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Mormonism and Catholicism: “Friendly in Every Respect”

by Sharon Lindbloom
4 February 2019

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is currently hosting its public open house for those who would like to see the new Mormon temple in Rome, Italy (January 28-February 16, 2019). Leading up to the public open house event, the church provided special tours for specific groups of people like clergy and journalists. At a news conference following some of these special tours, two LDS apostles, David A. Bednar and Ronald A. Rasband, answered questions. According to Deseret News,

“Journalists asked church leaders about their relationship with the Catholic Church. ‘Should the pope be worried’ now that there is a Latter-day Saint temple in Rome, CNN’s Delia Gallagher asked.

“‘We’re friends together with the Catholic Church,’ Elder Rasband said. ‘I’ve been with an official delegation of our church to the Vatican. We are friendly in every respect.’”

Yet historically, the relationship between Mormonism and Catholicism has not always been what most would call “friendly.”

It must be understood that distinct religions disagree on some points – that’s why various faith organizations are separate. For example, some religions believe in using musical instruments in their worship services, while others don’t. Some believe baptism should be performed by immersion, others by sprinkling. Some divisions are deep, cutting to the core of the doctrine of who Christ is or the content of the Gospel. But even with such important disagreements on the table, adherents can (and should) remain “friendly” (i.e., pleasant with one another).

This is likely the kind of friendliness to which LDS apostle Rasband referred, because Mormonism has historically seen Catholicism as abhorrent to God and LDS leaders have not minced words in proclaiming that belief.

LDS apostle Bruce McConkie (1915-1985) is infamous for his comments about the Catholic Church. While his descriptive language seems harsh to our ears, his remarks do reflect Mormon teachings. For example, the Book of Mormon’s 1 Nephi 8 records a vision related by a man called Lehi. Lehi said he saw a strange building full of people who mocked and scoffed at others who chose to partake of the fruit of the tree of life. Bruce McConkie identified the Book of Mormon’s “great and spacious building” (as well the Bible’s “mark of the beast,” see Revelation 13):

“Once while I was in England, in the Salisbury Cathedral, the thought came to me that the great and spacious building which Nephi saw was probably St. Peter’s Basillica. After all, he saw the great and abominable church, which is headquartered in Rome, and Rome’s greatest and most spacious building is St. Peter’s Basillica. I can similarly reason about the mark of the beast: I know what the beast is—that is, which church it is—and what sign, or mark—the sign of the cross—it has used over the generations to symbolize its presence, pre-eminence and worship.” (Bruce McConkie, “Answers Grounded in Truth,” The McConkie Papers)

Mr. McConkie’s 1958 edition of his encyclopedic book, Mormon Doctrine, directed readers who were interested in “Catholicism” to “See Church of the Devil” (108).

But Bruce McConkie is not the only authoritative Mormon to teach this LDS doctrine regarding the Catholic Church with such clarity.

One of the LDS church’s original twelve apostles, Orson Pratt (1811-1881), explained,

“The gates of hell have prevailed and will continue to prevail over the Catholic mother of harlots, and over all her Protestant daughters; but as for the apostolical Church of Christ, she rests secure in the mansion of eternal happiness, where she will remain until the apostate Catholic church, with all her popes and bish­ops, together with all her harlot daughters shall be hurled down to hell…” (Divine Au­thenticity of the Book of Mormon, No. 3, p. 44)

Another LDS apostle, Hyrum M. Smith (1872-1918), said,

“The great Catholic division of the Christian world, the Catholic church, is a national liability to any country. It wields a great power over the minds and the hearts of the children of men, but it is a power for evil rather than for good. It brings countless thousands regularly to confession; it rarely brings a single man to repentance and the abandonment of his sins.” (Conference Reports, October 1916, 42)

According to a biography about the 9th President of the LDS church, David O. McKay (1873-1970),

“In 1953 [President McKay] visited San Mateo, California, to dedicate a new church building. As he and his host drove past a Catholic Church from which worshipers were emerging after mass, he said, ‘There are two great anti-Christs in the world: Communism and that church,’ pointing to the Catholic Church. ‘Then,’ recounted his host, ‘he put his hand on my knee and said, “Remember that.”’” (Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, 120)

The 10th President of the LDS church, Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972), while yet an apostle, wrote,

“This brings us to the point of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I speak it definitely: No Catholic priest from the pope down, un­derstands the atonement of Jesus Christ! If they did, then this abominable doctrine of original sin would be abolished. So the atonement and its relationship to the human family is the next point which proves the apostasy of the Catholic Church.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:178-179)

It’s good that public relations between the LDS church and the Catholic Church are “friendly” today; this world needs more cordiality between people and organizations who harbor disagreements. But don’t be fooled. Behind the friendly façade, the Mormon church’s disparaging doctrine regarding Catholicism as reflected in the teachings of its prophets, seers, and revelators is not friendly at all.

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