Friday, February 19, 2010

The Chief's Bridge to Brigham

As of this writing, nine months remain in Cardinal Francis George's three-year mandate as president of the US bishops... and so it seems, the Chief's keen to make the most of it.

First, there was the fall release of a well-received book on American culture and Catholic communion... then, November's USCCB assembly saw the Chicago prelate unveil a significant push for ensuring the Catholic identity of institutions which claim ecclesial ties... and now, fresh off clarifying the standing of a leading church lobby for gays and lesbians (a move which garnered a protest last weekend at his cathedral), next week has George making Stateside Catholicism's highest-profile overture yet to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- better known, of course, as the Mormons:
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will speak Tuesday at Brigham Young University as part of the Provo school's forum series.

George's talk will be titled "Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the Defense of Religious Freedom," according to an announcement by the Salt Lake City diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

He will speak at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center. Tickets are not required.
Against the backdrop of a rapidly-expanding Catholic presence on the LDS' home-turf of Utah, relations between Catholics and Mormons -- warm from the start -- have become ever closer over the last decade.

While the venues of cooperation have ranged from humanitarian efforts to the LDS deployment of volunteers and other backup for World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, the most-prominent front of joint engagement has come on social issues, particularly in efforts to combat same-sex marriage. Only after an appeal from Mormon Country's prior shepherd -- now Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, a close friend of current LDS President Thomas Monson -- did the LDS leadership go all-in with the mobilization of their membership that arguably secured the passage of California's controversial Proposition 8, which restored the one man-one woman definition of civil marriage in 2008, ending the state's two-year sanctioning of gay unions.

Though theological tensions have likewise flared in recent years over the validity of Mormon baptisms and the community's posthumous baptism of deceased pontiffs, for the first time, members of the Quorum of the Twelve -- essentially the LDS equivalent of the College of Cardinals -- were included in an ecumenical prayer with a Pope, joining Benedict XVI for the pan-Christian service during his 2008 visit to New York.

And, lastly, the shot above -- the emblematic depiction of George's role in the American Catholic orbit these days -- comes from an earlier instance of the Chief's Latter-day bridge-building; in June 2007, the cardinal was invited to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during a Windy City performance.