The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 18, 2006

Press Availability of the Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative, Jim Towey
Office of Faith-Based Initiative

3:09 P.M. EDT

MR. TOWEY: Thank you for coming in. Today is a bittersweet day in that it's always hard to say good-bye, especially at a place where you've loved serving and loved the person for whom you've served. I have a great admiration for President Bush. I thank God he's our President. I thank God for all he's done for our country's poor through the Faith-based and Community Initiative. I feel that sense of sadness that a lot of the people that you've worked with for over four years you won't be seeing on a daily basis. I'm also extremely excited about the new opportunity that Mary and I and my children will have in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, at St. Vincent College.

I want to introduce to you two individuals that are here that could answer questions on the St. Vincent front. Obviously, I'm here to talk about White House issues. But Archabbot Douglas Nowicki is to my left, and Chris Donahue (ph), Chairman of the Board of Trustees at St. Vincent College. Archabbot Douglas is the head of the largest Christian monastery in the world, with 120 monks there in the hills there at the Laurel Mountains. And Chris is Chair of the Board of Trustees. So they're part of the St. Vincent College family.

I think I just will say a few words, and then would be very happy to throw it open for questions as long as you like. President Bush's Faith-based and Community Initiative is deeply rooted in America's heartland. It's established; it will continue to bear fruit for years and years to come. And I thank God for President Bush's leadership on an initiative that has faced a steady headwind from day one.

I was looking today at Americans United press release, praising my departure, and saying that I'd waged an unrelenting war against church-state separation. In reality, this is the death rattle of the voices that were heard when President Bush first took office, because the wall between church and state is still standing. But faith-based groups have been welcomed into the public square and the poor have benefitted from having access to their effective programs.

Last year, for the third straight year, a record amount of dollars went to faith-based religious charities, because the playing field is now even, and hundreds of new groups each year are accessing grants, federal grants for the first time. That's not to benefit the organization, that's to benefit the homeless and the addicted and the lost and lonely, and individuals who often have been denied access to having choices in programs, and having access to programs, period.

So, in my view, I'll leave this office, after proudly serving here for four years, deeply grateful for the results and accomplishments that we've achieved. The court has upheld repeatedly the initiative is constitutional. Congress has signed religious hiring legislation on welfare reform -- I hope they'll do it on the rest of the social service reauthorization bills. But President Bush got one bill the his desk, so I guess the returns from Congress are kind of a mixed bag, because while we've had some success, there's still some things left to be done. And I have every bit of confidence the President is going to achieve them.

Right now the incentives for more charitable giving legislation is in conference with the House and the Senate, and there's bright prospects for that this year. And most of all, after Katrina, the country saw the truth of why there needs to be a faith-based and community initiative. The poor were streaming out of New Orleans, not because they just simply needed social services; they wanted a place that would welcome them and love them. And so often the advocates, so-called advocates of the poor have denied them access to programs like that because the roots of many of these social problems that Americans face today are spiritual in nature. If you don't convince an addict not to put a needle in his arm, or help a homeless person choose well, you've labored in vain, throwing billions of dollars in social services at them. And I have to say that many of the so-called protectors of the poor have never bothered to ask whether the programs they force them to enter are effective, or not. So we measure success on whether we spent a lot of money on drug treatment, but we don't ask the question, whether anybody recovered, or not. I think President Bush has engaged that debate.

So I will tell you, I know that there's a lot of change going on at the White House today and in the days ahead, and I would be shook up if I were part of a shake-up. But the reality is this has been in the works for months, and I'm leaving with President Bush's blessing. I would not have left without it.

I'm very excited about going into the service of the good students of St. Vincent College, and with the Archabbot and Chris and others that I've met. I believe in little. I've seen these little armies of compassion at work in America, and I fell in love with this little college there in the foothills of the Laurel Mountains, and the students, the faculty. So Mary and I are taking our five children, with a lot of memories from Washington, lot of gratitude for the great people I've worked with. I know that I would not have been in this chair to begin with were it not for the prayers of Mother Teresa, and I'm grateful that in some way, I hope, I was able to have helped the poor in our country, and help our nation live up to its high ideals.

I'd be very happy now to answer any questions.

Q Jim, are you convinced that the President is committed to his compassion agenda now as he was in 2000?

MR. TOWEY: Absolutely. That's why I feel I can leave, too, because I know that it's in his heart and he will continue to work until his term is finished, promoting the Faith-based and Community Initiative and other compassion initiatives.

Congress has funded $742 million of initiatives he launched in the State of the Union addresses he's given. And most of all, the benefits of this are now coming in. The White House will release a report later this year showing the results of his compassion initiatives. So we're seeing the first fruits of what he wanted to do, and I think America is forever changed.

Like I said, the death rattle of the secular extremists has given way to a common-sense, sensible approach to helping our poor. And Katrina magnified the importance of a faith-based community initiative. So, yes, I'm convinced, Mark.

I did not measure the success of the initiative by how much publicity we were able to get. I looked at lasting change. And the reality is we now have 32 governors in America with faith-based community initiative offices. I was in Jacksonville last week -- packed house. We've had 23 of these conferences; we always cut off registration. That's remarkable to see how in the heartland people get this.

So I am convinced the President knows this, as well, and will continue to push this initiative forward. And he's always going to face a steady headwind; nothing worthwhile is easy.

Q Will it survive his administration?

MR. TOWEY: I believe it will. I believe it's taken root. I don't believe a successor President can come in and say, let's set the clock back on civil rights and start discriminating again against faith-based charities. Let's tell them to tear down their cross, or move the mezuzah from their door. Let's tell them that they can no longer access these funds. No. I think this has taken root, and I think it will be part of President Bush's lasting legacy. But he has a lot more work to do. And I feel like the part that I could do, I thank God for that chance. And now Mary and I move on, on our next chapter, and we'll trust that Josh and others will continue this work forward for the President.

Q Jim, as you know, the program never became quite as big as Governor Bush outlined in 2000, and your predecessor, another Pennsylvanian, John D'Ilulio, had expressed some frustration that it hadn't been a bigger program. To what do you attribute -- obviously, you're proud of what you did here, and the size of the program -- but to what do you attribute the fact that it wasn't as big as Governor Bush outlined in 2000?

MR. TOWEY: Well, I think we, at least during -- I can only speak during my tenure, Matt. I thought that, when I took this job, the lower profile, the better. I don't feel that these issues would be advanced by food fights and religious rivalries. And, in fact, we see Democrats and Republicans coming together. We have 12 Democratic governors with faith-based offices. I've gone and had forums with them.

I think September 11th changed the landscape on all of the President's priorities when he took office. The reality is, America was changed forever by the attacks on September 11th and that affected everything, from a budgetary standpoint, as well as from a policy time standpoint. The President has understood very clearly his obligation to keep America safe and to fight terrorism and to advance freedom. And to do these things, of course, there are going to be other issues that will have less presidential time.

What I find exciting, however, is that this initiative, whenever it's needed President Bush's engagement, he's been there. Never once in over four years when I went into see him was he opposed to a new initiative. When he went to Philadelphia, which I think was the high point of my first year, December 12th of 2002, and issued his equal treatment executive order -- that had huge significance for these faith-based charities that had been stiff-armed and crowded out of the public square. And that didn't require a lot of publicity; it simply required presidential resolve, and it's always been there for me.

So I think all of the initiatives, when you look at them, Matt, they've all suffered from a post-September 11th environment because our nation was attacked -- they should have suffered. But I think that when you look at the lasting effects of these changes, I think you'll be talking about this for generations. Because we will never help our poor if we don't give them reasons to change, and government can't love and government cannot bond and connect with our poor; they will never have the trust of the poor like a rabbi or a preacher or some of these grassroots groups that may have no particular faith at all.

That's why -- my favorite part of the job was to travel the heartland and go to places all over America and see these armies of compassion doing this work. You'd see them in a little hut, a little shack -- no one has ever heard of them, and they're out there with prisoners that are just out of jail, or they're with kids that don't have a parent, they're with women that are drug addicts. This is the great work of America, and those groups should be embraced and not blocked.

Q Jim, do you think -- you're going to have a report later in the year on the effectiveness of these programs, and you've been out seeing these armies of compassion at work, and clearly, religious motives are behind a lot of the good work that volunteers do. But is it your feeling now that the religious components of these programs, as well, their sharing of the faith is what makes them successful?

MR. TOWEY: Whether faith is shared or not isn't my job. My job is to make sure no government money is funding proselytizing or inherently religious activities. And I think we've done a very good job on that front. A handful of grants have been challenged in five years.

Whether an individual, after-hours of a job training program, goes into a 12-step program that's privately funded -- that's not for our office to determine whether that's good or bad. But I think America benefits every time an addict recovers.

Q But the inherent contradiction or question is, is it precisely the things that the government can't pay for legally that make these programs successful?

MR. TOWEY: Well, look at the Salvation Army. They know how to segregate their public money from their private money. And I think you can run these programs in an effective way, and constitutionally, without asking the group to sacrifice their vitality, which might be that spiritual imperative.

The reality is America should be availing our poor access to programs that could transform their lives, and let them choose to go to the programs. President Bush has never said, oh, we want to force people into a program. We want to give them choice. All along the President -- and I'm proud to say his budget expanded choice in the Workforce Investment Act and the drug treatment program called Access to Recovery -- first time ever, under this President, that we have addicts choosing treatment. We're going to have results from that.

To me, when that's happening, that's the individual choosing. I don't think government should be pushing people into religious programs. To me, that's noxious. And I think if you coerce a person with faith, that's noxious; it goes against every bit of their human dignity to be compelled or forced to embrace a faith. But if there are programs that are out there that are effective and an individual chooses them, we shouldn't allow secular extremists that are so freaked out about religion to block them from going into that program if it could transform their life. And I think that's why Katrina showed that, pretty dramatically so.

There's always going to be a tension, Allen, (ph) on these church-state issues, and there should be. And the reality is our founding fathers intended there to be a tension with the free exercise clause, establishment clause. So anyone sitting in this chair will have to walk that tightrope, but it's worth walking. The poor are worth the effort.

So, from my standpoint, I'm thrilled with progress that's been made in the face of steady opposition by a vocal minority. And if you were to poll the numbers of the United States Senate, they would codify equal treatment tomorrow if they could get it to the floor -- and so would the House. And I think the President will be pushing for that until he leaves office.

Q What's your greatest disappointment?

MR. TOWEY: Well, you know, you always look back at mistakes you make, and I've made plenty. I would love to have seen everything accomplished by now. You'd love to have the whole charitable choice agenda through Congress by now, so that faith-based groups could have their civil rights back and hire on a religious basis. The federal court upheld that right in New York, and I don't know why Congress balks at it -- it's only a handful of Senate Democrats that do, really, that's keeping this from getting to the President's desk. So that's a disappointment. I'd love to have seen the charitable giving legislation to the President's desk by now; happy to see it's in the pipeline.

So the jury is still out on whether I have disappointments, because I'd like to wait until the end of the presidency. And I have every confidence in George Bush that he's committed to this initiative and he's going to press on. When I told him I was leaving I saw in his eye his conviction. This is one of his most important policy initiatives and I think his presidency will be judged by it and he'll be judged favorably for it.

I would love to see more Democratic support. As a Democrat, as a pro-life Democrat, I would love to have seen more embrace it. But I think the politics prevented some of them from doing that. I would love to have seen more interest at that level, but the reality is, it didn't deter us. I'd worked on the Hill for seven years, and when I got here, I was not going to make Congress the grade giver on the initiative. And that's why the President, when he asked my counsel, I proposed the regulatory route, he embraced it. And it's worked.

Q Jim, how successful do you think you've been in convincing private players, corporations or foundations, to actually give more to religious organizations.

MR. TOWEY: We'll see. The President, on March 9th, held a roundtable with some CEO and corporate leaders and Secretary Gutierrez is going to make this a big part of his moving forward with corporate America, foundation America. I think the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to treating faith-based groups fairly. There should not be corporations out there that say, we don't give to religious charities, without even asking, can you segregate the funds, can you make sure all your money goes to your effective program or not.

So I feel like there's no turning back. And the President deserves credit for his boldness and courage in launching this, and I think he'll stay on corporate America to remove these barriers. There should not be major corporations, as there are today, that, when you go and ask for funds, you're told, well, if you're a religious organization you're not eligible. To me, that is invidious discrimination. And who suffers? The poor suffer, because then they're not able to access these programs.

As you can see, to me, this is a passion, this issue. And I thank God -- I started this job with a full head of black hair -- (laughter) so the job is not without stress. But it's been worth every second of it, because I get out there in the country and see the poor and you see that they're being liberated now and able to access more programs.

I don't look to government as my savior. I don't look to government that it's going to solve these problems. It has a critical role to play. But these questions about effectiveness are long overdue in coming, and it's high time for the so-called shepherds of the poor to start answering the question, why they don't bother to measure results and ask whether these billions of dollars are working or not. We're trying to change that. We need help to change that ethic, that culture.

But the work has been worth it. I've had the privilege to work with the poor and to see lives transformed all over the country -- inspirational.

See, what you all don't see that I get to see all the time is the President alone with a recovering addict, or with a kid whose mom or dad is in prison, or a refugee that was just resettled through a faith-based organization, and to see their tears of gratitude. I remember this one refugee who said, thank you, Mr. President, for my freedom. She had just come from Liberia, had suffered horrific persecution, escaped barely alive. She said, thank you, Mr. President. And he said, no, don't thank me, thank America. He didn't say, thank the religious group. He said, thank America. I mean, that's where his heart is.

And I never worried about how big our staff was or why aren't we in the West Wing? It didn't -- the slightest -- when Andy Card asked me about a West Wing office, I told him I didn't need a West Wing office because the President was in the Oval and he's committed to this initiative. So corporate America will get it. It's going to take some time.

Q What did President Bush say to you when you told him about your decision? And did you offer him any sort of advice on successors?

MR. TOWEY: He embraced me, thanked me. He could not have been more gracious, because I told him I would stay if he wanted me to and I would not leave without his blessing. And he said this was a great opportunity for you and Mary; he wanted to know a lot about St. Vincent College. I'm going to get him a sweatshirt as soon as my one-year ethics rule is up. (Laughter.)

But he clearly knows that for an initiative to succeed, it's got to have buy-in in senior staff. But I've been working with Josh for four years, and in the budget battles. Look where the Faith-based and Community Initiative is -- how it's fared. So I've got every bit of confidence in the new Chief of Staff -- he's a friend of the Faith-based Initiative -- and other people working in the West Wing and elsewhere.

But most of all, the country gets it. The governors get it, the mayors get it. I was with the Mayor of Chattanooga yesterday. He's got a faith-based community initiative office opened. I was with the Mayor of Jacksonville. They have a faith-based and community initiative. None of that was out there before George Bush took office.

Like I said, Washington can be a stalemate on some minor legislation, but out in the heartland, they've already reached a conclusion. They want faith-based groups in the public square helping our poor.

He was great. He's always been great to me. I have a tremendous debt of gratitude to George Bush. I admire him. I'm like -- I voted for him the first time, but didn't really know him; knew his brother. But I thank God I voted for him both times. I'm glad he's our President. I'm just -- I just have to call it like I see it. But when I look at the strains on him and how he holds up, I just admire that. I look at the strains on me, with the tiny sliver of his pie, and I don't have ultimate responsibility. I thank God that he's in that chair.

Q And the question about successors.

MR. TOWEY: Successors?

Q Yes.

MR. TOWEY: I think they're in the process now of looking at candidates to fulfill -- to fill that position, and I told him I would stay up to June 2nd. And I'm sure that Josh will be meeting with me very soon to talk about that. I turned in a transition memo and talked about these issues with Karl and with Josh and with the President. I don't worry about it because the President realizes that this initiative is his and that he's going to see it through and he will marshal the resources he needs within the White House to accomplish that objective.

A lot of great people in this office -- Catharine Ryun and Dennis Grace, and some of the people I've worked with here, just extraordinary people. It's not just a one-person job. Trust me. Just extraordinary people that have worked here along the way.

Q Jim, why did you decide to leave at this time?

MR. TOWEY: Every -- I don't want to sound like Andy. He stole that Scripture of "everything has a season." But for me, I felt like the work that I came to do is completed. I saw a wonderful opportunity at St. Vincent College, and I applied there, and I'm grateful to God that I was chosen. I looked at my wife, Mary, and my kids, 13, 11, 9, 6 and 3, and said this will be a wonderful new chapter in our life over in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

I believe that you pray and you pray and you discern God's will. Mother Teresa always said to me, do things for the glory of God and the good of His people. And this job, I've always felt that I could do work for the glory of God, the good of our country and particularly our poor. And I want to continue to serve and make a difference and St. Vincent College gives me that chance. It's a liberal arts college, wonderfully diverse student body. So it was that opportunity, too, Allen, helped boost me to walk.

But I would never have left without the President's blessing, period. He has that kind of loyalty. He commands it, because people that work closely with him day in and day out see -- get a measure of that man, and we love him.

Q Jim, do children of the President get free tuition? (Laughter.)

MR. TOWEY: If they make it through school.


MR. TOWEY: Do they?


MR. TOWEY: Oh, they do? That's a bonus. (Laughter.) The four boys are excited about St. Vincent College, but I have to say they're more excited right now that the Pittsburgh Steelers train at St. Vincent College in the summer. So we've got Allen Cooperman coming to get his supply of Rolling Rock Beer, and Matt comes to see his friend, Arnold Palmer, once in a while. Mr. Rogers comes from Latrobe, and, in fact, the Fred Rogers Center is at St. Vincent College, it's being built there. Archabbot Nowicki was a close friend of Fred Rogers. And I love that, because you're going to have Catholics and evangelicals and Jews and people of no faith at all, and then that student body -- I love that -- to help the students grow, spiritually and intellectually and emotionally.

You know, during this job I got to go to a bunch of colleges to lecture. I love to go to Dartmouth and Yale and Harvard and Princeton, Georgetown and Davidson, and go and argue the church-state issues. So I've been out there -- the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson Debate Club. I debated Barry Lynn once. And I love going to college campuses. It's the pursuit of the truth. One of my favorite books was Ghandi's autobiography, My Experiments With the Truth. My own faith, that seeking of the truth, this unites our faiths. That's why I have a mezuzah at the door. There's certain truths that we have in common. I want to build on that. I have a great chance to do that at St. Vincent's.

So, that's a long answer. Free tuition, and Mary and I get to have time together before dinner, as well as during dinner and after dinner.

Anything else?

Q Could I ask one last one? You said, before you even took the job, one of your career goals was to get to heaven. Do you think you're a little closer?

MR. TOWEY: Mary?

MRS. TOWEY: It's more his marriage with me that's helping him attain that goal than this job. (Laughter.) I would say, yes.

MR. TOWEY: You know, one of the truths I always felt, that you're as holy as your last prayer. So my career goal remains to get to heaven, and I've felt this job is part of my journey. And now my next step, to St. Vincent College, will be part of my journey. I always trust myself to the mercy of God.

But I think that there's something very sanctifying about being with the poor and with the little. I've been really blessed. I'm the luckiest guy in this administration, bar none. The benefits of my job, to go out there and see what I've seen, to meet America's religious leaders -- Hindus, Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, other faiths -- just exciting to me. You know, meet people like Rick Warren and all the cardinals and the Episcopal bishops. It's a beautiful tapestry of faith in our country.

This is something America can teach the world, about how diverse faiths live together. I had the Chief of Staff to the President of France in here about a month ago, and he looked at this picture of the President praying in public, and he said, our President could never do that. And I said, I feel sorry for you. I was asked, would there ever be an atheist President? My answer is, I hope not. I still feel that way. And I feel like, more than ever -- I was at Walter Reed hospital seeing soldier Neil, and seeing his ultimate sacrifice, and the reality is Neil needs a heck of a lot from this country now, and he needs our prayers, too.

So, yes, I don't know if I'm any closer to heaven. I'm the last person to judge that. But the great spiritual writers often speak of it as a decent. So Karl Rove won't have me to put in a headlock anymore. I'm just kidding. (Laughter.) He's a good friend. He's had running jokes with me, and I finally got even with him right before Christmas, when I was able to ask the President, with Karl seated there, and a number of other senior staff, on whether Karl was a product of evolution or intelligent design. (Laughter.) Some things are just deep mysteries.

Q So it hasn't been sanctifying to spend time with the press? I noticed you left that out.

MR. TOWEY: You know something, I have never had any issues with the press since I've worked here. That's the God's truth. I'm interested in the truth; I think that's why you all take these jobs. I mean, there's a certain adversarialness, and I don't quite understand your business, but -- I don't know. I can't think of too many things negative. Even Barry Lynn (ph), I know Barry. Barry ought to be sending us flowers for all the fundraising we've done for him. (Laughter.) I didn't make any enemies here, thank God, and we sure made a lot of friends along the way, especially in this office.

Q Pennsylvania has a Senate race with two strong pro-life Catholics, in Casey and Senator Santorum. Have you thought how you might vote as a new Pennsylvania resident in that race?

MR. TOWEY: I'm still working on Pennsylvania Avenue. I'm a big fan of Senator Santorum and what he's done for the Faith-based Initiative. But I'll have to register to vote and hear the issues and hear where the candidates stand on them. But I have to say that I've still got my mind in this job now, until I leave it; I'm still working full time for the President. But I'm a big fan of Rick Santorum's.

MR. TOWEY: Elisabeth, anything? I saw you way back there.

Q Everyone has asked my question.

MR. TOWEY: Thank you all for coming. A lot of you I've worked with over these years, and you've been just tremendously fair. And I admire your work. I know you've got difficult, difficult jobs. So, good working with you, and come to Latrobe. The Archabbot is going to welcome you. John McKinnon, there's a monastery there that you can come and sit in a little cell in to pray.

Q Do they have a weekend package deal? (Laughter.)

MR. TOWEY: They have the Rolling Rock tour on Saturday.

Q Do you want to give us just a few basic details about the college? The size of the student body --

ARCHABBOT NOWICKI: The college is 1,600 students, from just about every state in the country and a number of other nations. We were pleased that Jim Towey accepted our offer to come to St. Vincent. He's a wonderful model for what Americans need, and particularly young people in our country. His dedication, his compassion, his real commitments to this country and to the future of this country is something that I know that we're all looking forward for him to share with the generation of students that are there now, and future generations.

Q Is St. Vincent associated with a particular religious order?

ARCHABBOT NOWICKI: It's the Benedictines, which is probably one of the oldest orders. We go back to the 5th century, when it was established by St. Benedict, who was an Italian and established the first monastery. Probably our greatest fame, though, is that St. Ignatius, who was the founder of the Jesuits, was taught by the Benedictines. We sort of take credits for the Jesuits and anything that they might have done. So places like Georgetown, I think certainly -- we want to give them a certain amount of reverence, but they ought to know and realize that whatever they have to offer came first from the Benedictines. (Laughter.)

MR. TOWEY: Largest monastery -- Christian monastery in the world.

Q In terms of number of monks?

ARCHABBOT NOWICKI: Number of monks. We have 185 all together, 120 at St. Vincent. We have 20 in Brazil, four in Taiwan, about 58 in the different parishes in the eastern part of the United States.

Q So is it the 120 figure that makes it the largest, or the 185?

ARCHABBOT NOWICKI: -- 185 would make it.

Q That's not all in one place.

ARCHABBOT NOWICKI: Well, 120 at St. Vincent, which would still probably be the largest in one place.

Q Bigger than Mt. Athos?


MR. TOWEY: I like that, Allen, you can throw some monasteries at us. (Laughter.) But the 185 -- their home monastery is St. Vincent, but they're kind of out there away from the mother ship, but due back. (Applause.)

END 3:43 P.M. EDT

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