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Father Drinan, professor and former congressman, speaks at Tufts


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MEDFORD — The Jesuit priest, who in his long career of public service represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives, Nov. 8 spoke to an audience at Goddard Chapel on the campus of Tufts University in Medford.

There are three things American Catholics can do to promote religious freedom: learn, pray and act, said Father Robert J. Drinan, S.J., who was formerly the dean of the law school at Boston College, and is now affiliated with the law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

"It was very uplifting," said Tufts University chaplain Father David M. O'Leary after the event.

Father O’Leary said he invited Father Drinan to speak when the two met at an event in the chapel last spring.

He first heard Father Drinan speak in 1990 at the Weston School of Theology, where he was studying, Father O’Leary said. “He is a great champion for Catholic social teaching.”

Father Drinan’s new book “Can God and Caesar Co-Exist? Balancing Religion Freedom and International Law” explores how, due to a lack of international monitoring of different countries, even those where the local laws protect religious expression, many countries fall short of full religious freedom, he said.

Despite the vital role the United States could be playing to increase international pressure of restrictive societies, the Bush administration has come up short, he said.

Specifically, President Bush’s rejection of the jurisdiction of the international courts was a step in the wrong direction, he said. But, it was consistent with Bush’s policy against cooperation with others on the world stage.

Not everything done in the international courts are correct, such as when the European court at Strasbourg, Austria ruled in favor of Turkey’s ban on religious headdress, Father Drinan said. However, it is better to be part of improving the process than to ignore it.

Father Drinan was also vocal on recent examples of Bush’s foreign-policy mistakes, such as the war in Iraq. “Why are we bombing Fallujah?”

It is wrong to think people will change if you bomb them, he said.

When the pope sent a senior cardinal to beg the president not to invade Iraq, he was ignored, he said. “The cardinal got the brush-off from Bush.”

"In 1945, we agreed never to go to war again," he said. This agreement led to the formation of the United Nations, an organization we have ignored to pursue the war. Father Drinan is a member of the United Nations Association.

Looking out onto the students in the pews, Father Drinan said, “Young friends, we must learn.”

Americans should know that because of the actions of our government we are not fully respected, he said. “Many people around the world distrust us.”

"It is very painful to read to read what the foreign press writes about us, but they are right," he said.

The United Nations is an excellent source of information about the United States that is typically left out of the mainstream media, Father Drinan said.

For example, in one U.N. report Americans would learn that the Navy has 19 submarines in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, carrying 2,000 nuclear weapons in violation of international law, he said.

Never before has the world been more integrated, and never before has America been more isolated, especially from the 48 Muslim nations and 1.3 billion Muslims, he said.

After learning, the next step is prayer, he said. Prayer is even more important to modern Catholics who forget that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in our souls and dwelling in the Church, he said.

Christ told us we must pray and he himself often went into the desert to pray. “Get rid of the noise, and ask God: ‘What do you want me to do?’” Father Drinan said.

Father Drinan said he was fortunate to have had to a structured spiritual life when he was a young Jesuit. “In the 1950’s, when we had faith.”

"We can say we want to live a simple life, but we can't. Not after Sept. 11," he said.

After American Catholics have become well-informed and prayed, they must act, he said.

Father Drinan said a great example of action was the young Catholic lawyer in London, who in 1961 learned that five Portuguese students were being held in jail by the country’s military government.

He decided to start a letter writing campaign to the Portuguese dictators to urge them to release the students, Father Drinan said.

The campaign was successful, even though people laughed at the lawyer. Today, his organization, Amnesty International, is the largest of its type in the world, he said.

Father Drinan said that American Catholics need to develop and deepen their anger at injustice.

There are more refugees today than at any time since World War II, 32,000 children die every year of starvation and President Carter called the spread of AIDS the worst pestilence in the history of Earth, he said.

"There are 62 million Catholics in this country, 26 percent of the population, and what have we done?" he asked.

"What does the world think of America and American Catholics?" he asked.

"They see the scandals, of course, and they ask, 'Why can't you do more?'" he said.

"It is easy to say, 'Just stop. I am tired. I am fatigued by all the humanitarian things we are asked to do,'" he said. "But, we are rich and we can do more."

When he completed his prepared remarks, Father Drinan took questions from the audience.

Asked to compare his experience in politics with the experience of the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry, a Catholic who was challenged by some bishops for his support of abortion rights, Father Drinan said there was little comparison.

It was a very bad idea for the four bishops to say they would refuse offer Kerry Holy Communion, he said. “Abortion is a small issue.”

Father Drinan said he never had trouble with bishops. “I received permission to run for Congress from Cardinal Cushing. The old canon law said you had to get the approval of the local bishop.

"Then the Polish pope came in and changed the canon law. He didn't want any priests involved in governments, so I resigned," he said.

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