at this point; "trouble with bishops" was arguably the leitmotif of Drinan's career. True, he had shrewdly waited until Cushing's death (which occurred a few days before his election) to announce he'd gotten his approval, but the claim that he'd ever had permission from Cushing -- or indeed any of the pertinent local ordinaries -- is simply false. James Hitchcock quotes a letter that makes the facts clear:

In June 1975, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas V. Daily, then chancellor of the Boston archdiocese, 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.
And this, take note, occurred midway through Drinan's third term in office. No one can say he's not a consistent character. Indeed, returning to last month's speech at Tufts, we find the man lying as glibly about his exit from Congress as about his entrance:

"The old canon law said you had to get the approval of the local bishop. Then the Polish pope came in and changed the canon law. He didn't want any priests involved in governments, so I resigned," [Drinan] said.

The new Code of Canon Law came into effect in 1983. Drinan left Congress in 1980. The changes in canon law had nothing whatever to do with Drinan's dismissal. The insinuation that, as an obedient Jesuit, he was reluctantly but dutifully submitting his will to the personal crotchets of "the Polish pope" is one more falsehood in a career marked by acrimony, malice, and deceit.

But let's not end on a sad note. Chaplain O'Leary insisted Drinan is "a great champion for Catholic social teaching" and found his remarks "very uplifting."

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 12, 2004 12:03 PM ET USA

    Talk (public speech) is cheap. Political talk is very cheap. And, increasingly, ecclesiastical talk, whether by Drinan & O'Leary or by the USCCB or even it seems the Vatican Cardinals, is so cheap it is bankrupt.

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