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Home : News : Nation and World
Bishop talks about Catholicism to crowd of Latter-day Saints students
Bishop John Wester
Bishop John Wester
Teachings on baptism, Trinity make Mormons different from Protestants
WASHINGTON — With Mitt Romney at the top of Republican Party presidential ticket and Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, the Republicans for the first time do not have a Protestant on the ticket.

Ryan, the vice presidential candidate, is Catholic. GOP presidential hopeful Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as the Catholic News Service Stylebook on Religion notes, "It is not a Protestant church."

"Protestant" is the proper term for the new churches of Western Christianity formed during the Reformation, for the branches of those churches and for their members. The main branches of Protestantism include Baptist, Congregational, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, Presbyterian and Reformed denominations.

Some significant differences in belief and practice between Mormonism and Protestantism come into play.

"Well, it probably would refer mainly to the teachings on baptism," said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, which is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as "LDS."

"In 2001, the Vatican conclusively determined that we do not accept LDS baptisms, and the LDS Church does not accept Catholic baptisms, so there's no surprise in that," the bishop said.

In explaining its decision, the Vatican said that even though the Mormon baptismal rite refers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the church's beliefs about the identity of the three persons are so different from Catholic and mainline Christian belief that the rite cannot be regarded as a Christian baptism.

Catholics and other Christians believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three persons of a triune God, while Latter-day Saints believe them to be separate and distinct persons.

Another point that distinguishes them from Catholics and Protestants is their church's Book of Mormon, four books that are appended to their religion's Bible. The books are considered "extracanonical" by Christians and are not included in Catholic or Protestant Bibles.

"Most evangelicals and Catholics consider Mormons to be only Christian in name, and of course the main distinction there has to do with authority," said Carl Raschke, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver. "It comes down to the Book of Mormon." Those books were written by a 19th-century frontiersman named Joseph Smith, considered the originator of the church.

"He claimed to have a special revelation that supplements the biblical canon that would show the destiny of the new people he was called to lead in America that other Christians don't consider to be valid, let alone authoritative," Raschke told Catholic News Service.

And controversy over the church's posthumous rebaptism of the dead -- even the deceased of other faiths, and at times with no body present -- may make it easier to see why Catholicism and other Christian faiths do not recognize Mormonism as they might each other.

Latter-day Saints are not active in any official ecumenical dialogue, even at their headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"Not officially, no. We don't participate in anything," said Msgr. Joseph Mayo, chairman of the Salt Lake City Diocese's ecumenical commission. "There was a group that came together, the Interfaith Network" as a part of the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Msgr. Mayo said. The network was a collection of Olympic chaplains who "continued to meet after the Olympics," he said. "It's not so much a dialogue as it is a coming together."

Bishop Wester concurred. "There's no ecumenical interfaith dialogue by that score." But on the other hand, he said, "we do a lot of compassionate work together. For example, they support a lot of our Catholic community service programs, they support them monetarily, and we work together in responding to various needs. They're big supporters of CRS (Catholic Relief Services)."

Catholics and Latter-day Saints worked together on California's voter-approved Proposition 8, barring same-sex marriage. The constitutionality of Proposition 8 has been tangled up in the courts almost since it passed.

Even though Latter-day Saints number only 6.2 million in the United States and 14.4 million worldwide, they make up the majority of Utah's population.

"I think for the Catholics, being in the minority in Utah is something that makes the Catholics more energetic about their faith," Bishop Wester said. "There's no accidental Catholic in Utah. You want to be, you love being, a Catholic. Human nature being what it is, we would gravitate toward the majority religion ... if we had no strong ties."

The University of Denver's Raschke noted that Mormonism has grown more mainstream.

One case in point: During the 1976 Democratic presidential primaries, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, an ardent supporter of eventual winner Jimmy Carter, accused one of Carter's opponents -- Morris Udall, a Mormon and then a representative from Arizona -- of racism because the church did not allow blacks to serve in the priesthood.

The backlash by white Democrats against the black Young very nearly pushed Udall over the top in Michigan. But two years after the primary, in 1978, the church's policy on African-Americans was changed.

Members of the church realized the doctrine had been based on Joseph Smith's own prejudices and was "not a case of 'we have to hold on to it,'" Raschke said.

"Mormonism has been mainstream for quite some time. It's operating and acting like many of the mainstream Protestant and Catholic organizations," he added. "The more followers it has, the less weird it becomes in the eyes of people."

According to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released in January, most Latter-day Saints feel that Americans don't know enough about their religion. But they also think public perception of them is becoming more positive with their religion being in the spotlight in recent months, including Romney's candidacy and a successful Broadway musical about the church called "The Book of Mormon."

In the poll, 46 percent of U.S. Latter-day Saints say they face a lot of discrimination and six in 10 think Americans are uninformed about their religious beliefs. Sixty-three percent also think Americans are "becoming more likely to see Mormonism as part of mainstream society," and 56 percent feel the country is ready for a president who belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Catholic News Service

OREM, Utah — More than 1,000 students at the Orem Institute of Religion at Utah Valley University packed a lecture hall Sept. 18 to hear Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City speak about the Catholic faith.

Bishop Wester's visit was at the behest of the university's LDS Student Association Interfaith Committee, which was formed this year.

"One of the purposes of the Interfaith Committee is to form those bridges between religions and let the students come and learn more about those religions because there is a lot of ignorance when it comes to other faiths," said Spencer Bennett, co-chairman. "This is a way that we can come together and to ask questions that we've had and to learn about them."

In addition to students and faculty members, the event was attended by dignitaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Elder Whitney Clayton of the First Quorum of Seventy and Elder Steven J. Lund, a regional LDS leader.

Bishop Wester opened his remarks by saying that the gathering of students and Elder Clayton's presence "are wonderful signs of our ongoing collaboration and friendship and mutual desire to stand shoulder to shoulder as we give witness to Jesus Christ as his disciples."

This hasn't always been so, Bishop Wester said, pointing out that religious conflicts are ongoing in many parts of today's world, so interfaith gatherings are important. "I believe that what we're doing today is to help us be open to the different ways in which God acts in our lives in our different religions, and to see the ways that we can work together," he said.

Acknowledging the difficulty of summarizing the Catholic faith in less than an hour, Bishop Wester outlined several key aspects of the faith, then touched on some differences between the Catholic and Mormon faiths and ended with a summary of similarities between the two.

Bishop Wester started with St. Ignatius Loyola's first principle: "We are created to be one with God forever, to give him glory and praise."

This, Bishop Wester said, is "the fundamental, absolute principle of our existence."

He also discussed the paschal mystery as the center of the Catholic faith and said Jesus Christ founded the church as the "living memory" of his salvific presence among human beings.

The sacraments "are the lifeblood of the church," Bishop Wester said, and Catholics believe "we have moral imperative to live what we receive" in the Eucharist.

Saints are important to Catholics because of their example and as intercessors, with Mary having a special place as the mother of God and mother of the church, Bishop Wester said.

The foundational difference between the Catholic and LDS faiths is the doctrine of God, Bishop Wester said: Catholics believe in the Trinity.

Catholics also believe that divine revelation ended with the conclusion of the New Testament, although revelation continues to unfold in the life of the church and its people, Bishop Wester said, adding that another difference between the faiths is that Catholics believe Christ never abandoned his church.

Belief in infallibility and universal salvation are other points of difference, Bishop Wester said.

Despite these differences, there are areas where the two churches share common ground: belief in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, adherence to the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, a call to social justice and love for the poor, respect for human life and the dignity of every person made in God's image, and the importance of family life and Christian marriage, among others, Bishop Wester said.

About 8,000 students are enrolled in the Orem Institute of Religion at Utah Valley University, said Blair Van Dyke, adviser to the Interfaith Committee. The institute offers classes on a range of subjects, including church history, Scripture, the Book of Mormon, and dating and courtship.

Van Dyke introduced Bishop Wester as "an able defender of religious liberty" and said the "Latter-day Saints and other faith traditions beyond Catholicism benefit from his articulate voice in the public square."

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