- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

President Bush yesterday appointed a former worker with Mother Teresa as head of the White House office of faith-based initiatives, a post that had been vacant since August.

James Towey, a lawyer and self-described Democrat with Capitol Hill experience, was for 12 years counsel to the Catholic nun, who worked in Calcutta. He also headed Florida's health and social services agency under a Democratic governor.

"In the next year, Jim will work to eliminate barriers that discriminate against community and faith-based organizations," Mr. Bush said at a White House ceremony.

The faith-based initiative, which Mr. Bush once called his most important "legacy," was overshadowed in August by the resignation of the first director of the Office of the Faith-based and Community Initiatives and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Since that tragedy, "it has become obvious to everyone how essential the community and faith-based groups are to the well-being of our nation," Mr. Bush said yesterday.

He said the new "spirit" should be mobilized to solve problems of poverty, addiction, abandonment, abuse, illiteracy and homelessness.

The appointment follows Mr. Bush's formation Wednesday of the USA Freedom Corps, which is headed by a chief domestic policy adviser, John Bridgeland.

Mr. Bush said Mr. Bridgeland will be chairman of a new "advisory council" to oversee all aspects of the White House call for volunteerism.

These include the faith-based office, the work of five Cabinet secretaries to lift obstacles to grants for faith-based welfare services and the Corporation of National and Community Service.

In all, Mr. Bush said, "The purpose of this initiative is to rally the armies of compassion."

Yesterday's developments inspired supporters of the Bush idea and galvanized its critics.

"He's reinvigorated about this, and that's exciting to me," said Steve Burger, head of the Assocation of Gospel Rescue Missions. "I had heard nothing from the faith-based office for a year."

Mr. Burger, who attended the White House ceremony with clergy and service providers, said he still is encouraged by the office's August report, "Unlevel Playing Field." It argued that bias and regulatory obstacles blocked faith-based groups from funding allowed under a 1996 charitable choice law.

The Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a critic of the policy, said the faith-based office has lost ground amid controversy.

"After 12 months of criticism from the right, left and center, it's been downgraded to part of an office on volunteerism," Mr. Lynn said.

In its first six months, the faith-based policy stirred partisan bickering over race, homosexual rights and church-state separation.

A House bill expanded the faith-based idea but the Senate sidelined legislation.

Mr. Bush lauded Mr. Towey's "managerial skills and a servant's heart." He noted his work in both political parties said he will push for a legislative success in Congress.

"He understands there are things more important than political parties," Mr. Bush said.

The previous office director, John DiIulio, was a registered Democrat and a Catholic.

Faith-based legislation has two prongs, with tax incentives for charity gaining easiest support. More contentious is government funding of religious service groups.

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