Friday, August 26, 1994
SINGLE MOTHER TELLS OF THE ADVICE ROMNEY GAVE AS MORMON COUNSELOR
A single mother from Watertown claims Mitt Romney warned her a decade ago that she faced excommunication from the Mormon Church if she failed to follow his advice to give her newborn baby up for adoption through a church agency.
Romney, a Republican candidate for US Senate who has portrayed himself as a social moderate, acknowledges he urged the mother to give her baby up for adoption but strongly denies threatening to throw her out of the church if she did not follow his advice. He notes the woman did not heed his advice and was not excommunicated.
Yet Peggie Hayes, 34, said Romney, then a lay counselor for the local church, came to her home in 1984 shortly after she gave birth to her son, Dane. At the time, Hayes was divorced and had a 4-year-old daughter.
"He told me it was really important to give the baby up," Hayes said. ''He told me he was a representative of the church and by refusing I was failing to comply with the church's wishes and I could be excommunicated."
Hayes said that, though she was shaken by the incident, she rejected Romney's advice and eventually dropped out of the church.
Romney, who considers his counseling advice to Hayes confidential, received permission from Hayes yesterday to release a "limited statement" on the matter.
In the statement, Romney said he urged the adoption route because Hayes' child was born out of wedlock. "This was Peggy's second child," he said. ''At the time, Peggy was not working, had no visible means of support and was living on welfare. She was also a member of a family that had had severe problems in many different ways which, to protect Peggy's privacy, I will not go into in this statement."
Romney also said Hayes' allegations about possible sanctions is "simply not true." He noted that, after their counseling sessions, she continued to have a relationship with his family and the Mormon Church provided her with welfare funds.
Hayes' made her comments as Romney, seeking the GOP nomination to oppose US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, is trying to position himself as a Republican with a socially moderate image, much in the style of Gov. Weld.
While some of his actions as a church leader appear to contradict the image he is projecting as a candidate, Romney says he was only carrying out the policies set by church elders. He has repeatedly said that, if elected, his church views would not affect public issues.
Hayes, a Democrat who volunteers part-time for a Democratic state Senate candidate, said she thinks Romney's conversation with her 10 years ago illustrates his basic philosophy. She said she is not a Kennedy supporter but reluctantly will vote for him, because she feels Romney does not have the necessary qualities to be a good senator.
"I was personally offended when he did it to me, but now we are talking about him having a whole constituency of people he is going to affect with that narrow-minded kind of thinking," Hayes said. "I still think he is an OK guy, and that if somebody was really in trouble he would help them -- but that doesn't necessarily make a good legislator."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a specific policy of encouraging adoptions for children born to single mothers.
According to the church's public affairs office in Salt Lake City, Mormon policy is that unwed parents who are unable or unwilling to marry "should be encouraged to place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS social services," the official church social services agency.
"Placing the infant for adoption through LDS Social Services helps ensure that the baby will be reared in a faithful Latter-day Saint family," a church statement said.
But the church said that policy is altered once a child is born and a woman appears to have bonded with the baby. A counselor is then instructed to outline a series of options, including adoption.
Hayes said Romney came on very strong in telling her she should place her one-month-old child up for adoption.
"He was saying that because Dane didn't have a Mormon father in the home and because of the circumstances of his birth -- being born to a single mother -- then the expectation of the church was that I give him up for adoption to the church agency so he could be raised by a Mormon couple in good standing," Hayes said.
Hayes said she had known Romney for a number of years because of his leadership in the local Mormon Church. She said she had baby-sat for his children and done odd jobs around his house. When she was a teen-ager, she said Romney, then a young church leader, had offered her advice on dating.
Rebutting the charge that he had threatened excommunication, Romney's campaign released a statement from two local Mormon leaders, Gordon
Williams and H. Kent Bowen, who said they had worked with Romney for years and that ''he has never advocated any such sanction" against single mothers
Hayes' account is backed up by a longtime friend, Eric Hunter, and her aunt, Ann O'Rourke, both of whom told the Globe they recall her relating details of the incident shortly after it happened.
Hayes said her son Dane is now a happy, gregarious 10-year-old. She is halfway through a master's degree at Emerson College.
"I made absolutely the best decision for that kid," Hayes said. "He is a wonderful kid, and he loves being with me. If there is a God, I think the last thing he would have wanted is for me to give my son away just on somebody else's decision."
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