- Bob Drinan: The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress
It is difficult to categorize this book. It lacks the depth of research and analysis to be considered a scholarly biography, but is more than a simple memoir by a sympathetic fellow Jesuit. Raymond A. Schroth, currently an associate editor of the Jesuit magazine America, has had a long career as a journalist, teacher, and commentator on culture, politics, and religion. Perhaps it is the result of Schroth's own social and political perspectives that this book might provide the reader with more of an insight into the tenor of the radical politics of the 1970s than into the life and motivations of the subject, Robert Drinan (1920-2007).
Schroth is careful to acknowledge the difficulty of exploring the early as well as the inner life of a man who, although a very public figure, appeared to maintain the cloak of privacy intact throughout the course of his life. There is [End Page 862] little insight provided even by those who lived and worked with him in academia, Congress, or Jesuit communities. This was, apparently, a man of some enigma and mystery. To compensate for what we do not know, Schroth embarks on some lengthy explanations of the Jesuit subculture of the 1940s and 1950s in the hope of suggesting what might have influenced and motivated the man. If this was his purpose, he is not very successful. The result is two stories: the somewhat inexplicable contradictions involved in the public life of Drinan, the professed Jesuit and the politician, and a thickly descriptive account of some aspects of the Jesuit world that provided a platform for his public life.
Admirably, Schroth is not hesitant to raise repeatedly the question of Drinan's changing position on abortion as well as his apparent dissimulation with regard to ecclesiastical permission to run for public office. What Schroth does not directly address or explore is the culture of support within the leadership of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus for Drinan's political and moral public stances. This culture is what perhaps provided the grounds as well as the "political cover" for the generation of self-identified Catholic politicians who have believed that their support for "abortion rights" is compatible with their religious commitment and profession as Catholics. As Schroth points out, Jesuit superiors in the United States were ever-ready to threaten their superiors in Rome with the supposed dire consequences of intervening in the case of Drinan. The authors of fin-de-siècle Americanism would have been proud that their tactics were still proving useful.
Schroth's perspective on Drinan's opponents is at least partially summed up in his scathing judgment on
those who strongly disliked him . . . because of his abortion position; they were one-issue pro-life, often more concerned for life in the womb than for starving children of the poor throughout the world, the victims of war and torture, and prisoners on death row.(p. 344)
In the end, on this matter particularly, we know much less about Drinan than Schroth appears to know about the motives of his critics. As to Drinan's own take on his opponents in any of the significant battles of his life, we are left with little insight into his thoughts. He was evidently a very hard worker who had ambitions for influence on the national scene. As the Jesuits did not provide this opportunity for him as a university president, the Democratic Party of the day did.
According to Schroth, Drinan often was publicly ruthless with those who did not agree with his moral judgments, which appear to have consistently coincided with the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Schroth paints a picture of a man who believed himself to be "the moral architect" of a new generation, particularly suited to pronounce judgment, and dismissive [End Page 863] of those who...