Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Robert F. Drinan, S.J.

As I have never been afraid to proclaim, I'm a humanist, a realist, an atheist, whatever you want to call me. And it is pretty clear to me that religion these days has been, on balance, a very damaging influence on our politics and public policy. I was in fact planning a post on the horrifically destructive influence of Christian fundamentalism on public health, especially during the past six years in which right wing fundamentalists have gained control over every level of federal administration, particularly within HHS, where they have wreaked havoc.

However, Fr. Drinan's death derailed that post. It will still come, but not today. My political ideals and commitment were, in fact, powerfully shaped by preachers: my uncle, who as rector of a large, affluent Episcopal church in Connecticut rose in the pulpit in the 1960s to denounce the war in Vietnam; Martin Luther King, of course; and Robert Drinan, the Jesuit who entered politics, won a seat in Congress, and campaigned forthrightly and unflinchingly for peace, human rights, and social justice. On the House Judiciary Committee, he was among the first to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon, motivated not so much by Nixon's subversion of the electoral process as by his illegal assault on Cambodia.

Ten years later, the Pope ordered him to retire from politics, and he complied.

I had the opportunity to meet Fr. Drinan about five years ago, when he appeared at an event on behalf of Boston Mobilization (then Mobilization for Survival). I asked him why he had chosen to obey the Pope, and he said simply that he had no choice. I professed not to understand that. He was always guided by conscience, and was never afraid to dissent publicly from church doctrine, as he did on the question of contraception and abortion. Since he did not agree with church teaching on these and many other issues, why did he obey an order to leave a position in which he had real power to promote justice and morality in the world?

I have often puzzled over this question of why people who do not believe in the doctrines of the Catholic Church nevertheless continue to consider themselves Catholics and submit themselves to the Church's authority, when it is explicit Church doctrine that all of its teachings must be accepted and obeyed. I also knew a nun who rejected Church teachings on everything from abortion to the ordination of women and the subordinate position of women in the Church. So why, I asked her, are you still a Catholic nun when you reject the very essence of that role? She really didn't have an answer.

After the grotesque, repulsive truth about the diocese here in Boston was revealed through dogged investigative reporting (back when we had an independent press in this country), that the Church was functionally little more than vast conspiracy to provide child rapists with victims and protection, dissidents formed an organization called Voice of the Faithful to humbly beg for changes. That's all they could bring themselves to do. They couldn't leave the church, they couldn't defy the Bishops, in the end, they couldn't even withhold their donations from the collection plate.

So I mourn the passing of Robert Drinan, who meant so much to me at a critical time in my personal development. And I still wonder why, in the end, he was obedient to an authority he knew to be wrong.

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