Jan. 18, 2006

ROME (RNS) Enforcing a strict separation between church and state curtails religious freedom and deprives state-funded social programs of a "spiritual dimension," a top aide to President Bush told an audience of Vatican officials.

Jim Towey, who heads Bush's program to provide federal funding to "faith-based" social services, made his comments Tuesday (Jan. 17) at a conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of "Dignitas Humanae," the ground-breaking 1965 Vatican document that recognized the rights of individuals to freedom of religion and the validity of separation between church and state. Towey decried the "ruthless secularization" of public life by Bush opponents who he said have falsely cast the president as a "chaplain-in-chief." "I think we can agree to disagree with those who wish to banish religious voices from the public square," Towey said.

Critics of the Bush administration have accused the president of improperly trying to increase federal funding for poverty fighting religious organizations and lowering the wall of separation between church and state.

A Catholic lawyer who served as counsel to Mother Teresa for 12 years, Towey said federally funded social programs required a "spiritual dimension" to effectively serve recipients such as drug addicts. "The struggle of these individuals was not just a social problem but at its core a spiritual problem," Towey said.

Towey was joined in Rome by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, who criticized gay marriage initiatives and other federal regulations, such as abortion rights laws requiring Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, as "a really subtle attack on everything we stand for."