BY STAFF REPORTER
FR ROBERT DRINAN, a Jesuit priest and lawyer who defied directives from Rome to serve for a decade in the US Congress, died on Sunday, aged 86.
The combative Jesuit had been a lightning rod for controversy throughout his political career. He came to Washington DC as an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam; later he became one of the most reliable voters in Congress in favour of unrestricted legal abortion.
His advocacy of legal abortion continued long after his tenure in Congress. In 1996 the priest-politician shocked many Catholics by praising President Bill Clinton for his veto of legislation banning partial-birth abortion. A partisan Democratic legislator, Fr Drinan filed the bill to impeach President Richard Nixon in 1973. Years later he would argue strenuously against the impeachment of President Clinton. After leaving Congress he became the president of the liberal political bloc, Americans for Democratic Action.
Fr Drinan, who served as a Congressman from Massachusetts from 1971 to 1980, died of congestive heart failure at Sibley Hospital in Washington. He had lived in Washington, teaching at Georgetown and continuing his active involvement in liberal political causes, after relinquishing his seat in Congress.
In 1970 Fr Drinan made his first run for Congress despite the explicit disap proval of Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the head of the Jesuit order. With the help of the local Jesuit leadership in Massachusetts he was able to forestall public reprimands from his superiors in Rome, or from the bishops in the Massachusetts dioceses covered by his Congressional district, until finally bowing to a papal directive in 1978 that barred priests from serving in elected public posts.
In his web log, or blog, the influential American priest Fr Richard John Neuhaus described Fr Drinan as "a Jesuit who, more than any other single figure, has been influential in tutoring Catholic politicians on the acceptability of rejecting the Church's teaching on the defence of innocent human life".