The Rev. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest elected to Congress on an anti-war platform during the height of the Vietnam War, has died. A staunch human rights advocate, he also worked for desegregation, impeachment of a president and abolishment of the draft.
"He was a profile in courage in every sense of the word, and the nation has lost one of the finest persons ever to serve in Congress," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Drinan, 86, had suffered from pneumonia and congestive heart failure, according to a statement by Georgetown University, which said he died Sunday at Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Drinan represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House for 10 years during the turbulent 1970s. He stepped down only after a worldwide directive from Pope John Paul II barring priests from holding public office.
During his congressional tenure, Drinan continued to live in a simple room in the Jesuit community at Georgetown.
But he pushed his liberal views unapologetically. He opposed the draft, worked to abolish mandatory retirement and raised eyebrows with his more moderate views on abortion and birth control.
"Father Drinan's commitment to human rights and justice will have a lasting legacy here at Georgetown University and across the globe," said Georgetown President John J. Degioia.
"All of us who knew him and served with him admired him for his deep faith, his profound commitment to public service, and the bold actions he constantly urged us to take to live up to our principles, especially in ending the Vietnam War," Kennedy said.
Drinan, dean of the Boston College Law School from 1956 to 1970, called for the desegregation of Boston public schools during the 1960s and challenged Boston College students to become involved in civil rights issues.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who attended the law school under Drinan and later served with him in Congress, said Drinan became "the conscience of the House of Representatives with every vote he cast."
"It was an honor to serve with him and to seek his guidance and advice on issues such as halting the spread of nuclear weapons, mitigating the plight of Soviet Jews and protecting the rights of political prisoners," Markey said in a statement. "He was a man of faith who never stopped searching for truth, and he was a committed educator who stayed true to his faith."
Drinan was elected in 1970, after he beat longtime Democratic Rep. Philip J. Philbin in a primary _ and again in the November election, when Philbin was a write-in candidate.
Although a poll at the time showed that 30 percent of the voters in his district thought it was improper for a priest to run for office, Drinan considered politics a natural extension of his work in public affairs and human rights.
His run for office came a year after he returned from a trip to Vietnam, where he said he discovered that the number of political prisoners being held in South Vietnam was rapidly increasing, contrary to State Department reports. In a book the next year, he urged the Catholic Church to condemn the war as "morally objectionable."
He became the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon _ although the call wasn't related to the Watergate scandal, but rather what Drinan viewed as the administration's undeclared war against Cambodia.
"Can we be silent about this flagrant violation of the Constitution?" Drinan demanded angrily back then. "Can we impeach a president for concealing a burglary but not for concealing a massive bombing?"
Decades later, at the invitation of Congress, he testified against the impeachment of another president: Bill Clinton. Drinan said Clinton's misdeeds were not in the same league as Nixon's, and that impeachment should be for an official act, not a private one.
After leaving office in 1980 _ "with regret and pain" _ Drinan continued to be active in political causes. He served as president of the Americans for Democratic Action, crisscrossing the country giving speeches on hunger, civil liberties, and the perils of the arms race.
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