In 1993, as he prepared to challenge Edward M. Kennedy for his Massachusetts Senate seat, Romney met with church leaders in Salt Lake City to outline his position on abortion, saying that he planned to tell voters that he was personally opposed to abortion but was willing to let women choose for themselves. (Romney now says Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, should be overturned and that states should decide whether to allow abortions.)
Romney stepped down as stake president in advance of the campaign, which he lost. But he remained influential in the church. When Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City decided to build a 94,000-square-foot temple on a wooded hill in Belmont, Romney was called on to help convince wary residents. Some had filed suit over the proposed church's steeples, which were taller than local zoning laws allowed. Locals derisively called the structure "Mitt's temple."
"He was the big Mormon in this," said Scott Ferson, a former aide to Kennedy who had been hired as a public relations consultant for the church. "It was, 'Let's go see what Mitt thinks; we ran that by Mitt.' "
Romney spoke on the issue during a contentious 1996 zoning board hearing. Earlier in the hearing, a Protestant minister said that the church's steeples represented ideas including "a disdain historically for Indians and blacks" and another town member accused the church of shady real estate dealings.
According to a transcript, Romney said, "I believe that this town and this state, this commonwealth, and this nation needs more steeples, not less steeples, pointing symbolically to heaven, where I think the source of our blessings and the source of many of our questions come from." He added that steeples should not be restricted by law "because religious purposes provide us with purpose, peace and perspective," a remark that drew applause from the audience.
The zoning board approved construction, with modifications. Bill Monahan, a town selectman, remembers Romney and church President Gordon Hinckley pulling up to his house in a stretch limo during the construction of the temple to thank him for his support and give him a blessing.
The board hearing would be one of the few times Romney spoke about his faith with those outside the church.
After he ended his term as Massachusetts governor and prepared to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2007, he delivered a speech titled "Faith in America" at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
"I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it," Romney said. But he did not mention his official role in the church, or how it lead him to numerous deathbeds and the homes of working-class families such as the Catalanos.