The American Bar Association will be honoring Father Robert F. Drinan, S.J. with its ABA Medal, the Association's highest honor, at its 2004 Annual Meeting. Father Drinan, a former Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts and former Chairman of the ABA Sections of Family Law and Individual Rights and Responsibilities, is currently a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. In announcing the award, ABA President Dennis Archer stated: "In an amazing career that has spanned more than half a century, Father Drinan has never faltered in his extraordinary humanitarian efforts and support for justice under the law. He has demonstrated to lawyers what it means to be committed to public service and to countless law students what is embodied in the highest dedication to ethical, moral legal practice. By his standards of leadership, he contributes to the luster and dignity of our award."

Father Drinan has a long, and somewhat controversial, career as a Catholic priest, politician, and law professor. As an outspoken social advocate, he has at times provoked both praise and criticism for his views on abortion, affirmative action, human rights, United States foreign policy, and capital punishment. ABA WATCH discusses some of these controversies below.

  • Father Drinan served as U.S. Congressman for the Fourth District of Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 to 1981, serving on the Judiciary, Internal Security, and Government Operations Committees, among others. As a member of Congress, he traveled internationally on human rights missions around the world, as well as serving as an election observer in Armenia and Panama. In 1980, the Holy See issued an order that priests refrain from running or serving in public office, prompting Father Drinan to retire from office.
  • Father Drinan, an outspoken critic of the Iraq War, signed a letter along with 400 other legal scholars urging members of Congress to consider impeaching President George W. Bush and other high level government officials if they were culpable for the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses. The letter registered objections "to the systematic violations of human rights practiced or permitted by authorities of the United States within occupied Iraq during recent months." In 1998, Father Drinan testified before Congress in opposition to President Bill Clinton's impeachment. He stated that impeaching President Clinton would harm the nation, as the country would be "paralyzed for some six months…This nation has a right to demand that an impeachment effort with no bipartisan support whatsoever should be reconsidered and postponed."
  • In a 2001 speech at Boston College, Father Drinan argued that the United States has had one of the worst human rights records, both home and abroad, since the Cold War began. An example of this is the country's failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. An article about his address quoted him as opining that the United States has "a lot of things to atone for" and the country "needs to be scolded, and it needs to be scolded often." He also contended that addressing malnutrition should be the primary goal of U.S. foreign policy. The speech was delivered six weeks after September 11.
  • Father Drinan has also written a number of editorials condemning U.S. foreign policy and its "new, radical, and dangerous" policies since September 11. He argued against military action in the wake of that attack, maintaining, "Military means are unlikely to destroy the capability of terrorists to make war or prevent future attacks."
  • Father Drinan authored an op-ed for the New York Times in 1996 urging Congress not to override President Bill Clinton's veto of the bill banning "so-called partial-birth abortions." He opposed the bill because it did "not provide an exception for women whose health is at risk, and it would be virtually unenforceable." He wrote, "If Congress were serious about getting a law on the books limiting late-term abortions, it would include the woman's health as justification for the late-term procedure. But it seems more intent on using Clinton's veto as a political weapon." He later reversed himself, claiming he did not understand the procedure.
  • Father Drinan has been a strong supporter of restoring voting rights to felons. He described disenfranchisement laws as "a vestige of medieval times," comparable to literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses. In a 2000 editorial on the subject, he described a Massachusetts proposal to ban felons from voting as "mean-spirited" and "against all the best thinking of authorities on corrections." He described the proposal as an effort to disenfranchise millions of African Americans who are convicted felons.
  • In a National Catholic Reporter article published after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Lawrence v. Texas, Father Drinan endorsed gay adoption, writing, "Loving parents of a same-sex union may well offer a better situation for a child than an orphanage or other arrangements." He wrote that the Lawrence decision was not as far-reaching as critics contended and suggested "legislation can be crafted by which a legal union of gay couples can be granted certain tax or pension benefits for persons living together for a designated period time."
  • Father Drinan is an outspoken proponent of affirmative action, viewing it as one of the best means to "bring justice and real equality" to African-Americans.
  • In another National Catholic Reporter piece, Father Drinan expressed support for removing the word "God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Declaring it a political, rather than a religious issue, he suggested, "It would be wholesome for all religious groups in America to have a broad-based dialogue on the essential question of whether people of faith are being honest with themselves and their fellow citizens who do not have faith if they insist that the law compels believers and nonbelievers to assert the country is 'under God.' It also matters a great deal what 45 million children think about their faith and their nation when they are required on some 180 days a year to proclaim that their nation is 'under God.'" Father Drinan took issue with the Congressional debate on the subject, declaring: "The rhetoric and the proclamations of the necessity of God in the lives of children and of the nation were almost offensive."
  • Father Drinan has expressed support for offering reparations to descendents of slaves in the United States. Detailing his visit to the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture in a National Catholic Reporter piece, Father Drinan expressed how his experience offered compelling evidence in favor of reparations. He wrote, "The United States owes a great deal to those whose lives were altered because they were descendents of slaves." He also has written editorials for the National Catholic Reporter endorsing reparations to the people of Vietnam.
  • He has lobbied for the end to the death penalty, declaring it inhumane, and is also an outspoken proponent of gun control. He has written and spoken on these topics numerous times.
    Father Drinan sharply criticized Ave Maria Law School, a Catholic law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a "holier than thou" institute with an avowedly political agenda. He in particular denounced its hiring of Judge Robert Bork as a faculty member.
  • He is a member of the Board of Directors for the People for the American Way Foundation and the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation. He also served as a member of the National Governing Board for Common Cause and the boards of directors for Bread for the World and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. He also founded the Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control and the National Interreligious Task Force on Soviet Jewry. He is also honorary President of the World Federalist Association. Father Drinan was Vice Chairman of the National Advisory Council for the ACLU and is a member of the Helsinki Watch Commission.