Who really was Robert F. Drinan, SJ? One of only two priests ever elected to the United States Congress, he has now been dead for three years, yet his legacy remains uncertain, and the man himself elusive.
Courteous and kindly, Drinan was also a fiery opponent of the Vietnam War who once blessed himself on the floor of the House and denounced President Richard M. Nixon as “a fascist war criminal.” Though personally opposed to abortion, he supported abortion rights and argued for federal funding of the procedure, insisting that if it’s legal, poor women should have the same access to it that rich women do. These prochoice views placed Fr. Drinan at the center of controversy. And over the course of his decade in the political limelight, they raised a basic question: Is it finally possible in America to succeed at the double role of priest and partisan politician?
In the 1960s, this question was a matter of theological as well as political debate. How could two life-consuming professions coexist in a man dedicated to God? Drinan hinted at the personal significance of this dilemma in the title of one of his last books, Can God and Caesar Coexist? Invited in 1970 to submit an essay to an anthology on “hyphenated priests,” he agreed, but never delivered. What he could not rationalize on paper, however, he lived out in public, making the rounds of Capitol Hill in his trademark black suit and clerical collar, pursuing a steadfastly liberal Catholic social-...
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About the Author
Raymond A. Schroth, SJ, is Jesuit Community Professor of the Humanities at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey.