Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 -- Count the Rev. Valentine J. Peter, administrator ofNebraska's famed Boys and Girls Town, as a supporter of President Bush's plan to allow faith-based charities to secure federal funds.

Peter was among about 50 Roman Catholic leaders who met Wednesday with Bush as the president pushed his faith-based initiative for thethird straight day Wednesday. Peter said it's about time religious leaders didn't have to check their faith at the door when dealing with government.

Bush announced Monday he wants government to partner with qualified religiousorganizations to bring social services to the people who need them. He hasbeen meeting with religious leaders ever since to get their ideas on how thepartnership should work.

Wednesday's Catholic delegation was led by Cardinal-elect Edward Egan, the Catholic archbishop of New York.

There's no way that government can create love," the president toldthe group gathered in the Indian Treaty Room of the Dwight D. EisenhowerExecutive Office Building next door to the White House. "But what government can do is fund and welcome programs whose soleintent is to change lives in a positive way."

Bush congratulated Catholic leaders for their "unwavering commitmentto the poor and to the disadvantaged" and their answering of a "callfrom the Lord" to help people.

He also touted a study released Wednesday by Independent Sectorshowing his proposal for allowing charitable deduction to Americans whodo not itemize their taxes would prompt an additional $14.6 billion peryear in charitable giving, an increase of 11 percent over currentlevels. The ban on non-itemizers taking deductions for charitable givingwas enacted during the Reagan presidency.

"We must reform the tax code ... to allow non-itemizers to deductcharitable giving off their income," Bush told the leaders. "Our missionin the White House is to say we welcome you, we welcome your love, wewelcome your finances, we welcome your compassion."

Peter, who leads the Omaha home for troubled children that wasestablished by the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan in 1917, said later he told Bush thefederal government must change the way it assesses the success of a program.

"I said the best advice I can give you ... is to make sure the chief goalof all grants are the results obtained," Peter said. "If it is a childwelfare grant, did the children get better? The way the government usuallytalks about outcomes is they want to know if the money they gave you wasspent for the purposes it was intended, and they usually do not ask for theoutcome. 'Did you steal it?' 'No.'"

He said Bush laughed and responded, "We hope to do better than that."

Peter said for too long government has discriminated against faith-basedagencies providing services to the poor and needy. He said Bush now realizesgovernment can play a role.

"The pendulum is swinging from the extreme we've had in the last eightyears of secularism and cries of no church involvement with government to amiddle ground -- partnering without proselytizing," Peter said. "How theypray is up to them."

The best example, he said, is Mother Teresa.

"She always brought her faith with her. She never asked anyone to become aChristian. She loved them and cared for them," he said.

Other members of the delegation talked about the need to help immigrants,especially those from Latin America.

The Bush administration seeks to eliminate federal barriers to using faithgroups as overseers of social programs.

It would identify and eliminateimproper federal barriers to faith-based and community programs throughreforms of agency laws and regulations and wants to stimulate private donations by expanding tax deductions. The Bush administration also wants to expand after-school and literacy services offered by religious groups, help the children of prisoners, and support other people in need.

The prospect of federal funds going to faith-based organizations hasignited a firestorm of criticism from organizations that argue such aninitiative would violate constitutional separation of church and state.

The president, however, is pressing ahead with his initiative.

On Monday, he signed two executive orders creating the Office of Faith-based Action and Community Initiatives, and establishing liaison offices in five federalagencies to review regulations that stymie work with faith and communitygroups.

On Wednesday, he called for revisions in the tax code to help stimulatecharitable giving to faith-based and secular non-profit organizations.

Egan was joined at the meeting by other prelates, includingArchbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and Archbishop John Favalora ofMiami, as well as representatives of the Knights of Columbus and Sistersof Life, a small religious order founded by the late Cardinal JohnO'Connor of New York that provides housing to pregnant women in their convent.

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