Wednesday, April 10, 2019 - Updated: 1:40 pm
QUESTION: I read that the Mormons recently dedicated a new temple in Rome. The articles that commented on it said that this dedication was a sign that “… Catholics and Mormons were getting to know each other better as Christians.” I was under the impression that Catholics did not consider Mormons as “Christians.” Am I wrong?
ANSWER: On Jan. 14, 2019, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated a new 40,000-square-foot building in Rome just a few miles from the Vatican. This building is the 162nd Mormon temple, but only the 12th in Europe.
Officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church was founded by an American named Joseph Smith in New York in 1830. With some 16 million Mormons worldwide, roughly 500,000 live in Europe, and, of those, around 6,000 are in Italy.
Mormon elders who were in Rome for the ceremony were quoted as saying that this was an important event because of Rome’s “… history as the center of Christianity.” They also noted that the Mormon community of Rome will collaborate with the Catholic Church in humanitarian projects primarily geared toward refugees, migrants and the poor.
While it is very likely Catholics and Mormons will work together in charitable activities, there are clear differences in doctrine held by each group.
In a June 2001 response to a question raised as to whether Mormon baptism was considered valid by the Catholic Church, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (headed at the time by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI) responded in the negative. In an accompanying article in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, a Spanish Jesuit now leading the Vatican’s doctrinal office, explained that response.
Cardinal Ladaria said the conclusion that Mormon baptism is invalid came as the result of a detailed study that found the meaning of baptism in the Catholic Church and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differs “both for what concerns faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose name baptism is conferred, and for what concerns the relationship to Christ who instituted it.” As a result of all this, he continued, it is understood that the Catholic Church has to view the rite of baptism as understood by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as invalid.
So, while Rome’s Catholic and Mormon communities will be working together on charity projects and interfaith dialogue, fundamental beliefs will continue to be a point of division.
Mormon beliefs do not fall within the traditional Christian understanding of very fundamental concepts. Consequently, while Mormons speak of Jesus Christ, the object of that speaking is not what Catholics and the vast majority of Christians believe about Jesus. Traditionally being a Christian entails acceptance of that common understanding about the Trinity and divinity of Jesus. While Mormons would consider themselves Christian, these significant differences would prevent most Christians from doing so.
This is not a judgment about individual Mormons, but rather about a specific question regarding the sacrament of baptism (and Catholic belief in the Trinity and Jesus Christ as Lord).
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.