Rev. Robert F. Drinan, the first and only Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress, has died at age 86.
A five-term member of the House of Representatives, Father Drinan was one of its most liberal members. His strong anti administration stands earned him a place on the Nixon “enemies list.” His upset victory over US Representative Philip J. Philbin , a 14-term incumbent who was vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in the 1970 Democratic primary in Massachusetts Third Congressional District was a high-water mark in the New Politics, which brought the antiwar movement to the ballot box….
Supporters saw his entering Congress as a logical union of his legal and spiritual vocations. “Our father, who art in Congress” became a popular, if unofficial, campaign slogan.
Yet many of Father Drinan’s most vehement detractors were Catholics who opposed him politically because they saw his electoral career as detracting from his priestly calling. He further angered some Catholics with his show of independence from the church, supporting federal funding of abortions and opposing constitutional amendments that would have banned abortion and allowed prayer in public schools.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II ordered Father Drinan to either forgo re election or leave the priesthood. With “regret and pain,” Father Drinan announced he would not seek re election.
“It is just unthinkable,” he said of the idea of renouncing the priesthood to stay in office. “I am proud and honored to be a priest and a Jesuit. As a person of faith, I must believe that there is work for me to do which somehow will be more important than the work I am required to leave.”
Father Drinan’s unexpected announcement set off a scramble among prospective successors. The winner was US Representative Barney Frank , then a state representative from Beacon Hill….
On July 31, 1973, he introduced the first resolution to impeach [President Nixon] — though not for any high crimes and misdemeanors relating to the Watergate scandal, but rather over the administration’s secret bombing campaign in Cambodia.
A remarkable story, a remarkable man.