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Romney, an active man of faith

The Republican presidential candidate doesn't talk much about his role in the Mormon Church, but he served as a bishop in a Boston-area church and presided over 12 congregations as stake president.

December 07, 2011|By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

Nancy Dredge, who knew Romney when he first moved to Belmont, said he could be insensitive when he first became bishop of the church. She remembered a talk he gave to a group that was visiting the poor, and made a snide remark about people who "wear polyester and live in Medford," a nearby blue-collar town. But over time, "he really learned to love people," she said. "He really mellowed out."

Though Romney comes from an affluent family, as bishop "you truly come face to face on an individual basis with all of the challenges and vicissitudes of everyday life," said Grant Bennett, who succeeded Romney as bishop.

Friends from the time recall Romney rolling up his sleeves to pick squash on a church farm and showing up with a ladder to fix broken lights in homes. He once directed traffic in the midst of a blizzard on a highway, covered in snow and ice, so a church funeral procession could reach a cemetery.

While leading the Belmont ward, Romney was spending long hours at Bain & Co., a Boston management consulting business, and spinning off a new private equity firm, Bain Capital, as well as raising five young sons with his wife, Ann. He was so dedicated to his church responsibilities that he wouldn't travel anywhere that kept him from getting back to Boston for the night, Clark said.

At Bain, colleagues knew about his religious beliefs, but said they only rarely emerged in the workplace.

Romney initially was hesitant when Bain Capital wanted to invest in a company that made R-rated movies, but consented after another investment company joined the deal. Still, he did not invest his own money, said Geoffrey Rehnert, who worked at Bain Capital from 1984 to 1999. Romney never prevented Bain Capital from investing in anything he personally disagreed with, Rehnert said.

For more than a decade, Romney was a "home teacher" at Clark's house in Belmont, which means he'd stop by once a month to "leave a spiritual thought and bring a religious perspective to our home," said Clark's son Andrew, now 32. (Andrew Clark was also in a band with Romney's son Ben — informally called Three Mormons and a Guy Named Yo — and says Romney would stop by practice sessions above the garage at the Romney home to sing along to the Beatles).

Romney became stake president in 1986, the spiritual leader who presided over 12 Mormon wards in the Boston area. He would often lead church colleagues in prayer in the car when they were traveling, and fasted to help find answers to his flock's problems, said Kenneth Hutchins, a former assistant to Romney who replaced him as stake president in 1994. Romney helped many Mormons overcome grief and depression, sometimes by laying two hands on them in a Mormon tradition of blessing, he said.

"I've laid my hands on people and so has Mitt, and given blessings of strength and healing and those blessings have come true," Hutchins said. "I recall being on our knees and importuning the Heavenly Father to help us understand the things that we should do."

One of the blessings Romney gave while bishop was to Sandy Catalano. Catalano became pregnant in 1982, but found out that the fetus was in her fallopian tube, a life-threatening condition for her that doctors said needed to be resolved by an abortion.

Catalano remembers lying in the hospital waiting for Romney, concerned that he would reprimand her. The Mormon faith opposes abortion except in extreme circumstances such as when the mother's life is at stake or when the pregnancy is the result of rape. But Romney blessed her instead.

"He could see my anguish and my pain and gave me a blessing of comfort, and I felt this peace wash over me," she said. "I knew it wasn't my fault, that it was just a bad pregnancy."

A year later he wasn't as accepting with another congregation member. Carrell Hilton Sheldon was planning to have an abortion because a drug she'd been given to dissolve a blood clot was causing internal bleeding and could have harmed her fetus.

Although her stake president recommended that she go through with the abortion, Romney, her bishop, visited her in the hospital to try to dissuade her, said Scott, the author of the Romney book. When that didn't work, he visited Sheldon's parents in the Boston suburb where they were babysitting her four other children, preaching to them until Sheldon's father threw him out of the house, Scott said.

"He was telling her father not to let her have the abortion, and her father threw him out," Scott said in an interview. "He was appalled at the arrogance of Romney."

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