Keith Johnson, Deseret News
PROVO — The fight to defend moral principles is linking Mormons and Catholics like never before.
"In recent years, Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have stood more frequently side by side in the public square to defend human life and dignity," Cardinal Francis George told nearly 12,000 students, faculty and community members gathered Tuesday at BYU.
"I'm personally grateful that after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see each other as trustworthy partners in defense of shared moral principles."
Believed to be the highest-ranking Catholic official to ever visit BYU, Cardinal George spoke about the need for both religions to stand together to protect religious freedom — not simply as a set of private beliefs, but the ability of individuals and groups to practice their religion in the public square.
"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."
His message was echoed by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, who spoke recently at BYU-Idaho.
"Religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of Christianity in the public square without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms," said Elder Oaks, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve.
Protecting those freedoms, despite theological differences, is so crucial that both Catholics and Latter-day Saints are seeing themselves as "spiritually united," said Robert George, a devout Catholic and professor at Princeton University who spoke at BYU in October 2008.
"It goes beyond having a common set of moral or political convictions," he said. "More than that, it's an appreciation of each other, an appreciation for the profundity of the faith … and feeling that they're working together on something that God himself wills."
There's plenty to work on.
Cardinal George praised the LDS Church for its efforts alongside the Catholic Church to alleviate suffering of the poor, combat pornography, define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and protect the rights of the unborn.
"It was a pleasure to host Cardinal George at (LDS) Church headquarters and BYU today," said Elder M. Russell Ballard, who attended Tuesday's forum with Elder Quentin L. Cook, as well as Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
Cardinal George also visited with the LDS Church's First Presidency, toured the Family History Library and met other senior church leaders.
"He is a man of great faith and capacity, and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with him about our shared values and interests," Elder Ballard said.
Regarding gay marriage, Cardinal George stressed that Catholics believe, as do Latter-day Saints, that every person is made in the image of God and, as such, should be loved, regardless of sexual orientation.
"That doesn't mean we approve of everything anybody does," he said.
After Cardinal George's speech, others interviewed echoed his view of Catholic/Mormon unity.
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