WASHINGTON — John DiIulio's resignation rocked Washington Aug. 17, when he became the first member of the Bush administration to leave.

But DiIulio insists that from day one he intended is stint as director of the faith-based initiatives office to be a short one.

In an exclusive interview with the Register only hours after the story broke, DiIulio insisted that family concerns trumped all other considerations.

“I signed on only for a few months,” said DiIulio, a Catholic. “I have to be true to my family and my original plan.” He noted that the New York Times had reported seven months ago that he had only agreed to work for only six months on Bush's plan to make it easier for religious charities to get federal dollars. “I never got used to the 4:05 a.m. trains each morning to Washington” from Philadelphia, he said.

DiIulio said that his immediate plans included more time with his family, improving his health and working on community projects in Philadelphia. DiIulio, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said he would not return to teaching for a few semesters.

The impending resignation sent Washington buzzing that DiIulio had become frustrated at growing opposition become frustrated at growing opposition to Bushís faith-base initiative.

Steve Benen, a spokesman with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said that DiIulio's recent comments “indicated that he's frustrated by the criticism from groups on the left and the right.”

Said Benen: “I don't blame him. This effort received a variety of objections from a variety of directions for a variety of reasons.”

Recent opposition came from homosexual activists who urged legislators to prevent religious organizations from receiving government aid, if they refuse to confer benefits to homosexual couples.

“Whether through regulation or legislation, our government should not fund discrimination through taxpayer funds,” said Winnie Stachelberg, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign.

But DiIulio insisted that the administration would not allow the homosexual lobby to eliminate religious exemptions from current law.

“There'll be no compromising on this,” he said. “This is not a civil rights bill. That means the 1964 Civil Rights bill stays intact. Title VII stays in tact. Religious exemptions [on matters of moral beliefs] were included in '64. They were strengthened in '72. The Supreme Court upheld them 9-0 in 1987.”

Caught Off Guard

Nonetheless, Washington insiders said the timing of the resignation caught people off guard.

Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review magazine, said, “DiIulio's departure comes at a moment when the fate of the faith-based initiative has not yet been decided.” He added, “The House has passed a significantly stripped-down version of the initiative — some parts, like expanded tax breaks for charitable activity, were cut to almost nothing — and the initiative's future in the Democrat-controlled Senate is anything but clear.”

But DiIulio insists that the bill's fate didn't spur his resignation plans.

“It's a natural break in the action,” DiIulio said. “The House passed the bill. The process begins again in the fall.” He said he has not made any suggestions for replacements to President Bush.

He noted that the current political leadership would ensure final legislative success.

“It depends on the good will of the two principal leaders,” said DiIulio. “That's the president and Sen. Lieberman, who I have the greatest respect and appreciation for. The leadership is strong, and ultimately the leadership will carry the day.”