Statement by the Catholic Church
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
RESPONSE TO A 'DUBIUM'
on the validity of baptism conferred by
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints",
Question: Whether the baptism conferred by the community “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, called “Mormons” in the vernacular, is valid.
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Response, decided in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation, and ordered it published.
From the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 5 June 2001.
Joseph Cardinal RATZINGER
Tarcisio BERTONE, S.D.B.
Archbishop emeritus of Vercelli
Vatican says Mormon baptisms are invalid
Vatican says Mormon baptisms are invalid
National Catholic Reporter
August 10, 2001
by Gill Donovan
The baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be considered a valid Christian baptism, said the Vatican's doctrinal congregation.
The ruling by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was published in the July 16-17 edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, after being approved by Pope John Paul II.
While the Mormon baptismal rite refers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mormon beliefs about the identity of the three persons is so different from Catholic and mainline Christian belief that "one cannot even consider this doctrine to be a heresy arising from a false understanding of Christian doctrine," said a Vatican explanation of the ruling.
The notice, dated June 5, was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the congregation, and by Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary.
An accompanying article in L'Osservatore Romano said the ruling "changes the past practice of not contesting the validity of this baptism."
The church's refusal to recognize Mormon baptisms won't affect how the two groups work together, leaders in both churches said from Salt Lake City.
"We have a good relationship with the Catholic church and that won't change," said Dale Bills, spokesman at the national office of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.
Msgr J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar for the Salt Lake City, Utah, diocese, said the Vatican ruling doesn't imply "that the Catholic church has a judgment on an individual Mormon's relationship with Jesus." He said the "good working relationship" between Catholics and Mormons in Salt Lake will continue.
Question from newadvent.org
Mormon missionaries visited my home recently and, among other things, condemned as unbiblical the Catholic custom of paying priests and bishops. They were quite proud of the fact that the Mormon Church has no paid clergy, claiming they follow the pattern set by the first Christians. I was uncomfortably silent because I had no idea where to look in the Bible for verses that support the Catholic position. Are there any?
Yes. Start your response with 1 Corinthians 9. In verses 7-12 Paul takes up this very topic, asking, "Whoever serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating its produce? Or who shepherds a flock without using some of the milk from the flock? Am I saying this on human authority or does not the law also speak of these things?
"It is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' Is God concerned about oxen, or is he not really speaking for our sake? It was written for our sake, for the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher in hope of receiving a share. If we have sown spiritual seed for you, is it a great thing that we reap a material harvest from you? If others share in this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?"
He goes on to specify that even though he would be completely justified in being paid for his ministry (v. 18), he chose to forego that right in order to eliminate a potential source of criticism from his detractors. He explained in verses 13 and 14, "Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat what belongs to the temple, and those who minister at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel." Also see Romans 15:26-27, 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10, and 2 Timothy 2:6.
In your discussions with Mormons, they will most often wish to direct the topics presented into those areas where they feel most informed and comfortable. Whether they are the young missionaries at your door or friends or colleagues, they have all been taught several lines of approach and have been drilled in making their points.
We suggest that you take charge of such conversations. Besides acquainting yourself with the basics of Mormon teaching (in addition, of course, to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith), consider presenting the Mormon apologist with a few "stumpers."
"We don’t bash your
church, why bash ours?"
Somehow, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been persuaded by their leaders that they have always been on the receiving end of uncharitable comments and unjust accusations. From the time Joseph Smith began his work in 1820, the Mormon church has gloried in the "fact" that it is a persecuted people. For them, this is a sure sign that it is the Lord’s true church; all opposition comes ultimately from Satan. So, if you do offer a question or a criticism, be prepared for this reaction.
Many Mormons, including their hierarchy, look upon any criticism—regardless of how honest and sincere—as perverseness inspired by the Evil One. But these same individuals ignore their own past (and present) attacks on Christian churches. You might like to point out a few of these to those Mormons who say their church "never attacks other churches."
1. "I was answered that I must join none of them (Christian churches), for they were all wrong…their creeds were an abomination in [God’s] sight; that those professors were all corrupt" (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).
2. "Orthodox Christian views of God are pagan rather than Christian" (Mormon Doctrine of Deity, B. H. Roberts [General Authority], 116).
3. "Are Christians ignorant? Yes, as ignorant of the things of God as the brute beast" (Journal of Discourses, John Taylor [3rd Mormon President], 13:225).
4. "The Roman Catholic, Greek, and Protestant church, is the great corrupt, ecclesiastical power, represented by great Babylon" (Orson Pratt, Writings of an Apostle, Orson Pratt, n. 6, 84).
5. "All the priests who adhere to the sectarian [Christian] religions of the day with all their followers, without one exception, receive their portion with the devil and his angels" (The Elders Journal, Joseph Smith, ed. Vol. 1, n. 4, 60).
6. [Under the heading, "Church of the Devil," Apostle Bruce R. McConkie lists:] "The Roman Catholic Church specifically—singled out, set apart, described, and designated as being ‘most abominable above all other churches’ (I Ne. 13:5)" (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, 129).
7. "Believers in the doctrines of modern Christendom will reap damnation to their souls (Morm. 8; Moro. 8)" (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, Bruce R. McConkie, 177).
Some contemporary Mormons, embarrassed—at least publicly—by McConkie’s ranting, will respond with, "That’s only his opinion." This is disingenuous at best. Keep in mind that McConkie, who died in 1985, was raised to the level of "apostle" in the Mormon church after he had written all these things. And still today, his Mormon Doctrine is published by a church-owned publishing company and remains one of the church’s bestsellers.
"We have no
revelation on abortion"
Didn’t you assume Mormons were pro-life? That’s certainly the image their church attempts to broadcast, and most Mormons, in fact, mistakenly believe their church opposes abortion and regards it as an objective evil. But not so.
Indeed, the Mormon church accepts abortion for a number of reasons. The Church Handbook of Instructions, approved in September, 1998, states that abortion may be performed in the following circumstances: pregnancy resulting from rape or incest; a competent physician says the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy; or a competent physician says that the "fetus" has severe defects that will not allow the "baby" to survive beyond birth. In any case, the persons responsible must first consult with their church leader and receive God’s approval in prayer (156).
This same Handbook, the official policies of the Mormon church to be followed by all local church leaders throughout the world, also claims: "It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body" (156). Previous teachings by former Mormon prophets referred to the unborn child as "a child," "a baby," a "human being," and decried abortion as "killing," "a grievous sin," "a damnable practice." Spencer W. Kimball, the prophet who died in 1985, taught, "We have repeatedly affirmed the position of the church in unalterably opposing all abortions" (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 189).
It appears that this "unalterable" position, constantly "affirmed," is just another in a series of doctrinal and moral teachings that Mormons have reworded, reworked, rescinded, or reneged—though never officially renounced. Such is the quality of the Mormon belief in "continuing revelation." Don’t expect dogmatic or ethical consistency. Rather, look for expediency and conformity with "the times."
A further statement in the Handbook says: "The church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion (156)." While the Mormon prophet claims to speak the mind and will of God, he can neither figure out when the unborn child becomes human or if it is God’s desire that we protect the unborn unconditionally.
Your Mormon friend will offer the excuse that his church leaves many decisions to the free agency (free will) of its people, and that abortion is one such concern. You might point out the irony in the fact that the Mormon church has no hesitation or uncertainty in making the following declarations:
1. "The church opposes gambling in any form" (including lotteries). Members are also urged to oppose legislation and government sponsorship of any form of gambling (Handbook, 150).
2. The church also opposes [correctly, of course] pornography in any form (158).
3. Church members are to reject all efforts to legally authorize or support same-sex unions (158).
There is no need for a member to pray for divine guidance or seek church approval for such activities, for there will be no divine or ecclesiastical finessing of morality to permit even an occasional bingo game. A prayerful game of poker, unrepented, will bar the member from the temple and ultimate salvation; a prayerful, by-the-book abortion, unrepented, won’t.
"Only Mormons teach the true nature of God."
Because they believe the Church established by Christ 2,000 years ago fell completely away from his teachings within a century or so of his death, Mormons argue that only a thorough "restoration" (and not a simple "reformation") of the true Church and its holy doctrines would lead man to salvation. Joseph Smith organized this "restored church" in 1830. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints preaches a belief central to most religions: one must know the true nature of God. "It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God" (Teachings of Joseph Smith, 345ff).
No Christian disputes the absolute necessity of knowing the nature of God (to the extent our reason, aided by grace, can apprehend this great mystery). Indeed, the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations have been united in a constant belief in the supreme God as almighty, eternal, and unchanging. Mormons have not been favored by similar clarity from their self-described "prophets" who receive "direct revelation" from the gods.
You may wish to ask your Mormon acquaintance to consider the following authoritative statements by their earlier and present prophets.
1. In an early book of "Scripture" brought forth by Joseph Smith, the creation account consistently refers to the singular when speaking of God and creation: "I, God, caused . . . I, God, created . . . I, God, saw. . . . " The singular is used 50 times in the second and third chapters of the Book of Moses (1831).
2. In another of Smith’s earlier works, the Book of Mormon (1830), there are no references to a plurality of gods. At best, there is a confusion, at times, between the Father and the Son, leading at times to the extreme of modalism (one divine person who reveals himself sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son) or the other extreme of "binitarianism," belief in two persons in God. The Book of Mormon also makes a strong point for God’s spiritual and eternal unity (see Alma 11:44 and 22:10-11, which proclaims that God is the "Great Spirit").
3. Another early work of Smith is the Lectures on Faith (1834-35). There is continual evidence that the first Mormon leader taught a form of bitheism: the Father and the Son are separate gods. The Holy Spirit is merely the "mind" of the two.
4. At about the same time, we begin to see a doctrinal shift. Smith had acquired some mummies and Egyptian papyri. He proclaimed the writings to be those of the patriarch, Abraham, in his own hand, and set out to translate the text. His Book of Abraham records in chapters four and five that "the gods called . . . the gods ordered . . . the gods prepared" some 45 times. Smith thus introduces the notion of a plurality of gods.
5. The clearest exposition of this departure from traditional Christian doctrine is seen in Smith’s tale of a "vision" he had as a boy of 14. Both the Father and the Son appeared to him, he wrote; they were two separate "personages." This story of two gods was not authorized and distributed by the church until 1838, after his Book of Abraham had paved the way for polytheism.
6. Readers will notice that the Father is said to have appeared, along with his resurrected Son. In his final doctrinal message, Smith showed how this was possible.
In the King Follett Discourse (a funeral talk he gave in 1844), Joseph Smith left his church with the clearest statement to date on the nature of God:
"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens[.] That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man. The scriptures inform us that Jesus said, ‘As the Father hath power to himself, even so hath the Son power’—to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious—in a manner to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. Do you believe it? If you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. The scriptures say it and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it."
As the Mormon church has taught since that time, God the Father was once a man who was created by his God, was born and lived on another earth, learned and lived the "Mormon gospel," died, and was eventually resurrected and made God over this universe. As such, he retains forever his flesh-and-bones body.
7. Aside from some temporary detours (Orson Pratt said the Holy Ghost was a spiritual fluid that filled the universe; Brigham Young taught that Adam is the god of this world), the Mormon church has constantly taught that God the Father is a perfected man with a physical body and parts. Right-living Mormon men may also progress, as did the Father, and eventually become gods themselves. In fact, fifth president, Lorenzo Snow, summed up the Mormon teaching thus: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be." Snow frequently claimed this summary of the Mormon doctrine on God and man was revealed to him by inspiration. (See Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian?, 60, note 1.)
8. "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me." What is stranger than a God who starts off as a single Spirit, eternal and all-powerful; who then becomes, perhaps, two gods in one, and then three; who never changes, yet was once born a man, lived, sinned, repented, and died; who was made God the Father of this world by his own God; and who will make his own children gods someday of their own worlds?
That all believing Christians are shocked and disturbed by this blasphemy may—just may—be nudging the Mormon leadership to soften their rhetoric (if not actually change their heresy). A case in point is an interview with current church prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 13, 1997. When asked: "[D]on’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?" Hinckley demurred. "I wouldn’t say that. There’s a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’ Now, that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about" (3/Z1).
A surprising admission, as Hinckley seems to disparage the constant teaching of all his prophetic predecessors.
Choose, if you like, any one of these three attacks: on Christians; on the sanctity of life; on God. Ask your Mormon listener to explain the contradictions of his church. Don’t be satisfied with a personal, subjective, emotional "testimony." Demand clarification of confused and contradictory teachings.
When they aren’t forthcoming, be prepared to offer the truth.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I
have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
Mormons barred from receiving Catholic parish records
Washington, May. 5, 2008 (CWNews.com) - The Vatican has instructed diocesan officials not to provide information from parish records for to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints-- popularly known as the Mormon faith-- the Catholic News Service reports.
The Vatican directive, contained in a letter that was released on April 5, reflects concerns that Mormons will use the parish records as the basis for "posthumous rebaptisms" of Catholics. The Catholic Church objects to the Mormon practice of "rebaptism" for two reasons: first because baptism is permanent, and cannot be repeated; second because the "baptism" practiced by Mormons is invalid, since the faithful are not baptized "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
The Vatican ruling could create tensions between Catholic and Mormon officials. Mormon leaders take pride in the fact that they allow free use of their enormous data-base of genealogical research to members of all faiths.
Vatican letter directs bishops to keep parish records from Mormons
By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service
May 2, 2008
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In an effort to block posthumous rebaptisms by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholic dioceses throughout the world have been directed by the Vatican not to give information in parish registers to the Mormons' Genealogical Society of Utah.
An April 5 letter from the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, obtained by Catholic News Service in late April, asks episcopal conferences to direct all bishops to keep the Latter-day Saints from microfilming and digitizing information contained in those registers.
The order came in light of "grave reservations" expressed in a Jan. 29 letter from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the clergy congregation's letter said.
Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the step was taken to prevent the Latter-day Saints from using records -- such as baptismal documentation -- to posthumously baptize by proxy the ancestors of church members.
Posthumous baptisms by proxy have been a common practice for the Latter-day Saints -- commonly known as Mormons -- for more than a century, allowing the church's faithful to have their ancestors baptized into their faith so they may be united in the afterlife, said Mike Otterson, a spokesman in the church's Salt Lake City headquarters.
In a telephone interview with CNS May 1, Otterson said he wanted a chance to review the contents of the letter before commenting on how it will affect the Mormons' relationship with the Catholic Church.
"This dicastery is bringing this matter to the attention of the various conferences of bishops," the letter reads. "The congregation requests that the conference notifies each diocesan bishop in order to ensure that such a detrimental practice is not permitted in his territory, due to the confidentiality of the faithful and so as not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
The letter is dated 10 days before Pope Benedict XVI's April 15-20 U.S. visit, during which he presided over an ecumenical prayer service attended by two Mormon leaders. It marked the first time Mormons had participated in a papal prayer service.
Father Massa said he could see how the policy stated in the letter could strain relations between the Catholic Church and the Latter-day Saints.
"It certainly has that potential," he said. "But I would also say that the purpose of interreligious dialogue is not to only identify agreements, but also to understand our differences. As Catholics, we have to make very clear to them their practice of so-called rebaptism is unacceptable from the standpoint of Catholic truth."
The Catholic Church will eventually open a dialogue with the Mormons about the rebaptism issue, Father Massa said, "but we are at the beginning of the beginning of a new relationship with the LDS. The first step in any dialogue is to establish trust and to seek friendship."
The two faiths share intrinsic viewpoints on key issues the United States is facing, particularly the pro-life position on abortion and an opposition to same-sex marriage.
However, theological differences have cropped up between Mormons and Catholics in the past.
In 2001 the Vatican's doctrinal congregation issued a ruling that baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be considered a valid Christian baptism, thus requiring converts from that religion to Catholicism to receive a Catholic baptism.
"We don't have an issue with the fact that the Catholic Church doesn't recognize our baptisms, because we don't recognize theirs," Otterson said. "It's a difference of belief."
When issuing its 2001 ruling, the Vatican said that even though the Mormon baptismal rite refers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the church's beliefs about the identity of the three persons are so different from Catholic and mainline Christian belief that the rite cannot be regarded as a Christian baptism.
Latter-day Saints regard Jesus and the Holy Spirit as children of the Father and the Heavenly Mother. They believe that baptism was instituted by the Father, not Christ, and that it goes back to Adam and Eve.
Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald -- vicar general of the Diocese of Salt Lake City -- said he didn't understand why the Latter-day Saints church was singled out in this latest Vatican policy regarding parish records.
"We have a policy not to give out baptismal records to anyone unless they are entitled to have them," Msgr. Fitzgerald said of his diocese. "That isn't just for the Church of the Latter-day Saints. That is for all groups."
Though he said the Salt Lake City Diocese has enjoyed a long-standing dialogue with the Latter-day Saints, Msgr. Fitzgerald said the diocese does not support giving the Mormons names for the sake of rebaptism.
Mormons have been criticized by several other faiths -- perhaps most passionately by the Jews -- for the church's practice of posthumous baptism.
Members of the Latter-day Saints believe baptizing their ancestors by proxy gives the dead an opportunity to embrace the faith in the afterlife. The actual baptism-by-proxy ceremony occurs in a Mormon temple, and is intended to wash sins away for the commencement of church membership.
Jewish leaders have called the practice arrogant and said it is disrespectful to the dead, especially Holocaust victims.
"Baptism by proxy is a fundamentally important doctrine of the Latter-day Saints," Otterson said. "We have cooperative relationships with churches, governments -- both state and national -- going back to the last century. Our practice of negotiating for records and making them available for genealogical research is very well known."
Father Massa said he is not aware of aggressive attempts to obtain baptismal records at Catholic parishes in any of the U.S. dioceses.
He also said the Catholic Church will continue to reach out to the Mormons and carry on the efforts of understanding that have already begun, especially in Salt Lake City.
"Profound theological differences are not an excuse for avoiding dialogue, but a reason for pursuing dialogue," Father Massa said.
The Atlantic Opinion Section
July 15, 2008
A priest writes:
A person in a free society is at liberty to burn his own Torah scrolls, to tear up his own copy of the New Testament, to plunge his own copy of the Koran in his own toilet, and to trample his own stock of communion wafers. That should be recognized as protected religious or anti-religious expression under the First Amendment.
However, no one is free to break into a synagogue, to take the Torah scrolls enshrined there, and to burn them. Or to do that with a Koran belonging to a mosque where he is visiting, or to take the Bible or the Blessed Sacrament from a church and desecrate them. If a particular religion gives its sacrament or sacred things only to its own members and someone deceives the adherents of that religion in order to desecrate their sacred rituals or objects, then that is a fraud and a violation of the religious liberty of others.
Religions are entitled to make rules for their own members and to demand that outsiders leave religious adherents in peace within their own sacred precincts. The Catholic Church clearly did NOT intend to give communion to someone like this fellow and did not invite him to receive. Non-adherents are entitled to criticize or oppose from outside but not to disrupt worship, to commit fraud against religious believers they dislike, or to take religious goods from religious institutions under false pretences.
For example, I regard Muhammad and Joseph Smith as false prophets and say so openly. I regard the Koran and the Book of Mormon as being of merely human origin. If I want to oppose Islam or Mormonism and even to burn their allegedly inspired writings, I am free to do so. But I am not free to go into Muslim or Mormon places of worship, deceive the worshipers there, and then desecrate what they regard as sacred.
It's not a matter of punishing blasphemy but of the civil and religious right to be left alone.
WORD FAITH INDEX