One of the
wonderful changes in LDS attitudes that I have witnessed in my
lifetime is a broader, more understanding, and more positive attitude
toward other churches, and particularly the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, I remember all too well a time when many of the
Latter-day Saints I knew looked at the Catholic Church as the “great
and abominable church” and the “church of the devil”
described in certain passages in the Book of Mormon. Not that
everyone thought this way, but I remember hearing it enough that it
seemed as if it were a general Church belief.
that the Catholic Church was the “great and abominable”
was never promulgated officially, but I sometimes heard it Sunday
School and, at times, it was taught even by a few Church leaders. It
became popularized more generally when, in 1958, Bruce R. McConkie of
the First Council of the Seventy published a book titled Mormon
Doctrine, identifying the Catholic Church just that way.
President David O. McKay was shocked, especially because he and
Bishop Duane G. Hunt, the Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, were
good friends and Bishop Hunt had long been a friend of the Mormons in
general. However, the book became a best seller for it listed almost
every topic Mormons might be interested in and gave what seemed to be
authoritative statements about each of them. It was an easy way to
find answers, which is why the book was so popular, but, sadly, many
of those answers were simply wrong. In fact, after President McKay
asked Elders Mark E. Peterson and Marion G. Romney to carefully
critique the book they came back ten months later with a list of
1,067 errors that they thought must be corrected if it was ever
republished. After more discussion, President McKay directed that the
book should not be republished at all. He also made it very clear
that this was not an authoritative publication of the Church, but
only the opinions of Elder McConkie. But the damage had been done,
for the book popularized this, and other erroneous ideas, as many
Latter-day Saints took whatever it said as doctrine. In 1966,
apparently misconstruing the instructions from President McKay, Elder
McConkie published a second edition of the book, though the statement
about the Catholic Church was removed and many other offending
statements had been removed or altered.
no one was saying that Catholics, as a people, were somehow
tainted—only that their church as an institution was what Elder
McConkie and others said it was. But that was bad enough and could
hardly help but evoke a certain general prejudice on the part of
those who heard the teaching.
are many other sides to the story of the relationship between the LDS
and Catholic churches. In the early days of the Church in Utah, for
example, there was real friendship and cooperation between the two.
As we wrote several years ago in The Story of the Latter-day
Catholics came to Utah in 1862 as members of the California
Volunteers. In 1866 when the Reverend Edward Kelly was looking for a
place to celebrate mass, he was allowed to use the old tabernacle,
and Brigham Young helped him obtain a clear title to land for a
church in Salt Lake City. Though the Catholics and the Latter-day
Saints had little in common theologically, they maintained general
good will. The Reverend Lawrence Scanlan arrived in Utah in 1873,
eventually became a bishop, and remained until his death in 1915. He
established parishes wherever possible and on one occasion in 1873
was invited by Mormon leaders in St. George to use their tabernacle
for worship. Fearful that part of the service would have to be
omitted because it called for a choir singing in Latin, he learned to
his surprise that the leader of the St. George Tabernacle choir had
asked for the appropriate music and in two weeks the choir would sing
it in Latin. On May 18 a Catholic high mass was sung by a Mormon
choir in the St. George Tabernacle, symbolizing the good will that
existed between Father Scanlan and the Saints. (James B. Allen and
Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints [2nd
edition, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992], 349)
will continued in many ways, not only from Church leaders but also
among members who were less dogmatic than others in their
In my own
case, I actually remember when Pope Pius XII was inaugurated in 1939.
I was not yet twelve years old, but I remember it because I remember
my mother talking about the pope, saying what an important person he
was, and what a good man the previous pope, Pius XI, was. This
somehow affected my attitude (thank goodness for good mothers!) and
as I grew older I developed even greater respect for this pope, who
remained on the papal throne until his death in 1958.
I learned a bit more about the Catholic Church and even, at times,
enjoyed going to a Christmas Mass. I also had a few Catholic friends.
In 1946, while I was in the Navy, I was sent to photography school in
Pensacola, Florida. One of my best friends there was a Catholic who
wanted to become a priest after he left the Navy. My goal was to
become a Mormon missionary. We often met together (along with a
Baptist friend) and talked about our religious differences and why we
wanted to pursue our special paths. Neither of us persuaded the
other, but I learned to respect both him and his beliefs. We did not
agree, but I gained a better understanding, which made me much less
judgmental than I might have been. Maybe that is one reason why I was
one of those who was very disappointed and upset when the McConkie
book came out. By that time I was teaching in the LDS Institute of
Religion program. I was not outspokenly critical, but I remember that
some of my more “liberal” colleagues were.
years, therefore, I have been delighted as I have seen the Catholics
and the Mormons cooperating in numerous things, including
example, I loved the story of what happened in 1985, after a
devastating famine struck Ethiopia, killing a million people and
leaving millions more on the brink of starvation. Church leaders
called for a church-wide fast and, as a result, collected $6 million
for Ethiopian relief. Elder M. Russell Ballard headed the LDS group
that went to Ethiopia and there he met and eventually developed a
long-time friendship with Frank Carlon, head of Catholic Relief
Services. They made the decision that much of the money would be
handled by Catholic Relief Services. And, as Elder Ballard remarked
later, “Ever since then, we've been building that relationship
stronger and stronger.”(As quoted in Deseret News,
November 27, 2010)
relationship between Latter-day Saints and Catholics continues,
exemplified by several incidents. In 1990 members of the Church
contributed generously to the renovation of one of Salt Lake City’s
architectural gems, the Catholic Cathedral of the Madeline. In August
of the year 2009 the hundredth anniversary of the Cathedral of the
Madeline was celebrated. At the service commemorating the
anniversary, President Thomas S. Monson was one of the speakers.
nearly everyone was just as interested as I was in the recent
resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the choosing of a new pontiff,
Pope Francis I.
As I kept
up with what was going on, I remembered hearing stories about
Latter-day Saints having audiences with the pope, and presenting him
with the Book of Mormon. I took a little time to try to find some of
those stories, partly because I thought they were missionary stories.
I found only two, and neither was about missionaries, but I thought
you might be interested in them anyway.
took place in 1949. Eldin Rick (who later became a member of the
religion faculty at BYU) was a chaplain during World War II,
stationed in North Africa and Italy. The story of his visit to the
pope is told by Richard O. Cowan:
visiting Rome in August 1945, a few months following World War II,
Chaplain Ricks had a unique experience. He and three other Latter-day
Saints planned to attend a public audience with Pope Pius XII at
which up to two thousand people might be present. He first went to
visit Beth Davis, whom he had met at BYU and who was then working at
the United States Mission to the Holy See (comparable to an embassy
at the Vatican). After chatting for a little while, he casually
remarked to her, “Beth, we’re on our way over to see the
would you like to see the pope?” she responded. With surprise,
he realized that she might be able to arrange a personal visit.
“Beth, if you could arrange a private audience for us, I’d
love you for life,” the young chaplain remarked.
Beth introduced Chaplain Ricks to her superior,
suggesting the possibility of arranging the
audience. Rather skeptically, the woman asked about the purpose of
the visit. Having wondered for some time what it would be like to
meet the pope and give him a copy of the Book of Mormon, he answered,
“To present the pope with a copy of Mormon scriptures.”
Eldin held his breath until she acknowledged that this would be a
good reason. She said, however, that such visits were arranged from
two to six months in advance and asked the chaplain when he would
like to schedule the appointment. “It doesn’t matter to
us,” he replied, “as long as it is before two o’clock
tomorrow afternoon.” She laughed, doubting whether this would
be possible, but instructed him to call back later that afternoon.
After calling, he was delighted to learn the appointment had been
12:30 the next afternoon, Eldin and his companions were at the
Vatican. After passing through a series of rooms, they were just
outside the chamber where the pope granted private audiences. They
were told that it was customary for visitors to kneel and kiss the
pope’s ring. They wanted to be courteous but felt it would not
be appropriate to do either. Finally a bell tinkled, and they were
ushered in. Pope Pius XII extended his hand in greeting, and the
visitors shook hands with him. He initiated the conversation by
asking how long they had been in Italy. Then, after visiting about
his trip to the United States a few years earlier, the pope offered
to give his guests souvenirs of their visit: crucifixes, missals
(books containing what is said and sung during mass), or other
mementos. After accepting these gifts, Chaplain Ricks announced: “We
too would like to leave a souvenir of our visit with you. We have
visited St. Peter’s Cathedral, and there we see the treasures
brought by the rulers and representatives of many nations. Our gift
by comparison is of very little value in dollars and cents, but the
message it contains is of infinite value.” Eldin then handed
the pope a copy of the Book of Mormon and explained that it was a
record of God’s dealings with a branch of the house of Israel
that inhabited ancient America.
you mean that Christ was in America?” the pope inquired.
sir,” the chaplain affirmed. Eldin then reminded the pope of
Christ’s promise to visit “other sheep” as recorded
in John chapter 10. The pope seemed sufficiently interested that
Eldin reached for the book and turned down the page at 3 Nephi
chapter 8, explaining that here was the record of how the Savior’s
promise had been fulfilled. As Eldin returned the book to him, the
pope asked, “You mean I may have this?”
sir,” Eldin eagerly affirmed, “we wish it to be our gift
to you, and we urge you to read it. It is a message for all people
everywhere, and we are certain of its truth.” (Richard O.
Cowan, “The Story of Eldin Ricks,” in Religious
Education [BYU Religious Study Center], Fall 2008.)
story took place in 1993. It was published in the Church News
on May 22 of that year:
M. Huntsman, a regional representative and an industrialist who has
financed humanitarian relief efforts worldwide, was greeted May 12 by
Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in Rome.
Huntsman, who serves as regional representative to the Kearns Utah
Region, was invited to visit the Vatican as an expression of
appreciation for a financial gift to St. Vincent de Paul and for his
role as co-chairman for the restoration of the Catholic Church's
Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. Elder Huntsman and his
family have been major financial supporters for many years of St.
Vincent de Paul, which feeds the poor and destitute throughout the
world. St. Vincent de Paul is an arm of Catholic Community Services,
an agency to which the LDS Church also has contributed humanitarian
A. Shea, a member of the Catholic Church and an attorney in Salt Lake
City, helped with arrangements for Elder Huntsman's visit to the
Vatican. Mr. Shea said the Vatican visit came about through the
suggestion of the Most Rev. William K. Weigand, Bishop of the
Catholic Church's Salt Lake Diocese.
Shea, who has made several visits to the Vatican, accompanied Elder
Huntsman. Also accompanying Elder Huntsman was James N. Kimball, an
LDS Church member and director of media relations for Huntsman
Chemical Corporation. Vatican officials were aware of Elder
Huntsman's membership in the LDS Church, which has channeled some of
its worldwide humanitarian relief efforts through Catholic charities.
[Elder Huntsman's] visit was well received within the Vatican because
of the Catholic Church's interest in coordinating emergency relief
efforts with other Christian denominations," Mr. Shea said. "One
Vatican official said they were very aware and very pleased at the
energy and scope of the Mormon Church's relief efforts. The pope, in
part, granted an audience with Mr. Huntsman in recognition of that
Shea said Elder Huntsman was able to visit the pope's private
quarters and saw the balcony over St. Peter's Square where the
pontiff gives his weekly blessings. He also saw the chamber where the
College of Cardinals meets to elect each pope.
Shea indicated to the Church News that Elder Huntsman and the pope
met with a common desire: to relieve suffering among the peoples of
the world, whether it comes by war, famine, natural disasters or
help put in perspective the significance of an LDS regional
representative's visit with the pope, Mr. Shea said: "The Mormon
Church is embracing with the Catholic Church Christ's message to
provide relief to those suffering, regardless of denomination or race
or ethnic background. The world needs to have Christ's message of
relieving suffering rather than inflicting suffering. The pontiff has
a council for Christian unity. The monsignor on that council who met
with us said even though there are deep differences between the
Catholic Church and the Mormon Church we need to focus on those areas
of common concern and work together."
a news release prepared after his visit with the pope, Elder Huntsman
was quoted as saying, "His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, is a
person with great love and concern for all humanity."
2008, came something that, to me, was truly a highlight. Two apostles
attended an ecumenical prayer service in the presence of the pope—the
first time in history that this had happened.
15-20, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States. On the
night of Friday, April 18, he conducted a prayer service in St.
Joseph’s Parish in New York City, with leaders of Protestant as
well as Orthodox Christian churches. Elders M. Russell Ballard and
Quentin L. Cook were in attendance. As the Catholic News service
noted, obviously with tongue-in-cheek, “it all started over
coffee.” The event was not highly publicized in Utah, but the
Catholic News service thought it significant enough to run a story on
it. Here is the story, in part, as told by the news service:
an interview with Catholic News Service and other reporters before
the start of the ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph's Church in
New York April 18, Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S.
bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said
that during a coffee break at a recent meeting a representative of
the Latter-day Saints asked him if there was any possibility of their
participation in the papal visit.
reaction was, 'Why not?' We have shared values and there is a
possibility of collaboration on a number of social issues while
respecting our theological differences," he said.
Massa said, "We're not making any theological statements today,"
adding, "This is a very big statement they (the Latter-day
Saints) are making."
said the Latter-day Saints are "a bit bruised" by reaction
to the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney...
the Latter-day Saints at the April 18 meeting in New York were two
members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elders M. Russell
Ballard and Quentin L. Cook.
Massa described the request as coming out of a growing respect
between Catholics and Mormons, which began under the leadership of
the late Gordon B. Hinckley, longtime president of the Latter-day
Hinckley's 13-year tenure as president, he met with the current and
former bishops of Salt Lake City. And Chicago Cardinal Francis E.
George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent
condolences when Hinckley died in January.
think these developments have prepared us to begin a new phase in our
relationship," Father Massa said.
media representatives of the Latter-day Saints did not respond to a
request for comment on the papal prayer service April 18, a statement
on "respect for diversity of faiths" was posted on the
church's Web site the same day as the New York meeting.
of the (Latter-day Saints) church do not view fellow believers around
the world as adversaries or competitors, but as partners in the many
causes for good in the world," the statement said, noting the
church's cooperation with Catholic Relief Services in efforts to
assist victims of famine and natural disasters.
is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
is important to note that interfaith cooperation does not require
doctrinal compromise," the statement added. "It is
necessary to maintain a separation between charitable efforts and
doctrinal tenets, while at the same time sharing a mutual concern for
those in need.
of good faith do not need to have the exact same beliefs in order to
accomplish great things in the service of their fellow human beings."
there is a new pope—apparently a man who is worthy of universal
respect and admiration. We wish him well, hoping that he will have a
strong and positive influence on the world as he seeks to promote
peace as well as empathy toward the poor and downtrodden. I was
delighted last Sunday (March 17) when the brother who gave the
opening prayer in our sacrament meeting prayed for the pope and his
success. I was also delighted when the First Presidency of the Church
issued the following statement:
behalf of the leadership and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, we extend our warmest wishes to His Holiness Pope
Francis and pray he will feel the peace of the Lord as he serves as
pontiff of the Catholic Church.
have been honored and pleased as our two faiths have worked together
on issues of faith, morality, and service to the poor and needy. We
value the relationships that have been formed in these joint efforts
and are grateful for the good that has been accomplished.
look forward to pursuing together, as the Apostle Paul wrote, all
things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good
report.” (Church News, March 17, 2013)
JAMES B. ALLEN, Professor of History, Emeritus, Brigham Young University
James B. Allen was born June 14, 1927, in Ogden, Utah. He married Renée Jones, April 16,
1953. They have five children, twenty-one grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren . He
received his bachelor's degree in history form Utah State University in 1954, a master's degree
from Brigham Young University in 1956, and the Ph.D. from the University of Southern
California in 1963.
Active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all his life, he has served in numerous
positions, including bishop of two BYU wards and a member of 5 different BYU high councils.
In 1999-2000 he and Renée served as missionaries at the Boston Institute of Religion.
He has also been active in the Republican party and twice served as a delegate to the state
In his professional career, he taught in the LDS Seminary and Institute program from 1954-63,
after which he was a member of the faculty at Brigham Young University until his retirement in
1992. From 1972 to 1979 he also served as Assistant Church Historian (splitting his time
between BYU and the Church Historical Department). He was chair of the History Department
from 1981-1987 then, during his last five years at BYU, he was honored to hold the Lemuel
Hardison Redd, Jr. Chair in Western American History. After his retirement he became
associated with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU, where
for several years he held an appointment as a Senior Research Fellow.
He has also been active in various professional organizations, including the Western History
Association (served on various committees, and as chair of a program committee) and the
Mormon History Association (president, 1971-73). He has been on various boards of editors and
advisory committees and presented numerous papers at the meetings of various historical
As a researcher and writer he is the author, co-author, or co-editor of fourteen books or
monographs and around 90 articles relating to Western American history and Mormon history,
as well as numerous book reviews in professional journals. Some of his books include the
The Company Town in the American West (University of Oklahoma Press, 1966)
The Story of the Latter-day Saints (with Glen M. Leonard; Deseret Book Company, 1976;
2nd edition 1992)
Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon (University of Illinois
Press, 1987). Revised and republished in 2002 by BYU Press under the title No
Toil Nor Labor Fear: The Story of William Clayton. In 1986, while still in press,
this book won the prestigious David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans
Men With a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1837-1841
(with Ronald K. Esplin and David J. Whittaker, Deseret Book Company, 1992)
Studies in Mormon History 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography (with Ronald W.
Walker and David J. Whittaker; University of Illinois Press, 2000). Allen was the
lead investigator for this important work. It lists, and provides an index to, all the
significant books, articles, doctoral dissertations and master's theses on Mormon
history produced between 1830 and 1997. It has been widely hailed as one of the
most important aids to finding LDS history ever published. In 2001 the Mormon
History Association awarded the authors a special citation for the publication of
this book. After that, working with J. Michael Hunter, Allen continued to update
the bibliography database. Hunter has now taken over the updating, and the
database is online at mormonhistory.byu.edu.
Mormon History (with Ronald W. Walker and David J. Whittaker, University of Illinois
Press, 2001). This book is a history of the writing of Mormon history, from the
days of Joseph Smith until the present time.
Over the years he has received various awards, honors, and recognitions, besides those indicated
above. Among them were several "best article" awards; the Karl G. Maeser Research and
Creative Arts Award, Brigham Young University, 1980; named Distinguished Faculty Lecturer,
Brigham Young University, 1984; named a Fellow of the Utah State Historical Society, July 15,
1988; the Leonard J. Arrington Award for a Distinctive Contribution to the cause of Mormon
History, awarded by the Mormon History Asociation, 2008.
James and Renée have enjoyed living in Orem, Utah since 1963.
He currently serves as Sunday School President in his ward, and he and Renée have been officiators
in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple since 2004.