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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2001 / 12 Shevat, 5761

George Will

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Consumer Reports

Keeping faith behind initiatives -- THE REVIVAL of government by grown-ups continues. Prof. John DiIulio will head the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

DiIulio, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, previously taught at Princeton and studied with James Q. Wilson, the most accomplished social scientist of his generation. The burly DiIulio, who is built along Stonehenge lines, demurred strongly, and successfully, when some faint-hearted person suggested rearranging the title of the office, making it the Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives, putting faith second.

Even when DiIulio taught at Princeton he lived where he grew up, in Philadelphia, near where his immigrant grandparents had lived. Unlike pretty little Princeton, Philadelphia has what is delicately called a "challenging urban environment." For several years DiIulio has been accepting the challenge, working with then-Mayor (now pastor) Wilson Goode and the current mayor, John Street, who has a "volunteer and faith-based initiatives" operation.

DiIulio, a Democrat, spiritedly defends the welfare state's record of achievement in reducing destitution, disease and premature death. However, he favors recasting the welfare state in accordance with a principle of Catholic social teaching. The principle of "subsidiarity" is that government's ameliorative efforts are most successful when they involve civil society's local institutions, including religious ones, that emphasize moral values and ethical conduct. Because of social scientists like DiIulio, and because of streetwise program administrators like, well, DiIulio, it is not just intuitively obvious, it is demonstrable that there is a powerful correlation between sustained contact with religious people and institutions and reduced crime and substance abuse.

Increasing the involvement of faith-based institutions with publicly funded policies will produce a litigation orgy about alleged "excessive entanglement" of government and religion in violation of the First Amendment proscription of "establishment" of religion.

But much of this is political pleading dressed up as constitutional law. Planned Parenthood, a secular lobby for abortion rights, received in 1999 $176.5 million -- 27 percent of its revenues -- in government grants. Yet many people who approve of that now say that if government delivers assistance through religious organizations, America will be threatened by theocracy.

Catholic Charities USA, to take just one example, already receives 65 percent of its $2.3 billion budget from government. But the resulting problem is not theocracy, it is the creeping secularization and politicization of a religious organization.

DiIulio has read "How Catholic Charities Lost Its Soul" (by Brian Anderson, in the Winter 2000 City Journal). For decades Catholic Charities USA stressed how poor people often injure themselves with bad values and self-destructive behavior. Now Catholic Charities USA often functions as an appendage of the government-social services complex devoted to defense of the welfare state status quo. It opposed, for example, the 1996 welfare reform, which put subsidiarity into practice by devolving responsibilities from the federal government to the states.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) tells of a priest who, beginning a psychology internship, failed his test at a Catholic Charities clinic when presented with hypothetical counseling situations involving a depressed pregnant woman seeking an abortion, two homosexuals seeking advice on their relationship and a couple seeking a divorce. The priest advised against abortion, would not endorse homosexual unions and encouraged the couple to persevere in marriage. The priest's supervisor, who failed him, said, "We get government funds, so we are not Catholic."

Anderson reports that to keep San Francisco contracts, Catholic Charities extends spousal benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual live-in partners. Catholic Charities in Oakland recently ran programs that encourage public school social science instructors, beginning in the first grade, to favorably discuss same-sex marriage, gays in the military and "family diversity."

Faith-based institutions that become government's partners must brace themselves to resist incessant government pressure to dilute and mask the very messages that social scientists like DiIulio can demonstrate are effective in healing dysfunctional lives. Here is a sample -- this is not a parody -- of the mentality that stands between DiIulio and his, and Bush's, goal of reintroducing religion into the public square on behalf of the poor:

A few years ago the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wrote to the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles concerning federal aid received by his St. Vincent de Paul Shelter for the homeless. HUD asked whether it would be possible to rename it the "Mr. Vincent de Paul Shelter."

Because of court-created hypersensitivity, government often seems to bristle with hostility toward religion. DiIulio's daunting task is to facilitate government cooperation with institutions where, he says, "You can say 'G-d bless' even when no one has sneezed."

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