11 HI LE Ronald Reagan was campaigning vigorously to get himself elected to the White House, the electors of Massachusetts were choosing a new• congressman.
They did, in fact, elect the Hon Barney Frank, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of their Democratic Congressman. There is nothing particularly unusual about Congressmen, or MPs for that matter. calling it a day and making way for somedne new, but in this case. the 476,000 citizens of the congressional district had a rather unusual congressman. Robert Drinan was a Catholic priest, elected at the time of the American involvement in Vietnam. He was one of the first to speak out against the continued loss of life and continuation of hostilities in that country. He campaigned valiantly on human rights and civil liberties issues.
In his swan-song letter to his constituents he said he had been gratified to learn from a poll conducted in his constituency that 60 p.c. of the electorate he had represented, or about 300,000 had indicated that they had personal contact with him over the decade he had represented them.
He reminded the people of Massachusetts that, although Americans "constitute only 5 p.c. of humanity, we have by our mission and our mandate as a unique nation a responsibility to those 800 million people, about one fourth of humanity, who are chronically malnourished."
Not only could their Congressman talk of his role in ending the American involvement in Vietnam but he helped initiate the impeachment of President Nixon, supported the War Powers Act and campaigned to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act.
As a "constituency member" he had carefully nursed the district. He had established local offices and points of contact in all of the 20 cities and towns in the district. For the future, Robert Drinan, believes that Congress — and all democrats — should concern themselves with the acceleration of the arms race: the United States possesses 30,000 nuclear weapons and by humanity's spending of S800 billion per year — or more than SI billion per day — on arms and armaments. "After 35 years in the cold war, we are still uncertain of our proper posture in the world, we lack faith in the potential of the United Nations, and now apparently, even our admirable convictions about human rights may be set aside. If there is any one clear moral direction for the people who sent me to CXongress, it is to devote their energies in every way possible to the preservation and expansion of America's emphasis on human rights.
Robert Drinan spoke of the 27 million Americans still living under the poverty line; "Blacks are humiliated every day. and
millions of women have their rights regularly denied them."
Massachusetts was held by the Democrats as vast areas of the United States swung behind Reagan's hawks. Robert Drinan was forced to resign his seat by a Vatican ruling that he as a priest should not be involved in politics.
While it may not be every priest's vocation to stand for parliament or Congress, I can see few good reasons why a man or woman should be prohibited from following their conscience in doing and saying what they believe to be right.
Representatives like Robert Drinan are few and far between. Surely the electors are the people best fitted to decide whether he or people like him are capably and conscientiously discharging their duties.
He concluded his letter to his electors by quoting William Butler Yeats: "Count where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends." I doubt whether the Church's decision to stop Robert Drinan from standing for re-election will win her many friends or much respect among those he had represented.