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Mitt Romney: proudly, quietly Mormon

The former governor of Massachusetts is a Mormon in full. But, facing a wary public, he has played his faith cautiously on the presidential campaign trail.

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Successful businessman, rescuer of the scandal-marred 2002 Olympics, governor of Massachusetts. The highlights of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's résumé are well known. But there's a fourth point that he does not advertise in his stump speech: 12 years in top leadership positions in the Boston-area Mormon community.

For three years, from 1982 to 1985, Mr. Romney served as the bishop, or lay pastor, at his church in Belmont, Mass. After that, he served nine years as "stake" president, overseeing about a dozen Boston-area parishes. But it was his time as bishop that gave him the most contact with everyday churchgoers. He organized weekly church services and ministered to parishioners, offering spiritual guidance on whatever problems they brought to him – financial, marital, physical, anything. He heard confessions of sin and determined who is allowed to enter a Mormon temple, a privilege reserved for those who meet the church's high standards of personal conduct. He distributed church funds to those in need.

Romney's church work was voluntary – Mormon congregations have no paid clergy – but the time commitment was intense, even as he built a high-flying career in his "day job," first in management consulting and then private-equity investment.

Being a bishop is "a very weighty responsibility, which you take with a great deal of care and sobriety," Romney said in a Monitor interview.

He says the experience taught him that, despite the sea of happy faces he saw each week at church, everybody faces hardships. That lesson is just as vibrant for him now, as a presidential candidate, traveling the country and addressing crowds.

"As I sat in that room today and met with all those people, I know that almost everyone there, smiling and cheerful as they are, has some real challenges," Romney said, speaking of the 100 or so voters he had just addressed at an event in Ottumwa, Iowa. "They're hoping that collectively we can help one another, and that's something I very much hope I can do if I'm elected."

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