PITTSFORD — If he were still in the U.S. Congress, Jesuit Father Robert F. Drinan would have voted against the invasion of Iraq.
No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, he noted, and the United States failed to get approval for the 2003 invasion from the United Nations Security Council.
Father Drinan made his remarks during a far-ranging interview, and later a speech, at Nazareth College Oct. 28. A professor of law at Georgetown University, he visited Nazareth Oct. 27 to give an evening speech on “Catholic Faith and Human Rights: Agenda for the 21st Century” and an afternoon speech Oct. 28 on “The Mobilization of Shame: A World View of Human Rights.” Father Drinan was also in town to promote the sale of his 2001 book of the same name, as well as 2004’s Can God & Caesar Coexist? Balancing Religious Freedom & International Law.
During the interview, Father Drinan, who was a Massachusetts representative from 1971-81, said Pope John Paul II opposed the Iraq invasion and that the war failed to meet the test of the Catholic Church’s just-war theory. Among its tenets, the theory states that the good resulting from a war must outweigh its bad effects, yet thousands of civilians have been killed in Iraq, he said. When asked if the recent referendum on a new Iraqi constitution justified the war, Father Drinan dismissed positive news about it as “Pentagon propaganda.”
During his afternoon speech, Father Drinan furthermore stated that those who believe the United States needs to stay in Iraq to stabilize it are overlooking the fact that it was the invasion that destabilized Iraq in the first place.
“The mere presence of 150,000 (U.S.) soldiers changes that country,” he said. “Our presence is one of the causes of dissension.”
He also criticized the United States for its ignorance of Iraq.
“We’re trying to dominate a country, and we don’t even know their language — what kind of arrogance is that?” he asked rhetorically.
Despite his strong criticism of the U.S. government, Father Drinan noted that Americans have reason to be proud of their country, particularly when it comes to America’s contribution to the cause of human rights worldwide.
The United States helped create the United Nations, he said, and supported the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He added that the United Nations has achieved great things, including eradicating and lessening disease through such bodies as the World Health Organization.
At times, the United States has put pressure on brutal regimes to change their ways, he added, noting, for example, how U.S. actions helped to end apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, in all his remarks, the priest essentially promoted the use of America’s soft power — its economic might, its educated populace and its influence in international institutions — as opposed to its hard, military power in order to advance human rights.
Father Drinan touched on several other points during his interview and speech, including the following:
* He called on his audience to support Republican Sen. John McCain’s effort to ban cruel and inhumane treatment of anyone detained by the U.S. government. On Oct. 3, Sen. McCain introduced in the Senate an amendment pertaining to this effort and asked that it be added to the 2006 Defense Department Appropriations Bill (H.R.2863). It was approved Oct. 5, and the final bill was approved Oct. 7. On Nov. 4, Sen. McCain asked that the same amendment be added to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 (S.1042). The Senate approved it by a voice vote and was still considering S.1042 as of press time Nov. 11. According to several reports, McCain’s amendment has enjoyed substantial bipartisan support in the Senate, but the White House has criticized it, claiming it would restrict the president’s ability to protect the country.
* He urged the Nazareth students to study foreign languages and called for the institution of international law studies at the high-school level. The students have no choice but to become global citizens, he said, given the many ways nations have become interconnected.
* Although he did not support violent anti-globalization protests, he said groups such as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank need “informed criticism” from grassroots activists. He noted that the recent movement to decrease or cancel debts of Third World countries was a sign that the international financial community is willing to listen to those who plea on behalf of impoverished nations.
* He urged withdrawal of the ban on priests holding public office, a ban imposed by Pope John Paul II that caused him to give up his congressional seat. Priests are well-educated and can promote morality, he said, noting that dozens of Protestant ministers have served in Congress. “The church should be everywhere,” he said.
* Among the achievements of which he was most proud as a congressman was voting to end funding for the Vietnam War; voting to impeach President Richard M. Nixon; and supporting legislation to protect the environment.
* The Catholic Church is one of the sources of human rights because it emphasizes the equality of humanity. Popes John XXIII and John Paul II both strongly promoted human rights, he noted. Human rights are God-given, he said.
“The Abrahamic religions — Jewish, Christian and Muslim — all believe in the fantastic notion that God has intervened in human history,” he added.
Father Drinan’s speech was the latest in a series of lectures addressing challenges facing Catholics, presented by the William H. Shannon Chair in Catholic Studies. The chair is named for Msgr. William H. Shannon, professor emeritus of religious studies at Nazareth College. For information on future lectures, visit www.naz.edu.