Late Rev. Robert Drinan, former GU Law professor, accused of sexual harassment

Last week, Emily Yoffe, a well-known blog writer and columnist for Slate, wrote a personal account titled “My Molesters” on her experience being sexually assaulted by former Georgetown law professor and Jesuit Rev. Robert Drinan. She was 18 or 19 when the incident occurred in the 1970s. Drinan passed away in 2007, and according to Yoffe’s account he was in his 50s during the incident, before he began his tenure at Georgetown.

Yoffe and her family were supporting Father Drinan’s campaign for congressman at the time. Drinan offered her a ride to the subway when the incident occurred:

We got to where he was letting me off, he turned off the engine, and he began jabbering incoherently about men and women. Then he lunged, shoving his tongue in my mouth while running his hands over my breasts and up and down my torso. It seems like the set-up for a joke, a Jewish woman being molested by a Jesuit. As we tussled, I had probably the most naïve thought of my life: “How could this be happening, he’s a priest!”

She mentions that if these events were reported today, the case has the potential to be considered indecent assault and battery. “Again, I told no one. It was embarrassing, revolting, and I had no desire to make accusations against a congressman, especially one I admired,” Toffe wrote.

Drinan was nothing if not an extremely accomplished and respected member of Georgetown’s community. During his time, the prominent Jesuit became one of the first Roman Catholic priests to vote in Congress. Drinan was a Congressman in 1970 with an anti-war, pro-choice platform who served until Pope John Paul II issued a decree prohibiting priests from political activity. According to the Washington Post, he also was a key member of a panel that filed the resolution to impeach President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

After his death, eulogies were delivered by prominent politicians and diplomats Senator Edward Kennedy, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Ambassador Max Kampelman. In a personal comment after Drinan’s death, GU Law Professor Peter Rubin posted a comment about Drinan’s life at Georgetown. “In person, he was more than a match for his reputation.  Bob was remarkable for his humanity.  When meeting someone new, his questions would always turn to the person’s family: their parents, their children, their spouse or significant other,” Rubin wrote. “In this, you could see that, while he was a lawyer, politician, and activist, he was, first, a priest, a pastor in the best sense of that word.”

Other accounts described his caring disposition. “My first year at Georgetown Law, he overheard me whining about being without a sweetheart yet again on Valentines Day, he produced a heartshaped box of chocolates for me, smiling devilishly he said, ‘Just don’t tell the Pope,'” Professor Sheryll Cashin wrote. Another GU Law Professor David Luban reminisced about the relationship Drinan had with his nine-year-old daughter as a mentor. The two would meet in the office and discuss “religion and politics…For a couple of years afterward, Bob would stop me in the hallway and ask, with mock concern, ‘Are you still feeding Rachel enough?'” Luban wrote.

Drinan’s niece responded to Yoffe’s account on the sexual harassment in a statement to Slate: “We find it odd that anyone would come forward with this allegation decades later when our uncle is dead and in no position to defend himself.”

Drinan’s respected and admired reputation is bound to leave many who knew him confused and in disbelief. “As we’ve seen too many times, coming forward in a case like that opens a woman up to character evisceration,” Yoffe said in her post. “Father Drinan died in 2007, and I’m aware that I’ll be assailed for besmirching the memory of a distinguished man.”

Yoffe wrote that the Jerry Sandusky trial prompted her to come out with her struggles as a victim of sexual abuse despite the fact that the events happened over thirty years ago. Sandusky, former Penn State assistant coach, was found guilty of 45 child sex abuse charges. She also mentioned that her different encounters with molestation did not leave her permanently scarred, but her intention is to encourage more victims to come out publicly with their stories.

Vox is still waiting on a response from the University.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

23 Comments on “Late Rev. Robert Drinan, former GU Law professor, accused of sexual harassment

  1. Shame on Drinan’s niece. It’s not “odd” that a woman would come forward months or even years after an incident of sexual assault. Obviously she doesn’t have to believe Yoffe, but a distinguished journalist wouldn’t be doing this for the attention.

  2. #mostwanted, Why?

    Yoffe is a well-respected, well-established, earnest and honest writer. The person about whom she’s made these claims is also well-liked and well-known, and important to the lives of a lot of people. I believe that all claims of sexual assault are worth evaluating, not dismissing out-of-hand, no matter who they come from. But Yoffe is particularly credible, and I have an enormously hard time imagining what she could have to gain by inventing or exaggerating an inappropriate encounter with the enormously well-regarded Robert Drinan.

    A pretty consistent theme in stories about sexual assault is that the person doing something inappropriate is often in a position of trust–a priest, a coach, a teacher, or, as I discovered a few years ago when interviewing folks for a story about assault at Georgetown, a friend. ( These can be people who appear, or are, kind and giving in many other aspects of their lives. A few years ago, it would have been crazy to suggest that a religious man might take advantage of a young person in a moment of opportunity. I would hope we’d all be less inclined to disbelieve potential victims without a second thought by now.

  3. @Molly R

    Please explain how we can evaluate this claim with the information that Yoffe has provided. Do you believe her or do you not? I choose the latter.

  4. @#mostwanted, you’re the reason why so many women never report sexual assault. And why Yoffe didn’t disclose it until now. And why a small group of men do it again and again and again — they know you and people like you will defend and protect them every time.

  5. As Molly said, it’s hard to see what benefit Yoffe would stand to gain from inventing something like this. Going public with this isn’t going to raise her profile; it might increase her ‘notoriety,’ but she’s already prominent enough that her career isn’t really going to benefit. It’ll simply make her a more polarizing figure within left-leaning circles. If Drinan was some arch-conservative, that would be one thing, but he’s a liberal hero.

    As H*ya alludes to, in the vast majority of cases these types of actions are committed by “a small group of men…again and again and again.” It is highly unlikely that this was a singular outburst on Drinan’s part; it’s exceedingly rare for a person to commit sexual assault ‘only once.’ If Yoffe is telling the truth – and I have no reason to doubt her – I expect we will see other stories come out in the weeks and months ahead.

  6. Hey, these jesuits take vows of celibacy for life. I feel like it is pretty likely that a Jesuit would have one moment of weakness. Or several, but one time is definitely possible. I’m not trying to excuse his alleged behavior. But it is important to realize that you don’t have to be a monster to assault someone (or worse). And secondly there is no evidence. An accusation is not evidence. Innocent until proven guilty. This is America.

  7. @H*ya

    I only asked for a bit of evidence to corroborate her claim. That’s not unreasonable. In fact, the accusations you’ve hurled at me seem the lesser reasoned.


    Simply because you–who is apparently knowledgeable of Yoffe’s inter-workings–and what would or would not benefit her personally or otherwise– do not see Yoffe gaining from the accusation does not mean that what she says is true. If other women do come forward with compelling stories, I would find Yoffe more convincing. Even those who are “well-respected, well-established” must substantiate their claims. Just as, if Dirnan was alive today to deny the incident, we would not take him at his word.

  8. Studies show that a small group of predators pick on vulnerable women (young, alone, intoxicated, wearing “revealing” clothing, work subordinates, etc) so that there is no evidence, and/or the little evidence there is will be disregarded, and/or the victim will be too intimidated to ever say anything because she fears (rightly) that others will always find ways to blame her.

    Yoffe said this happened in the 1970s. What do you want, her 40-year-old sweater with his fingerprints on it? If this were a court of law, that would be relevant. But it’s a Slate article (because This Is America and we have freedom of speech, and also, read it, maybe?). It just so happens to be headlined, “Why don’t sexual assault victims speak out?” Well — here’s our answer.

  9. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a legal standard and one that isn’t particularly relevant here, since the accused is dead. “Guilty” or “not guilty” are the determinations of a court; they should not be conflated with probabilistic or other assessments of what did or did not happen. A hypothetical court could very well find insufficient evidence to convict a person, but that is not the same thing as a definitive statement or finding that the person did not commit the crime in question. It is supposed to be a high bar.

    I’m not interested in declaring someone to be a “monster” or whatever, I’m simply stating what the statistics bear out: there are exceedingly few ‘one-time’ offenders. Sexually frustrated priests, much less ones that are members of Congress, would have plenty of options that don’t entail assault (and that carry a much lower risk of being discovered). Those who cross the line into criminality typically do so more than once.


    I claim no special knowledge of Emily Yoffe’s inner workings. I said that I have no reason to doubt her, and that I do not see how she would stand to gain from fabricating such an assault. Given the amount of negative attention, criticism, and personal attacks that people (not just women – remember Jim Boeheim’s attacks on Bernie Fine’s accusers) endure when they publicly accuse someone, and especially a prominent figure, of sexual misconduct, there would have to be some really strong motivation or potential gain for it to be worth it to lie. Just like a crime, the lack of a motive does play into one’s assessment of likelihood.

    Many instances of this sort come down to “he said, she said,” with objective external verification or substantiation impossible. A criminal determination of guilt is usually also impossible… and that’s probably as it should be, since we want the standard for a criminal conviction to be very high. That’s not a definitive judgment on whether something did or did not happen – just that it is impossible to prove. What usually trips offenders up is that they eventually have to face multiple accusers, at which point both public opinion and the courts are less willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Life does not always deal in clear-cut answers.

  10. What is the benefit of her coming forward with this now? I don’t think someone would make up a story like this but the accused can’t defend himself, nor will she ever be able to confront him or take him to trail or anything of that sort. I do have to wonder who her statement benefits since nothing can be done besides damaging a deceased’s man memory.

  11. @Dizzy

    Exactly. I was saying you are not in a position to judge what would or would not benefit Yoffe. Thus, though there is no clear motive in your eyes, there may–after all–be a motive. So, I find your ‘lack-of-motive’ argument to be rather tenuous.

    I’ll agree with you on the “he said, she said” nature of these incidents. I suppose I made the mistake of saying “I call bullshit” earlier, when I should have gone with “she could just as easily be lying.”

    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.

  12. Well, in most criminal cases the motive is something pretty apparent – none of us are mind-readers, after all, and even a thorough investigation into someone’s life is unlikely to yield some sort of deep knowledge of their inner workings. Money, jealousy, revenge, powerful internal impulse, insanity… that covers most instances, I think, and is usually the sort of thing that isn’t too far from the surface. So while we can never really know what kind of motivations a person might have, we can make an educated guess. We do it all the time in many different contexts.

  13. Whereof one sounds like he’s not in the position to make judgments about another person’s sexual assault account, thereof one must do us all a favor and give it a rest.

  14. Emily Yoffe basically accuses a prominent person of sexual assault.

    I, for one find all of her “testimony” doubtful. Here is why I think this:

    The 14-year old boy sounds wise beyond his years – was he really so sophisticated at his early age? Sounds more like the stereotype of an older male (oldwer than 14-perhaps 18-perhaps 22) trying to seduce a younger girl. “Oh come on, baby, you’ll like it.” Was this perhaps youthful sexual exploration that became uncomfortable and Emily bailed out on it, and it stopped? And she’s trying to figure it out these mixed motivations many years later?

    Similarly, I find the father story doubtful. Would an adult really pour out the story of his marital frustrations to a very young girl, a friend of the family? I find the “recovered memory” even less credible. Would the father have pushed his desire to take Emily home alone in front of his wife and daughter? Even when it seemed so unreasonable?

    Finally, the Father. Thjs sounds curiously like the story of the father. Would a congressman lawyer priest, known for his articulateness, really mumble incoherently about women and men? Would a lawyer in the middle of a congressional campaign push himself on the daughter of a supporter?

    The years modify our memories, and most of the time, I am afraid, it works to justify ourselves.

    If I were on a jury empaneled to judge these allegations, I would look at Ms. Yoffe’s testimony and find it not credible for the reasons I have mentioned, based on my experience of human beings in my years on this planet. I would take the memories of students and colleagues as “character witness” statements and listen to them. My vote, at least, on this hypothetical jury would be “not guilty” of the charges and allegations.

  15. Please remove the above comment. Upon consideration, my remarks are intemperate and do not lend themselves to a serious discussion of the matters at hand. For anyone reading them before they are removed, my apologies.

  16. And my apologies to Ms. Yoffe. I have asked the editor of the blog to remove the comments.

  17. Wow, you’re really eager to backtrack on your accusations of lying. Did Yoffe threaten you? Or are you just afraid nobody will believe you and you’ll be ripped to shreds on Vox?

    This is exactly why so many people do not come forward when someone is lying. Stay strong, sister.

  18. A Reader reconsidered an argument probably written in haste.

    “This is exactly why so many people do not like college libs, wow you are really eager to pounce on someone who disagreed with you. Did A Reader threaten you? Or are you just afraid that people with different opinions can be thoughtful and reconsider.”

    in conclusion, don’t be a drip.

  19. Vox Populi’s comment policy is available on the website. Comments will be deleted “that contain spam, offensive material, others’ personal information such as a phone number, threats, or hateful or excessively crude language, or impersonation.” Your comment does not violate these guidelines, therefore we do not feel deleting the comment is necessary or warranted.

    If a comment was written in haste, we encourage you to post a new comment that more accurately represents your newer opinions.

  20. The debate as to the claim against Father Drinan exposes the problem we all have in attempting to assess the credibility and fairness of accusations. There are many factors that influence our willingness to accept, reject or be uncertain as to claimed misconduct. Those factors often have little to do with objective indications of truth or falsehood. They may reflect our emotional or political bond to the accused or the accuser or our predisposition as to the nature and threat presented by the accusation or by the alleged conduct.

    For myself, I resolve this accusation as follows: Certainly it could have happened. Neither clerical collar nor political status mean that one is more or less likely to engage in such conduct. Certainly, whatever did happen might not have the unsavory gloss described by Yoffe. Neither gender nor vulnerability mean that one is more or less likely to imagine, exaggerate or intentionally lie. Whatever the reason, however, the long delay and the fact that Drinan is no longer alive to defend himself, lead me not to view his reputation and character as besmirched. I accept her story, to the extent that it enforces the realization that lechery can be lurking anywhere. I do not accept it to the extent that I will permit it to defile the defenseless.

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