The faith factor: Religious liberty is GOP mom's big issue

Faith and religious liberty is a big factor in GOP mom Rosemary McDonough's politics, even if she's not in lock step with all church teaching.

Ryan Donnell/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
GOP mom Rosemary McDonough walks her talk: faith is a factor in her poltics. "When you see poverty, you roll up your sleeves and you drive to North Philadelphia and you help them." This article is part of the cover project about the unprecedented role of religion in campaign 2012 appearing in the April 2, 2012 weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

Rosemary McDonough is as cheerful of disposition as they come, but sometimes she feels a little under siege. She's a mannerly Republican surrounded by often-opinionated liberals: She's a family-minded columnist in her left-leaning local paper. She's a conservative volunteer amid many with a social justice bent.

Married for 32 years and the mother of two nearly grown children, Ms. McDonough has had a long career as an academic fundraiser. She graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and got her master's degree at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. She's a lifelong Roman Catholic who goes to mass and attends a weekly Bible study. From time to time, she takes an online theology course from Boston College. And even when her faith has seemed to fail her, she's dealt with it by ducking into church, empty at midweek, to clear the way in life's static for God.

Early in her marriage, as she and her husband got on their feet financially, she used birth control, knowingly breaking with church teaching. But that has no bearing on her opinion of the Obama administration's birth control insurance mandate – she vehemently opposes it.

"It's the difference between a private decision and public policy," she says, adding that she is "absolutely in sync" with the teachings of her church, including the belief that Catholic marriage should be open to the possibility of children. "There could be an issue with the Jewish faith or the Muslim faith or any of the Protestant denominations and I'd support them, too, if that's what their faith believes." She calls the one-year extension for implementing the policy "an insult," as if – given a year – Catholics would turn away from their beliefs. She calls the payment compromise "window dressing."

McDonough also disagrees with the administration on care of the poor. "Government breeds a lot of dependency," she says, adding that certain social programs will always be needed. But she prefers private charity as smaller, more local, and better equipped to identify and address need. "The more you take in taxes, the less is available for philanthropy."

As for herself, she says, "When you see poverty, you roll up your sleeves and you drive to North Philadelphia and you help them." At the inner-city school where she volunteers, she takes every opportunity to model family life for students who've never experienced it – not smugly, but to illustrate the social and economic unit that has historically helped lift the poor. She presses her own family to go together to school concerts, for instance, and modeling family life has also been central to their longtime mentoring of a young man from the school. "I call him my third child," she says, and as a result of his frequent presence at their dinner table and family activities over the years, she hopes he sees the possibilities inherent in a well-functioning family.

Mitt Romney is McDonough's candidate. She likes his generosity, as well as the respect for religious liberties he evidenced as governor of Massachusetts when he struggled, albeit unsuccessfully, to work out a conscience exemption to gay rights legislation. The legislation barred Catholic Charities in the state from following the belief that adoptive parents be male-female married couples. As a result, the church, which had handled half the adoptions in the state, stopped sponsoring them altogether, keeping children in foster care longer and harming their chances for adoption, says McDonough, a past board member of the National Council for Adoption.

McDonough's own two children were adopted after she and her husband learned they were infertile, an irony not lost on the former birth control user. "I didn't think God was punishing me," she reflects. "I realized God was leading me on another path."

McDonough embraces life in all forms and objects to social/health policy that would edit out the messy. Look at all the 10-and-11-year-olds running around the neighborhood who were "oops" babies, she says, prime abortion candidates whose parents were "done" when they accidentally conceived. "On any given day I could strangle any one of them," she jokes. But live without them? No. "Think of how the neighborhood would be diminished."

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