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Mormons, Catholics must defend religious freedom, Cardinal says

PROVO, Utah — 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," Francis Cardinal 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.

__IMAGE1__"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 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.

"There

is nothing like being in the trenches together to make common cause,"

said Maggie Gallagher, a Catholic and president of the National

Organization for Marriage. "I think we all need the courage to stand up

for our core beliefs — especially the belief that our marriage

tradition is good. I'm very grateful for the LDS faith community's

leadership, but even more for the ordinary member's ordinary courage.

We all admire it and seek to emulate it."

For Robert George, he said he keeps coming back to the Bible scripture: "By their fruits ye shall know them."

"A

lot of Catholics are looking at the fruit born by the LDS," he said,

"not only in the way they conduct their daily affairs, (but in) the

witness they gave on the marriage question, especially when they were

so brutally attacked for it."

Those sacrifices haven't gone unnoticed, he said.

"I

didn't want there to be any question about whether Catholics like me

would forget about them after we'd won the war," he said.

And he won't.

Through

the Proposition 8 battle banning same-sex marriage in California,

Robert George said he not only developed a deeper appreciation of the

LDS faith, but was strengthened in his own faith as well.

Such appreciation must be mutual, said Paul Kerry, BYU professor and friend of Robert George.

"As

someone who teaches history, I'm stunned at the lack of appreciation

for the role the Catholic Church has played as this worldwide

organization, and the great leadership it has displayed on family

issues in places where the LDS Church might not be very prominent,"

Kerry said.

Thanks to its global

presence, the Catholic Church always has stood for family issues,

whether it was opposing Nazi policies of euthanasia or speaking against

abortion, he said.

The opportunity

to hear from someone like Cardinal George reminds Latter-day Saints of

the challenges facing religious freedom and of the many people working

to defend it, Kerry said.

"If

we do not fight it together, ... the difference is between winning and

losing," Robert George said. "If we try to fight it separately, we will

lose. The enemy is too strong, and our adversaries are too powerful."

Fighting

together does not mean abandoning core doctrines or changing theology,

only coming to the realization that both religions have "a lot in

common in terms of things that they're trying to defend — certain moral

values that they believe are not just central to their faith, but

central to the well-being of civilization, of society," said Utah

Valley University President Matthew Holland, another friend of Robert

George.

Such staunch advocacy

doesn't come without cost, and fighting for religious freedom often

will make such warriors targets for retaliation and hatred, Cardinal

George said.

"But despite that, if

we stay together and go forward, ... if we simply continue to talk

together, (it) will in the end bear much fruit," he said. "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."

To view Cardinal George's entire speech, visit www.byu.tv, click on "conferences and addresses", and then on "Forum - His Eminence Cardinal Francis George"


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com