It’s rare to find serious discussion of religion and public life in the mainstream media — particularly when the religion involved is Catholic.

So it was all the more surprising to stumble across this lengthy profile of a Catholic congresswoman from Connecticut, Rosa DeLauro, in the Hartford Courant:

Rosa DeLauro thought she was such a good Catholic.

She attended Catholic schools from grade school through college. Her father received Communion daily. Her parents helped run the bingo games at St. Michael’s Church in New Haven.

“I grew up in an Italian Catholic household,” she said, “where the church informed all the values we were taught, the values of family, church and work ethic.”

Religion was a private but vital part of her life, and yet for years, the 3rd District congresswoman grew more frustrated and angry about what looked like the deepening crevice between her public work on a variety of issues and the positions of her church, where officials made it clear they were not pleased with abortion rights supporters.

What’s more, Republicans had defined themselves as the party of the devout, and they routinely painted Democrats as godless and worse.

So DeLauro went to her friend W. Douglas Tanner Jr., a Methodist minister in Washington she knew from Democratic Party retreats.

“I don’t understand,” she told him one day about 10 years ago. “Why am I viewed as some sort of godless individual? Why? Why? Me, who grew up in my faith. What is this disconnect in terms of the political arena and the public service?”

Tanner told DeLauro she was not alone, that a lot of other members of Congress, particularly Catholics, were struggling with the same dilemma.

He encouraged them to talk more to one another about their faith, to learn to become more comfortable with expressing their views on religion publicly – something most politicians used to work hard to avoid – and to figure out how to translate their teachings into public policy.

And so, in 2007, after years of soul-searching, seminars and informal talks with colleagues and church officials, Rosa Luisa DeLauro, proud communicant at St. Michael’s, graduate of Lauralton Hall High School in Milford and Marymount College in New York, led the effort to write a letter to Catholic bishops expressing her opposition to the Iraq war. And she joined Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, in successfully pushing the “Reducing the Need for Abortion Initiative,” which will spend millions on adoption, family planning and like-minded programs.

The Catholic Rosa DeLauro is now very much the public Rosa DeLauro. It has been a long, painful journey.

To read why it’s been long and painful, follow the link.

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