Not Above Politics

Bob Drinan
The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress
Raymond A. Schroth, SJ
Fordham University Press, $32.95, 300 pp.

Fr. Robert Drinan, SJ, served ten years in the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts—the same district, with a few changes, now represented by Barney Frank. In 1970, urged on by a cadre of anti–Vietnam War activists, Drinan made himself available to a progressive citizens’ caucus. They chose him to carry their antiwar cause into a very tough primary battle with veteran Democratic Representative Phil Philbin. A narrow victory was followed by a tough campaign against a strong moderate Republican.

Drinan won five elections before withdrawing under Vatican orders. None of his victories was easy. According to Drinan’s able biographer, Raymond Schroth, SJ, Drinan’s liberal backers, many of them Jewish, naively thought Catholics would rush to support a priest. They were shocked when large numbers went for Philbin, a Catholic whose brother was a Jesuit, or for Republicans, some because of old loyalties, some because they were put off by Drinan’s persistent liberalism, and many because they did not like a priest in politics. Drinan, at first awkward in public, quickly learned his way around the complicated, often morally ambiguous political process. He knew the law, he learned politics, and he was good at both.

Drinan was the first Catholic priest to serve as an elected member of the House of Representatives. That alone would have made him famous, but he emphasized the point by always wearing his clerical collar. His outspoken opposition to the...

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About the Author

David J. O’Brien is University Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of Dayton.