I am a huge fan of Slate‘s “Dear Prudence” column. I think Emily Yoffe’s advice is consistently level-headed, delivered with a nice combination of directness and humor. I look forward to seeing what she has to say every week, and almost always agree with it.
Several days ago, in the wake of the Sandusky trial, she penned an essay about victims of sexual assault and why they stay silent for years. In the piece, she relates three different instances when she was sexually assaulted herself, all before she reached the age of 20. The first episode was at the hands of an older cousin, who briefly touched her genitals under the guise of a “tickle fight.” The second was perpetrated by the father of a friend when she was 15, during which he tried to kiss her and groped her breasts. In neither case is the person named, though she gives enough detail about the cousin that family members will presumably be able to suss out who it was.
Here is her description of the third episode:
The last incident was not child abuse, because I was no longer a minor, though I was still a teenager of 18 or 19. Several years earlier, my family had worked for the election of our congressman, Father Robert Drinan, an anti-Vietnam War, pro-choice priest. He was in town for a fundraiser or town meeting, and I went. Afterward he offered me a ride to the subway. (You’d think I would have learned.) He was in his 50s, and as he drove we chatted about college. 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!”
As I shoved him off and opened the car door to get out, I saw I had left a smear of my pink lipstick on his clerical collar. Again, I told no one. It was embarrassing, revolting, and I had no desire to make accusations against a congressman, especially one I admired.
Well, the accusation has been made now. The late Father Drinan’s family has responded thusly:
In response to Emily Yoffe’s DoubleX story “My Molesters,” Father Robert Drinan’s niece Ann Drinan has requested that Slate print this statement on behalf of the family: “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.”
I do not know Emily Yoffe personally. But, as I’ve indicated, I’m a regular reader, one who has gotten to “know” her over the years. Insofar as one can form a sound opinion of someone one has never met, I consider her trustworthy. I have no reason to doubt what she has said.
I am also not a private investigator, and have no information about the kind of man Drinan was in his private life. What little I can piece together about him via Google doesn’t seem to yield any evidence that there were any similar accusations during his lifetime. (Take that for what it’s worth, which is essentially nothing.) So Yoffe’s accusation stands alone against the memory of a prominent and respected lawmaker, one who was apparently courageous in his opposition to various injustices. It’s a pretty big bombshell, against which he cannot defend himself.
Suddenly the man’s legacy is in question. And I honestly don’t know what to think. So I’m asking everyone what they think. Did you admire this man? (His time in office extended before I was born, and I was a young child when he left it.) How do you weigh what he did as a public servant against this news?
Before I hit “publish” I’m going to stipulate a few things. I have no reason to doubt Yoffe’s story, and am not saying she was not right to make public what happened. I also realize that the readership of this blog skews male, though I am very grateful to have as many women who comment frequently as we do. I am posting this, not in an effort to court controversy (which Blinded Trials seems to have in spades anyway), but merely to raise the question about how to weigh the legacy of an otherwise admirable (by my lights) man when publicly accused, particularly when the man himself has died.
I am asking for your thoughts.
[Photo by Doug Mills of the Associated Press]