Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

A Profile of Fr. Robert Drinan

by Joe Starrs


This article provides a brief look at Fr. Robert Drinan's beliefs and his influence on the Culture of Death, specifically pro-abortion rights. Although he is a Catholic priest and Jesuit, a former Massachusetts legislator, holding many honorary degrees in areas such as legal ethics, human rights, and constitutional law, Drinan has continued to use his position to promote and defend Roe v. Wade and the "right" to murder unborn babies.

Larger Work

Celebrate Life


45 - 46

Publisher & Date

American Life League, Inc., June 2004

Younger readers of Celebrate Life may not recognize the name. Veterans in the pro-life movement certainly know of him. His bio lists his areas of expertise: legal ethics, human rights, and constitutional law. He has almost two dozen honorary degrees and has taught at the most prestigious universities. Books he has written include Cry of the Oppressed: The History and Hope of the Human Rights Revolution and God and Caesar on the Potomac: A Pilgrimage of Conscience.

He is in demand on the lecture circuit, is a prolific columnist and a member of the American Bar Association. He also served for ten years as a legislator from Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was also an ardent defender of legalized abortion. His name is Fr. Robert Drinan, a Catholic priest and Jesuit.

From 1971-1981, Fr. Drinan, often wearing his Roman collar, stood up in the House of Representatives and defended the legalized destruction of preborn children. According to writer and historian James Hitchcock, soon after the infamous decision of 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.

Drinan and Doublespeak

In letters to pro-life constituents, Drinan was careful to mention his support for the Church's stance on abortion. An article written by Mary Meehan in Our Sunday Visitor documented examples of Drinan speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Meehan quotes a letter Drinan had written to a pro-lifer, "I do hope that everything that is feasible can be done to protect the sanctity and inviolability of unborn life." Meanwhile, to abortion supporters Drinan writes: "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."

In another epistle to the president of Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, Drinan states: "I have regularly received excellent information from your organization and will continue to rely upon you and your associates."

After a decade of hemming and hawing by Drinan's Jesuit superiors, Rome had had enough and ordered Drinan to resign from Congress. The first and only Catholic priest ever to serve in Congress left a legacy that other pro-abortion "Catholics" continue to emulate.

Defending Clinton's Veto

Even out of office Drinan continues to speak on behalf of abortion. In 1996, while the veto of a ban on partial birth abortion hung in the balance, Fr. Drinan came to the defense of President Clinton in the pages of the New York Times and National Catholic Reporter because (in part) the ban "would allow federal power to intrude into the practice of medicine." Cardinal O'Conor thundered back at Drinan, ". . . you're wrong, dead wrong. You could have raised your formidable voice for life; you have raised it for death." After months of arm-twisting, Drinan retracted his statement from the New York Times, saying he had relied on what turned out to be false information regarding partial birth abortion.

A Deadly Example

Over a year and half ago, ALL's Crusade for the Defense of Our Catholic Church identified the top 12 pro-abortion Catholics in the United States Senate. The "Deadly Dozen" campaign led to the exposition of over 500 politicians on the state and federal level who claim Catholicism yet vote for and/or support a "woman's right to choose."

The choice made by Fr. Robert Drinan has unfortunately given cover to many of the above-mentioned politicians. After all, if a Catholic priest can support "choice" why can't anyone else? When politicians lamely use the "I'm personally opposed to abortion BUT..." argument, they can thank Fr. Drinan for laying the groundwork for their faulty reasoning. One pro-abortion Catholic senator regularly says that he opposes abortion as an "article of faith," but because we live in a pluralistic society, he must represent all of his constituents. He is duty bound to support the "settled law" of legalized abortion.

Drinan Instructs Rome: "You Can't Do That!"

Over a year and half ago, the Vatican issued a document on Catholics in political life, known in shorthand as the "Doctrinal Note." Taking their cue from Rome (and much encouragement from American Life League's Crusade), bishops began to confront pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Fr. Drinan found this incredibly disturbing, ". . . the Church's leaders are out of line . . . [T]hey have no right to judge in public the culpability of [a] particular person. That's Inquisition stuff. If you are denied the sacraments, it's a prejudgment, and furthermore, it's imposing an ecclesiastical norm on a political question. You can't do that."

There's the rub for folks like Fr. Drinan. Abortion is simply a "political question" and not a matter of life and death. And for all his lawyerly skills, Drinan seems ignorant of Church Law — Canon 915 in particular — which states that those who persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. It is without question within the Church's power to withhold the sacraments from those who publicly commit serious sin. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide who is "out of line."

Georgetown Hero?

In a recent article in Georgetown University's campus newspaper The Hoya, Jesuit Fr. Ryan Maher waxed about how great it is to know Fr. Drinan, describing how Drinan is a Georgetown hero of legendary status. Maher writes: "Drinan's career in Congress is a matter of public record. It's a record that has been assailed by some. 'Un-Catholic,' [sic] they rail, with the smug certitude of Pharisees in every age."

If defending human life and asking Catholic politicians to defend little babies in the womb is smug certitude, then I, for one, plead guilty. Pro-lifers don't condemn Fr. Drinan. But we are entitled, and indeed obligated, to point out what he has said and done in the public square. That record does indeed speak for itself.

Joe Starrs is the director of American Life League's Crusade for the Defense of Our Catholic Church.

© 2004 American Life League, Inc.

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