Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Robert F. Drinan, S.J. (1920-2007)

Father Robert Drinan--a tireless defender of human rights, the first Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress, and, at the time of his death, a professor of law at Georgetown University--died on Sunday at the age of 86. The Boston Globe provides a complete obituary while Chris Borgen offers a more personal tribute at Opinio Juris.

Drinan was elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts in 1970 on the strength of his opposition to the Vietnam War. During his second term in Congress, in 1973, he filed a resolution of impeachment against President Nixon--not because of the Watergate burglary and coverup that eventually forced Nixon's resignation but because of the bombing of Cambodia in violation of congressionally imposed limits on the war in Southeast Asia.

In 1980, after he was forced to relinquish his seat in the House when Pope John Paul II barred priests from serving in elective office, Drinan returned to teaching, public speaking, and writing, with most of his work focused on human rights.

Drinan's 2001 book, The Mobilization of Shame: A World View of Human Rights, concludes with these words:

The human race has been struggling for centuries to stop injustice and to offer reparations to its victims. There is no one pattern or force that prompts nations to be just. Sometimes it is the voice of the victims that accomplishes such a feat, but more often it is the conscience and moral outrage of nonvictims. Traditionally, they more than any others have championed the rights of those who have been victimized.

Solon, the ancient Athenian jurist, summed up this truth in words that have a striking relevance: "Justice will not come until those who are not hurt feel just as indignant as those who are."

Father Drinan was not a victim, but, to use his own words, he nonetheless "championed the rights of those who have been victimized."