"Do you want a broken man or a happy man?" asked Rep. Robert Drinan, straightening his clerical collar and beaming his smoky blue eyes toward a photographer. "Ah," he said, when requested to turn toward the brilliant afternoon light of his office window, "you want a halo."
This was not a man on the skids, a priest whose passionate love of politics had been axed by papal order, but an unusually buoyant and spry man. On Monday, Pope John Paul II had ordered Drinan, the first Roman Catholic priest ever elected to the U.S. Congress, not to seek re-election this fall. Privately, friends of Drinan said he was taking the order from Rome very hard. His press conference in Boston announcing his compliance had been very emotional, but two days later in his Washington office he was upbeat.
"The first time I said 'yes' to a round of impeachment," he said, recalling his most memorable moment in Congress. "You said 'yeah' or 'yea' and you saw a process working. This little obscure phrase from the Constitution, it was used and a government was changed." He was the first congressman to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon back when he thought the bombing of Cambodia was grounds enough.
The name of Robert Drinan stands with some of the best-remembered liberal initiatives of the last decade. Swept into Congress in 1970 on an anti-Vietnam war platform, he worked to end the war. As a member of the Judiciary Committee he questioned the Watergate witnesses before a televised audience of millions and worked successfully for the elimination of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was also the first congressman to call for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics -- back in July 1978, angered by the treatment of Soviet dissidents.
Now the apparent neo-conservatism of his own church has shortened his political career and triggered a round of debates and arguments over church and state and the role of Christianity in public life. This week there's been an outpouring of support for the Massachusetts Democrat, from job offers at Jesuit institutions to slaps on the back in the congressional cloak room. "I admire his dedication," said Rep. Walter Jones (D-N.C.), an opponent of every single anti-tobacco bill Drinan ever introduced.
For a brief moment, Drinan discussed the role of Christians in politics. "If people are really Christians, they are involved in life, and politics is part of life. I feel if a person is really a Christian, he will be in anguish over global hunger, injustice, over the denial of educational opportunity," said Drinan, who made it clear he would not discuss the papal order.
"I've been inspired by my training as a Jesuit and a Christian; the words 'you cannot expect peace when you have rich and poor nations' from Vatican II." To illustrate his point, he jumped up for a handy copy of the Jesuit orders. A few minutes later, he got up to gather copies of his five books. Then, discussing his own reading habits, he dashed around his Rayburn Building office picking out such titles as "Democracy and Distrust," "Cry of the People," "Progress for a Small Planet" and "Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice."
Like any politician, Drinan, 59, has his groupies and his detractors. Those who like him fall under the banner "Father Know Best," a poster slogan from his first campaign. Those who are less enamored, such as the oil companies, the tobacco lobby and big-business groups, call him "the Mad Monk of Massachusetts."
"He's very effective. And up here effectiveness has a lot to do with how other people like you," said Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.).
"He's a great fellow," said Rep. Robert McClory (R-Ill.). "People regard him as an impractical liberal, but I have gained tremendous respect for him. On the Comprehensive Bankruptcy Law, his heart was on the side of the debtors. It's his natural inclination to be against the giant aircraft people, the big-business interest. But he compromised because he didn't want the bill damaged."
Born in Massachusetts and educated at Boston College and the Georgetown University Law School, Drinan entered the priesthood 27 years ago. He quickly moved into the educational hierarchy of the Jesuits and was dean of the Boston College law school for 14 years.
For one year he taught law at Texas University, arriving on campus shortly after a former student had climbed a campus tower and shot and killed 13 persons.
"My niece's husband had been killed and she was left with six children," recalled Barbara Ruud of Rep. J. Pickle's (D-Tex.) staff. "Father Drinan went out of his way to console her and arrange things for the children to do. When he left, the secretaries gave a party for him, and that had never happened for any faculty member before."
When he ran for Congress, he was labeled an anti-Vietnam war politician. Those feelings had crystallized years earlier. "I was here in Washington giving a speech at the Presbyterian Church on New York Avenue. I said 'Even if you think this was is justified, it is not justified by the means it is using. Then I ticked off the decimation of the bombing and so forth. Then I went into the principle of proportionality. If you want a just war, the good to be achieved has to outweight the harm to be done,' said Drinan, adding that he later found excerpts of that sermon in his FBI file.
Two years later Drinan went to Saigon, toured the jails in the summer sun and was awed by the spectacle of the crush of humanity. "I spent an hour or two with (truong Dinh) Dzu, the runner-up in the election. That was like having Hubert Humphrey in jail," said Drinan, his voice still registering some disbelief. "That turned me on, galvanized me. The U.S. was supporting this alleged democracy where a president could put his opponent in jail."
When he ran for Congress, two other Roman Catholic priests were doing the same thing, and the issue of the priest-politician evoked sharp arguments. "A Christian should be involved in the secular order," Drinan said then, "to make it a more just and compassionate society."
For the most part Drinan has put compassion ahead of expediency. In a large Catholic state, with a sizable portion of his own constituency Jewish, Catholic Puerto Ricans and French Canadians, Drinan advocates federal funding of abortions for women on Medicaid.
On the Hill he is generally known as a man of progressive principles. When his then-new press aide, Michael Shea, was asked by Drinan his views on Drinan's affirmative vote on a synthetic fuels bill, Shea told the congressman, "It's a good issue, it's sexy, it has the media's attention." Drinan, Shea recalled, looked crestfallen and said, "But I don't vote politically."
Some of his traditional allies are perturbed about his leadership on the Judiciary Committee, which is revising the federal criminal code. "Many of the issues he would normally support he is now against," said John Conyers (D-Mich.). "He opposed allowing an attorney to accompany a citizen into the grand jury hearing. Even the American Bar Association has supported that. This morning he didn't want to codiy entrapment into the law. This is a much different Drinan than the man who opposes the war and the draft and speaks up for fair housing and civil rights. Right now on this issue he has the ACLU against him, the black trial lawyers, all the old supporters."
Rep. Thomas Kindness (R-Ill.), a member of the same committee, feels awkward criticizing Drinan. "We argue about mechanics. I asked him if we could drop a day so the staff could catch up. We are dealing with nearly 500 pages of legislation. And he said no. And he tends to be hurt when you criticize. He shows it and then you feel sorry you said something offensive to a priest."
Does the presence of a priest have an effect on his colleagues? "Yes," said Kindness, "take Sam Hall of Texas. Now he has some very colorful expressions. But when he says 'hell' or 'damn,' he turns to Drinan and says, 'excuse me.'"
Drinan downplays the impact of his religious life on his colleagues but acknowledges that his life style has helped his preparedness. "I do have more time, more opportunity for reflection. But I don't know if it's that different from others," said Drinan.
Each morning Drinan says mass on the campus of Georgetown University, where he lives, joins his fellow Jesuits for a quick breakfast, and then leaves for work. In the evenings he attends dinners and cocktail parties for the causes he supports and occasionally has colleagues over for dinners in the private Georgetown dining rooms.
"When he comes back he spends a half-hour or so in the community room, over a soft drink or bottle of beer, just talking," said the Rev. James Devereux, the rector at Georgetown. "The group, which we call 'the seminar' is anxious for his views but he doesn't hold forth."
When he faced the press Monday, Drinan was clearly emotional, his jaw quivering, as he said, "It is with regret and pain that I accept the decision of the Holy See." The first question was, "Why didn't you give up the priesthood instead of politics?" The tears were apparent as he answered softly, "I couldn't think of it."
That night he returned to Mulledy Hall on the Georgetown campus and stopped to chat with the members of "the seminar." "Everyone said how they admired his statement," recalled one priest. "And a couple of guys said, 'Now you are a hero.' And Drinan kept insisting he didn't want to be one."
One of the causes Drinan is especially close to is that of the Soviet dissidents. "I met Anatoly Scharansky in 1975. I went to his apartment, we talked just about everything, and he took me to meet Sakarov," he said, flipping through a book on Scharansky by his wife, Avital. "Isn't that a haunting face? She was here the day after she learned he had been sentenced. A little girl of 26 and her husband was going to be jailed for 13 years."
Recently when a support group for Soviet dissidents was protesting outside the Soviet Embassy here, Drinan went to join them. He drove his brown 1971 Dodge Dart right into the embassy driveway, blocking the other cars. His passenger looked frightened but Drinan only commented, "What can they do to us?"
When he leaves Congress, Drinan will have more time for writing and working with human rights and hunger groups, like Amnesty International and Bread for the World. Those concerns, he said, "are essential to a vision of the world where there is more justice. And I certainly will continue that interest."
But will he be satisfied with the educational and writing interests of the Jesuits after a decade in the public eye? "I don't know," he said somberly.
"I am a happy individual, that's all."
He points out an editorial and "all the other ink" generated by his departure. He also points out a banner made by his staff. It says "We are proud and honored too," echoing Drinan's statement in response to the papal order: "I'm proud and honored to be a Jesuit."
So, does all of the attention have its mixed blessings? "Yeah," he said, uncomfortably looking at his television monitor of the House floor proceedings. "I would prefer it weren't around."