By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis welcomed top officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Vatican the day before the officials inaugurated their first temple in the city of Rome.
The Vatican included the pope’s meeting with Russell M. Nelson, president of the LDS church, in a list of Pope Francis’ encounters March 9, but did not provide further information.
Catholic and Mormon leaders, especially in the United States, have increased their official contacts in recent years, working together on many social projects and joining forces to promote issues of common concern, particularly policies to support traditional families.
But the Catholic Church does not recognize the baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a valid Christian baptism.
The Catholic position was issued formally in 2001 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
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.
Nelson, who Mormons consider a prophet, and other top officials of the LDS church were in Rome for the March 10 inauguration of a new temple, where special marriage, baptism and other rites are performed.
While the Vatican issued no statement on the meeting with the pope, the Latter-day Saints’ official website — lds.org — carried a long piece and a video interview with Nelson, along with ample coverage of the temple dedication.
The website reported that the meeting with the pope lasted 33 minutes.
“We talked about our mutual concern for the people who suffer throughout the world and want to relieve human suffering,” Nelson said. “We talked about the importance of religious liberty, the importance of the family, our mutual concern for the youth (and) for the secularization of the world and the need for people to come to God and worship him, pray to him and have the stability that faith in Jesus Christ will bring in their lives.”
Describing Pope Francis, Nelson said, “What a sweet, wonderful man he is, and how fortunate the Catholic people are to have such a gracious, concerned, loving and capable leader.”