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President Oaks and Vatican II: A Latter-day Saint apostle praises a late pope and a Catholic document

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President Dallin H. Oaks and Sister Kristen Oaks enjoy the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center in Rome on July 19, 2022.

President Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, walk through the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center in Rome on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This article was first published in the ChurchBeat newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

Catholics and Latter-day Saints have made it clear over the past couple of decades that they stand pressed shoulder to shoulder together in the trenches of defending religious freedom.

Last year during an interview I watched Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Elder Quentin L. Cook each laugh and become emotional together as they testified of both their heartfelt personal friendship and their faiths’ compatibility when it comes to protecting religious liberty.

On Wednesday, President Dallin H. Oaks said something I hadn’t seen or heard before from a senior leader. He described a document from the Second Vatican Council as one of three key events in the modern development of religious liberty.

Additionally, he praised a past pope for his advocacy of religious freedom.

Speaking in Rome not far from the Vatican itself, the first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called the city a “great cradle of the Christian faith.”

President Oaks said the first two key events in the development of religious liberty were the U.S. Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

Then he turned to the Second Vatican Council, held from 1962-65, which among other things opened the door for Catholics to forge interfaith relationships.

“My third key event in the development of religious liberty was the 1965 Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae),” President Oaks said. “This declared the root principle that each person, made in the image and likeness of God, has inherent ‘dignity’ and is therefore created to be free and to enjoy religious freedom.

“In addition to stressing the religious freedom of individuals, Dignitatis Humanae also recognized that individuals practice religion in community with one another,” President Oaks continued. “This freedom for organizations is vital to Catholics and all other religions that sponsor schools, medical care and other social service organizations.”

President Oaks also noted that his friend, Harvard professor and Catholic observer Mary Ann Glendon has said that Catholic leaders today take their bearings on religious freedom mainly from Vatican II and St. Pope John Paul II.

He then quoted the late pope:

“Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights, and for this reason, an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole of society as well as of the personal fulfillment of each individual.”

President Oaks closed that section of his talk with a nod toward the pope, who died in 2005.

“Pope John Paul II committed his heartfelt efforts to the defense of religious freedom, speaking as a religious leader to a worldwide audience,” President Oaks said. “All who are committed to the free exercise of religion are indebted both for Dignitatis Humanae and for John Paul II’s vision and advocacy.”

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