One of America’s top Catholic leaders spoke to a packed auditorium at Brigham Young University on February 23.
His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, OMI, delivered the university’s weekly forum address to an audience of nearly 12,000 students and faculty, with additional numbers tuning in by satellite and via the Internet. It is the first time a Catholic official of his rank has spoken at BYU.
Speaking on “Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the Defense of Religious Freedom”, Cardinal George asserted that that Catholics and Mormons “can and should stand together as one in defense of religious liberty. In the coming years interreligious coalitions formed to defend the rights of conscience of individuals and religious institutions should become a vital bulwark against the tide of forces at work in our government and society that work to move religion to a purely private reality.”
“At stake is whether the religious voice will be heard in the public square. Our collaborative efforts in this work may include common statements and court testimonies demonstrating principles that are constant with our religious beliefs,” he said.
Cardinal George also pointed out that “society is based not on individuals but on families, on mothers and fathers with duties and obligations to their children, on children who learn how to be human, in the school of love, which is the family, which tells us we are not the center of the world individually.”
Cardinal George’s message resonates strongly with Latter-day Saints, coming on the heels of a major address delivered by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a senior Mormon leader and legal scholar who asserted that religious freedom is under serious and increasing threat in the United States. Many analysts have viewed Elder Oaks’ speech as a wake-up call to the Momon membership and other parties concerned about the erosion of basic liberties. Latter-day Saints also believe strongly in the sanctity of the traditional family.
Speaking of the partnership Catholics and Mormons already have in defending religious freedom, Cardinal George acknowledged that “sometimes our common advocacy will make one of us the target of retribution by intolerant elements” but emphasized that such actions should not deter religions from making their voices heard.
He also lauded the growing relationship between the Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, referring to their joint efforts to alleviate suffering of the poor, combat pornography, define marriage as the union of man and woman, and protect the rights of the unborn. The two churches have also worked together to protect the conscience rights of health care providers and institutions that do not want to participate in abortions or assisted suicide, the cardinal indicated.
Francis Cardinal George is Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, where he presides over 2.3 million of his church’s faithful. He also presently serves as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is the official leadership body of the Roman Catholic Church in America.
“I’m personally grateful that after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see one another as trustworthy partners in the defense of shared moral principles and in the promotion of the common good of our beloved country,” he said.
“Our churches have different histories and systems of belief and practice, although we acknowledge a common reference point in the person and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Although he did not refer directly to the successful 2008 campaign to overturn same-sex marriage in California, in which Catholics and Mormons were prominent, Cardinal George said both religious communities believe that “every single person is made in God’s image and must be respected.”
“But that does not mean you accept everything they do,” he said. “The relationship is at question here, not the persons.”
He also said that those who “have gay people in their families, as I do … have to be there for them and love them.”
Other statements of Cardinal George appear below.
“Any attempt to reduce that fuller sense of religious freedom, which has been part of our history in this country for more than two centuries, to a private reality of worship and individual conscience so long as you don’t make anyone else unhappy, is not in our tradition,” said Cardinal George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of Chicago. “It was the tradition of the Soviet Union.”
“When government fails to protect the consciences of its citizens, it falls to religious bodies, especially those formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, to become the defenders of human freedoms.”
“The lesson of American history is that churches and other religious bodies prosper in a nation and a social order that respects religious freedom and recognizes that civil government should never stand between the consciences and the religious practices of its citizens and Almighty God.”
The audience at the 22,700-seat Marriott Center gave Cardinal George a standing ovation after his talk, which also was attended by two top officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Elders Quentin L. Cook and M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles – as well as by Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
The forum’s invocation was offered by a Catholic member of the BYU faculty who, citing her own faith tradition, asked the assembly to join her in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The hymn, opening prayer, and the standing ovation accorded Cardinal George provide a subtext of unity, emphasizing the shared beliefs and value iinstead of differences between the two churches.
While in Utah to deliver an address at Brigham Young University, Cardinal George toured the Family History Library and Temple Square in Salt Lake City and met with the First Presidency and other senior leaders at LDS Church headquarters.
Cardinal George’s entire speech is available for viewing at the BYU TV web site. Visit www.byu.tv, click on “Conferences and Addresses”, and then on “Forum – His Eminence Cardinal Francis George.”