Catholic Activist Turned Congressman Has a Seat at the Table

By Winters, Michael Sean | National Catholic Reporter, June 12, 2009 | Go to article overview

Catholic Activist Turned Congressman Has a Seat at the Table


Winters, Michael Sean, National Catholic Reporter


With a life story steeped in Catholic activism and a political outlook hewn from church social teachings, Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., is clearly the darling of the religious left. Meanwhile, this first term, 34-year-old politician is bringing faith-based sensibilities to Washington unlike others seen here in recent years.

"What Tom has been able to do is bring a spirit of grass-roots social change to Washington," said John Gehring, senior writer for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. "His brand of conviction politics has real appeal at a time when people are hungry for leadership that transcends the narrow ideologies of left or right."

Mara Vanderslice, who works in the Obama administration's faith-based office, says flatly: "Tom is our favorite." Said Vanderslice, "During the [2004] Kerry campaign [when Vanderslice served as Kerry's religious liaison] no one was more supportive of me than Tom. He called every day."

To understand Perriello's personal take on politics one first has to become familiar with the remarkable path that brought him to Congress.

After attending Yale University as an undergraduate and law student, he traveled to Africa in 2002, where he worked with child soldiers and got involved with conflict resolution efforts in Sierra Leone. It was then he also worked with a special prosecutor and helped to indict former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes, helping to remove him from power. PerrieUo has also worked in Kosovo, Darfur and Afghanistan, earning a rep that virtually any geopolitical nightmare would eventually attract him like an iron files to a magnet.

The immediate link that forged Perriello's overseas work with an emergent domestic activism came though group of amputees in Sierra Leone. "We were in the showdown with Charles Taylor just before he fell from power," Perriello recalled recently. "And they said to me, 'If you get him out of power, please go home and get Bush out of power. That's the best thing you can do for us in West Africa.' But the problems were deeper than just the Bush presidency."

By then, Perriello recalled, he had reached the conclusion that America's moral compass was well off course, especially in the political arena. "For 25 years we [Democrats] offered a kinder, gentler version of what was coming from the right." Perriello said he saw the need for deeper change.

So in 2004 he returned to the United States where his activism helped launch Res Publica and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, two social justice-driven nonprofit organizations that apply Catholic faith traditions to hot-button issues in the foreign and domestic political spheres.

In a short time, Perriello was influencing other Catholics to get similarly involved. "I am not sure I would be doing what I am doing if it weren't for Tom," said James Salt, political director of Catholics United, a nonpartisan group that describes itself as "promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic social tradition." Salt had started a Web site called Catholic Voter Project that caught Perriello's attention. While driving out to Kansas to work on a congressional race, Salt got a call from the future congressman saying he liked the site and wanted to bring more attention to it.

"By the time I got to Kansas, an AP story had hit the wires about us. Tom helped make it happen."

The mediating method Perriello employed to analyze the "deeper change" he was considering were the social teachings of the Catholic church. In them he found a battle-tested method for providing a systematic, analytic approach to answering the nation's core problems. "Turning greed into a virtue in the 1980s created a culture of instant gratification that everyone bemoans," Perriello said. "Moral decay starts at the top." This culture of instant gratification, he explains, had distorted the nation's politics, domestically and abroad. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Catholic Activist Turned Congressman Has a Seat at the Table
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.