On Tuesday, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave a talk to nearly 12,000 students and faculty at Brigham Young University in Utah. The cardinal dedicated his speech to exhorting the two faiths to defend religious freedom and their place in the public square.
“In recent years, Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have stood more frequently side by side in the public square to defend human life and dignity,” said Cardinal George on Tuesday morning.
The cardinal gave his presentation, “Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the Defense of Religious Freedom,” at a BYU forum on Feb. 23, at the school's Marriott Center. Receiving a standing ovation at the end of his address, Cardinal George is believed to be the highest ranking Catholic official to ever speak at the Mormon university.
“I'm personally grateful that after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see each other as trustworthy partners in defense of shared moral principles,” noted the prelate.
Cardinal George lauded LDS members for their commitment to serving the poor, defending traditional marriage, fighting pornography and opposing abortion.
He also praised the work of Catholics and the LDS Church in their collective fight in supporting religious freedom. This freedom, he stressed, should not be limited to the private sphere alone but should also be thriving and present in the public square.
“Any attempt to reduce that fuller sense of religious freedom, which has been part of our history in this country for more than two centuries, to a private reality of worship and individual conscience so long as you don't make anyone else unhappy, is not in our tradition,” said Cardinal George, who added, “It was the tradition of the Soviet Union.”
Cardinal George also addressed the opposition that Catholics and Mormons have faced for their joint advocacy of human rights and dignity, citing the response from Proposition 8 opponents in California as an example.
“What I most regret is not the opposition, that is understandable ... And those of us who have gay people in their family as I have, know the anxieties and the conflicts in their own life. And we have to be there for them and love them and support them.”
But when Prop. 8 opponents “respond by thuggery, by quasi-fascist tactics, then the common good, our whole society, stands in great jeopardy,” Cardinal George said.
Opposition to the efforts of Catholics and LDS members should be expected, he added. “But despite that, if we stay together and go forward, … if we simply continue to talk together, (it) will in the end bear much fruit.”
“When government fails to protect the consciences of its citizens, it falls to religious bodies, especially those formed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to become the defenders of human freedom,” the Chicago cardinal said.