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At BYU, Catholic archbishop seeks friends, says U.S. liberty depends on moral people

PROVO — Most days, Catholic Archbishop Charles J. Chaput watches the construction of the LDS temple in Philadelphia from his office window.

That led the Mormon historian who introduced him at BYU on Friday to joke that the archbishop of Philadelphia soon will be able to enjoy his morning coffee in the company of the Angel Moroni.

The banter was mutual — Archbishop Chaput mentioned that BYU occasionally beats Notre Dame — and a sign of the tangible, once-unlikely but growing friendship between Catholic leaders and those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I'm sure that my predecessors 30 years ago would be astonished that I'd be invited to Brigham Young University to speak to you," Archbishop Chaput said during a question-and-answer session after delivering a lecture in the Varsity Theater.

"They just wouldn't have thought it possible. We have reached a point of friendliness, I think we've kind of been forced to it by circumstances. If we don't hang together, we'll hang alone, individually."

Toughness needed

Those circumstances imperil both religious liberty and the American experiment, he said during his lecture.

"The greatest danger to our liberty today is not religious extremism. It’s a culture of narcissism that cocoons us in vulgarity, distraction and noise, while excluding God from the human imagination."

He called on Latter-day Saints, Catholics and all believing people to renew and live their faith and develop "mental toughness" so they can live as examples and engage confidently in the public debate about religious liberty.

"As the Founders knew, and we forget at our peril, the American project of ordered liberty can’t work without the support of a moral people — a people formed by a living faith in a loving God. Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse. And only religious faith can guide and moderate democracy because it appeals to an Authority higher than democracy itself."

The archbishop's noon lecture in Provo fell between meetings Friday with LDS Church apostles.

"The differences in our doctrine and practice are obvious," he said. "Ignoring them wouldn’t serve the truth. But that doesn’t preclude friendship. It doesn’t preclude working together.

"And it doesn’t obscure the fact that we face many of the same problems and share many of the same convictions about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life and the urgency of religious liberty. That’s a lot of common ground rooted in the natural law. We can’t afford to concede it to people and ideas very different from the beliefs we cherish."

Strengthening ties

Archbishop Chaput met in the morning with President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the LDS First Presidency, and Elders Dallin H. Oaks and D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

President Eyring, Archbishop Chaput and Pope Francis all spoke at the Vatican in November at a conference on "the complementarity of man and woman in marriage." President Eyring called for a renaissance of happy marriages.

An LDS Church spokesman confirmed Friday that Elder Christofferson will speak in Philadelphia in September at the World Meeting of Families, a Catholic conference held every three years that will be hosted by Archbishop Chaput and attended by Pope Francis.

Elder Christofferson is scheduled to speak Sept. 24 about "Living Our Heavenly Father’s Plan: Techniques for Family Unity from Mormon Homes," according to the World Meeting's agenda.

Archbishop Chaput mentioned Elder Christofferson's upcoming talk in a recent interview. "We have a Mormon leader who is talking about how Mormons keep families together," he said, "because they have a great reputation when it comes to family life... ."

Archbishop Chaput was scheduled to attend a dinner meeting Friday night with Elders L. Tom Perry and David A. Bednar, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

After the lecture, the archbishop also praised the Most Rev. John C. Wester, the Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City who attended the lecture, for doing "a great job in Utah" building relationships with LDS leaders.

Another example of the budding friendship came in 2010, when Cardinal Francis George spoke at BYU about the need for both Catholics and Mormons to stand together to protect the ability of individuals and groups to practice their religion in the public square.

Pertinent history

As Catholics have assimilated into U.S. culture over the past 100 years, many Catholic institutions have done so at the expense of their religious identity, Archbishop Chaput said.

He warned Latter-day Saints to avoid the same problem.

"The Mormons need to learn from the Catholic experience. We Catholics believe that our vocation is to be leaven in society. But there’s a fine line between being leaven in society, and being digested by society."

For example, he said, "Brigham Young is an extraordinary university, not just because of its academic excellence — or the fact that it occasionally beats Notre Dame — but because it’s a center of learning enriched by its religious identity. Never lose that."

The core of his argument Friday was that the Magna Carta, which turns 800 this year, still matters in America today because it introduced concepts of civil society and religious freedom, declaring “The English Church shall be free and enjoy her rights in their integrity and her liberties untouched.”

"In the American model," Archbishop Chaput said, "the state is meant to be modest in scope. It’s constrained by checks and balances. Mediating institutions like the family, churches and fraternal organizations feed the life of the civic community. They stand between the individual and the state. And when they decline, the state fills the vacuum they leave."

Protecting these "mediating institutions" is vital to freedom, he said.

"The state rarely fears individuals. Alone, individuals have little power. They can be isolated or ignored. But organized communities — including communities of faith — are a different matter. They can resist. They can’t be ignored. And that’s why they pose a problem for social engineers and an expanding state."

Be involved

That's why it's urgent that believers get involved politically, vote and elect the best public leaders to create policy and appoint judges, he said.

"Democracies depend for their survival on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square," the archbishop said, "legally and peacefully, but zealously and without apologies. That includes all of us."

Believers should begin with themselves, through prayer and internal renewal.

"I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priority — not just in our personal and family lives but in our churches, our political choices, our business dealings, our treatment of the poor; in other words, in everything we do. Nothing is more powerful than personal witness, except an entire community committed to that same witness of justice, charity and truth."

They also should work to maintain virtue and truth as a grounding for American politics, he said.

"Acting on our faith, of course, presumes that we have the mental toughness and moral integrity to make action possible."

Neither side should have to apologize for their views, he said.

"Neither they nor we should feel bad about fighting for our convictions. Democracy thrives on the struggle of competing ideas. We steal from ourselves and from our fellow citizens if we try to avoid that struggle."

Archbishop Chaput's lecture was part of the BYU Faith, Family and Society lecture series that has brought other major religious leaders to visit LDS leaders and speak on campus in the past 15 months.

The first speakers in the lecture series visited campus in September and October 2013, when BYU hosted evangelical leaders Richard Land and Albert Mohler, and George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

All three men found common ground between their faiths and Mormons.

"When it comes to religious freedom," Land said, "we all hang together or we all hang separately. We are common targets in this."

Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made headlines by saying Mormons and evangelicals may go to jail together defending their beliefs.

"I don't necessarily mean going to prison together," he said afterward, "but I think we're going to suffer the coercive power of the secular state together."

Another evangelical leader, Ravi Zacharias, visited BYU in January 2014 and lamented that “the great loss in our time has been the loss of definitions — of good, evil, humanity, sacredness of sexuality, family, and home.”

Archbishop Chaput joined the Capuchin Franciscan order in 1965 and was ordained a priest in 1970. A member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, he became the first Native American archbishop in 1988 in Rapid City. In 1997, he became the archbishop of Denver before taking the same role in Philadelphia in 2011.