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DiIulio to leave faith-based initiative, paper reports

WASHINGTON (BP)–The director of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives said Aug. 16 that he will resign as soon as a transition team can be put into place.

In an interview with Cox Newspapers, John DiIulio Jr. said he is leaving because he has accomplished the goals he set out seven months ago when President Bush asked him to run the new office. He also cited health reasons and a desire to spend more time with his family.

The departure of the former University of Pennsylvania professor comes at a crucial time for Bush’s faith-based initiative, which would give religious groups greater access to federal funds to deliver social services to the poor without losing their religious character.

“I’ve always said that I agreed to stay for six months, to help launch the initiative, help mobilize people who would not be traditional friends and allies,” DiIulio told Cox Newspapers. “I want to go back to being part of the direct action with the people and faith-based groups that help them.”

DiIulio said he wants to return to his native Philadelphia to be closer to his wife, Rosalee, and their three children, aged 8, 11 and 13. The 43-year-old also said he wants to lose at least 60 pounds.

DiIulio’s departure from the $140,000-a-year job would make him the first high-ranking official to leave the Bush White House.

The president’s faith-based initiative has come under fire from conservative and liberal groups alike, primarily over concerns that the government-backed effort would blur the lines between church and state and give federal funds to religious groups that discriminate in hiring.

Legislation embracing the initiative narrowly passed the House on July 19 and is expected to have a difficult time in the Senate.

Although the initiative has broad Republican support, DiIulio has had strained relations with some congressional Republicans. He upset influential GOP supporters when he described conservative Christian leaders including Southern Baptists as “predominantly white, exurban, evangelical and national parachurch leaders.”

DiIulio apologized for his comments during a meeting with Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land called the meeting a “very frank and detailed and wide-ranging discussion.”

DiIulio said Thursday that there are other things to accomplish with the faith-based initiative but added, “I feel I have run this race.”

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