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Jesuit inspired Kaine's career
Faith led Gov.-elect Tim Kaine into public service

 Gov.-elect Tim Kaine, in his transitional office in Richmond, speaks of the role faith has played in his life and political career.
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Date published: 1/11/2006


RICHMOND--Thousands of people will watch as Tim Kaine is sworn in as governor Saturday, but one man not in attendance will be on Kaine's mind.

The governor-elect attributes much of his political career to a Jesuit missionary named Jim O'Leary, whom Kaine met on a mission trip in Honduras.

"He just taught me that if you measure your life by doing for others then you're going to be a happy and fulfilled person," Kaine said recently of O'Leary, who died in 2002.

The seeds of Kaine's public service career were planted in the early 1980s in that poor Honduran village--not at Harvard Law School.

As a first-year student at the ivy-league institution, Kaine watched many of his peers trade promises of public service for $1,000-a-week salaries at summer clerkships on Wall Street.

"I basically saw a lot of people who had an orientation to do one thing just get sucked in by the fact that they could make a great salary working somewhere," he said. "I didn't want to be pulled into something by a salary--I wanted to make a decision about what it was I wanted to do and then do that."

So, Kaine decided to volunteer at a Honduran mission he had visited during his junior year at the Jesuit, all-boys high school in the Kansas City suburb where he grew up.

"I said, 'Look, let me get off the merry-go-round here for a minute and do something for somebody else and figure these things out,'" Kaine said.

Living and working among the poorest of the poor, Kaine saw in action the lessons preached in church every Sunday.

"Just seeing the circumstances those people lived in and how the strength of their faith helped them survive through difficult times--it wasn't until that year that I really began to understand in a more real way a lot of the scriptural lessons that I had learned growing up," he said during an interview in his Richmond transition office. "So when I came back to law school from that time I spent there, I was just very much in a different place in terms of what I wanted to do."

He kept the Honduran experience in mind the rest of his time at Harvard, during his tenure on the Richmond City Council--including four years as mayor--and while recently serving as lieutenant governor.

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Religion also guides Bolling and McDonnell

By Natasha Altamirano

RICHMOND--For the first time in Virginia history, two of the commonwealth's three statewide officeholders are Catholic: Democratic Gov.-elect Tim Kaine and Republican Attorney General-elect Bob McDonnell.

The only previous Catholic statewide official in Virginia was former Lt. Gov. Richard Davis, who served from 1982 to 1986.

Virginia is an overwhelmingly Protestant state with a Catholic population well below the national average, said Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia.

A Catholic governor would have been unheard of 40 or 50 years ago, but the role of religion in the electorate has changed since then, Sabato said.

Still, Kaine's religious beliefs had a significant role in the 47-year-old's campaign, atypical for many Democrats. Republicans McDonnell and Lt. Gov.-elect Bill Bolling had support from their party's conservative, religious base.

'A moral compass'

Like Kaine, McDonnell agrees that faith has a place in public discourse.

"When you hire somebody to be one of your top three officers in Virginia, you can't possibly know every different policy position they're going take," McDonnell said in an interview last week. "I think people want to know, what are they made of? Are these decent people? Do they have a moral compass? What's their core set of values or principles that they're going to use to make decisions?"

Also like Kaine, faith is an essential part of McDonnell's life, and integral to explaining who McDonnell is.

"People know that I'm a Catholic Christian, and I'm a conservative, and I believe in limited government and that, because I have a duty to the people and a duty to God, I'm going to try to be humble and respectful in the way I discharge my duties," said McDonnell, 51, who served in the House of Delegates for 14 years.

McDonnell attended Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Notre Dame University in Indiana, Boston University and Regent University Law School in Virginia Beach, where he lives now.

His father is an Irish Catholic from Boston, and his mother is a Catholic convert who was raised in an evangelical Lutheran church in Texas.

McDonnell said his mother has been the greatest religious influence on his life.

"She was a person of very deep faith," McDonnell said. "She taught me by example. Following her life and the way she dealt with other people was more powerful than learning theology--I actually got to see her put those beliefs in action."

Religion has always played a significant role in the United States, McDonnell said.

"That's the history of our nation--coming to a new world to exercise religious freedom," he said. "It's so much a part and parcel of our system--whether it's our money or the national motto of 'In God we trust' or what's written over the Supreme Court of the United States--there's no question that this is a religious people."

People of faith span all political parties, he said.

"I don't think it's a denominational thing," he said. "There are conservative Catholics and there are very liberal Catholics. I think it comes down to the teachings of that particular denomination--how do people translate that theological teaching in church? How does it translate into their views of public policy?"

The death penalty is one example of how interpretation of religious doctrines can lead two people of the same faith to different policy decisions.

Because of his faith, Kaine says he personally opposes the death penalty, but pledged to be true to his oath of office and uphold the law.

McDonnell, on the other hand, says he sees no contradictions between his Catholic beliefs and supporting the death penalty.

"My clear understanding of the Catholic tradition and catechism is that there's not a ban on the use of the death penalty, but a very narrow and limited use of the death penalty is what the popes have said is morally permissible," McDonnell said. "Virginia's got 13 very limited cases in which the death penalty can be used.

"When I add all that together, it's a very limited, narrow application of the death penalty, and to me, that's very consistent with Catholic teaching."

Catholic leaders, including the pope, have expressed opposition to capital punishment.

Pope John Paul II wrote in a 1995 encyclical that the death penalty should be used only "in cases of absolute necessity" or "when it would not be possible to otherwise defend society." The pope continued to write, "Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

Virginia bishops, including Arlington's Paul S. Loverde and Richmond's Francis X. DiLorenzo, have argued that Virginia's sentence of life without parole should be used instead of the death penalty.

You know when it fits

Faith also plays a large role in both the political and personal lives of Bolling, 48.

"Faith is very important to me, and it's very important to my family," said Bolling, who has taught an adult Sunday school class at his church for 23 years. "It has a direct bearing on the way in which I conduct myself in public life. It teaches me certain values, and I try not to deviate from those in my personal life, and I try not to deviate from those in my public life."

Growing up in southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia, Bolling was raised Baptist.

When he moved to Hanover County in 1981, he began attending Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Mechanicsville and has been with the church ever since.

"I've always felt churches are kind of like shoes--when you find the right one, you know it fits," Bolling joked in an interview last week.

Church is the center of Bolling's family life, but he said his faith has a direct influence on his political career as well.

Bolling said the piece of legislation he is most proud of during his decadelong term in the state Senate is a bill creating a health insurance program for low-income children.

"It's a reflection of my faith--the responsibility to reach out and help those among us who are most vulnerable," he said.

Other policy issues also are reflections of Bolling's faith, he said.

"When I work on public safety issues and try to make sure we reduce crime, I think that's a reflection of my faith," he said. "Empowering families as opposed to government is a reflection of my faith. Protecting the environment is a reflection of my faith because we have a responsibility to be stewards of what God has granted us."

Bolling said he thinks it's important for people of faith from both major political parties to become involved in politics.

"If we want government and society in general to reflect the values we believe in, we have to be willing to become involved in that process," he said.

People often mistakenly believe that politics is inconsistent with faith, Bolling said.

"I've never felt being involved in politics has adversely impacted my faith, but I do believe that my faith positively impacts my politics," he said.

To reach NATASHA ALTAMIRANO:540/368-5036
Email: naltamirano@freelancestar.com