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Catholics, LDS stand together on issues 'good for America,' archbishop says

SALT LAKE CITY — The Most Rev. Joseph Kurtz, visiting Salt Lake City at the invitation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says the two faiths "stand together on issues that are good for America."

The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, said promoting "the gift of family" and "safeguarding religious freedom" are examples of two issues where the faiths are aligned.

"From the founding of our nation, voices of faith and people of faith have had a chance to really contribute unto the common good without imposing on others. That's been the great gift, I think, of the United States of America," Archbishop Kurtz said in an interview Wednesday.

He said he has experienced a mutual respect with leaders of the LDS Church and has developed a friendship with Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with whom he was on a panel discussion at the University of Notre Dame in 2012.

"There has been great mutual respect. I am grateful for it, and it has been easy to provide respect because the people I've met in leadership are really wonderful individuals, people who obviously have great talent, leadership and desires to follow the gifts of the Holy Spirit," he said.

The archbishop met with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presidency of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric, discussing religious freedom and other experiences and areas of common interest in which we are together on.

Archbishop Kurtz, who was appointed the fourth archbishop of Louisville in 2007, and served as bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee, has also been a parish priest and ran Catholic charities for "two dozen years."

While each of those experiences shaped his approach to his service to Jesus Christ, being part of a family had the greatest influence upon him, he said.

"I came from a family that was blessed. We came from the coal regions in the northeast part of Pennsylvania. Three older sisters and I had an older brother who had Down syndrome. I had the privilege to be his guardian for the last 12 years of his life, so while I was directing Catholic charities, a pastor and my first year as a bishop, my brother Georgie and I lived together. I think that had a great influence. Maybe if I were to talk about a priority, it probably would be pastoral care," the archbishop said.

His visit to Utah comes as the Diocese of Salt Lake City awaits the appointment of a new Catholic bishop to succeed former Bishop John C. Wester, who was appointed archbishop of Santa Fe on April 27, 2015.

"I don't have a crystal ball in knowing who might be appointed as the next bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City nor the timing. I would say this period of time of in-between is not unusual. When I was appointed in 2007 the archbishop of Louisville, it was 11 months and that was considered fast. So I guess with all the consultation that occurs, it just takes time for these things," he said.

One factor could be Pope Francis' recent appointment of a new apostolic nuncio for the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

"The new nuncio, while he and I have communicated in writing, he has not yet arrived in the United States. My hope would be that he would arrive in time for our plenary meeting of the bishops in June. That could factor a bit of a delay," Archbishop Kurtz said.

In the interim, Monsignor Colin F. Bircumshaw has served as elected administrator of the Salt Lake diocese.

"There really isn't a lapse in terms of the pastoral care being given, but obviously we know people are eager to welcome a bishop, and we're grateful for that. A bishop is a source of unity, too. Someone once said when a pope is elected, before they say who it is, they say 'Habemus Papam,' we have a pope. Just the fact of having a bishop or having a pope is a source of unity," he said.

Pope Francis has just completed his third year of leading the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Kurtz said, expressing gratitude for his leadership.

"As a result of the two synods we just had, in 2014 and 2015 on the family, our Holy Father Pope Francis just issued an apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love in the family. He specifically in the beginning said, 'Now read this slowly and patiently because it's very complex.'

"It's a beautiful document. He spends two chapters talking about the various qualities that should be in a married couple and the family from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In that teaching he gives such a beautiful and warm expression of what is not only truthful but beautiful in marriage and family life."

Quoting a previous pope, St. John Paul II, Archbishop Kurtz said "the future of society passes through the family, so that's very much an issue for us. We don't separate the family from society. In fact, we see the family as the most basic building block of society. And we also see the family as a basic building block of our church.

"Pope Francis has called the church a family of families, which I think is a beautiful way to talk about how important family life is."

`Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com