As a former Roman Catholic, I retain great respect for the Catholic’s Church’s adherence to moral positions in a time of great pressure for religions to change those positions to meet the understandings of a new era.  During his lifetime, Pope John Paul II was definitely on the list of those human beings to whom I looked for clear moral vision, as was Mother Teresa.  The partnership between the Catholic Church and the LDS Church during the Proposition 8 campaign was a welcome display of ecumenical cooperation on shared goals of great importance to both.  Brigham Young University has recently seen a small parade of notable Catholic scholars and theologians honored at all-campus events, including Robert George and Francis Cardinal George, Catholic scholars invited to address smaller on-campus symposia, and the Deseret News has painted early Utah relations between the two churches as respectful and amicable.  In a Mormon Times piece, Dan Peterson states, "'The old Catholic church traditions are worth more than all you have said,' Joseph [Smith] told his followers in a sermon delivered less than two weeks before he himself was murdered by a mob. A strong foundation for friendship and respect toward Catholics was laid down in the earliest years of Mormonism." [1]

            There is nothing inherently problematic about any of these new developments; indeed, they may be applauded for the inter-faith cooperation and dialogue they promote.  And there is much to be learned from the centuries of Catholic moral thought.  But as a Catholic who converted to the LDS faith, my initial happiness has, over time, turned to something different: bemusement.  Three specific incidents I have recently experienced have caused me to wonder whether Roman Catholicism possesses a certain curious appeal for some LDS intellectuals, an appeal that potentially may cause unnecessary confusion not only to them personally but to all those over whom they have influence.  This confusion, in a small subset of cases, may even become a source of disaffection if not seen for what it truly is.

            Chronologically, the first incident took place over a year ago after I asked a prominent Catholic visitor to BYU a pretty simple question: “Is a celibate priesthood the most persuasive advocate for heterosexual marriage?” A fellow faculty member later emailed this man (who was not himself a member of the Catholic clergy and therefore not celibate) to apologize for my rude question.  This was certainly not the first time this or any other Catholic thinker had fielded such a question, but apparently the fact that an LDS person would raise the issue with him was interpreted by my colleague as an act of serious incivility.  In the midst of promoting cooperation, only softball questions were permissible. 

The second incident was when I heard that a colleague on the editorial board of SquareTwo, Richard Sherlock, who had been an eloquent, if occasionally strident, apologist for the LDS faith, had converted to Roman Catholicism.  Sherlock’s written defense of his conversion is based upon philosophical incoherences that he perceives in LDS thought which do not appear in Catholic thought.  His conclusion:

“Since the [Nicene] Creed represents a truth developed out of scripture and sustained by reason as I have done it cannot represent an apostasy from biblical truth. Once you must admit that the Creed states essential truths, how can you not be a member of the Church that, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, developed  and defended it for almost 1700 years? The marriage of faith and reason in thinking through the greatest questions of God and man is central to the tradition that I am now a part of. It was never central to my former faith. Do not misunderstand. There are many highly intelligent members of my former faith. But they are positively discouraged from using their reason to explore and develop their faith as I have done here . . . Mormonism has created a vigorous alternative culture, especially in the intermountain west.  But it has no metaphysics, no marriage of faith and reason to root it in strong soil. Ultimately without roots it cannot stand.” [2]  

            The worldview of LDS Church apparently pales besides Roman Catholic thought in its intellectual rigor, according to this formerly LDS philosopher.

            The final incident occurred in conversation with yet another faculty colleague, who spoke of how honored he felt to be invited to symposia where the great Catholic minds were present.  He spoke in glowing terms about the nuance and sophistication of their moral arguments, honed as they were by almost two millennia of theological work.  He mentioned how much the LDS could learn from the subtlety and depth of Catholic moral thought—which is true.  However, the context surrounding this conclusion was curious: the tone used openly implied that the LDS Church clearly did not belong to the “major leagues” of moral reasoning.

            I’d chalk all this up to the natural gratitude one feels when an accepted, recognized entity chooses to recognize a previously marginalized, even ridiculed, entity.  It’s only natural for the LDS intellectual, whose photo has never graced the front cover of The New York Times Magazine, to feel a deep gratefulness for being treated kindly, even respectfully, by those who have.  While worldwide the Roman Catholic Church claims approximately 1.2 billion adherents, the LDS Church claims only about 14 million.  Psychologically, a sense of awe and admiration of the more established entity makes sense and is natural and to be expected.  And there is much to admire about Catholic moral reasoning, which is no doubt why several prominent Roman Catholics have been invited to be on the editorial board of the reorganized Deseret News.

            However, as a former Roman Catholic, may I remind those born and raised in the LDS Church that there are real and important reasons why people convert from Roman Catholicism to the LDS Church.  And in downplaying those reasons at this time of greater cooperation, some (certainly not all) LDS intellectuals may find themselves losing a Pearl of Great Price in exchange for the honors and acknowledgement of a particular religious section of the world, even if it is a very large section.  Being flattered is the first step on the road to possibly being co-opted, as Richard was, and a worrying symptom of this linkage is self-silencing to preserve a relationship at the expense of honest dialogue, as we saw in the first incident described above.  Noteworthy, the colleague in the third incident has subsequently implored me not to write this essay because there is “so much there” in the budding relationship between Catholics and Mormons and “prudence” should guide all our actions in that regard. I would counter that such self-silencing is spiritually unhealthy, not only for this subset of LDS intellectuals, but also for all those whom they influence, including their students.  “Prudence,” in my view, would dictate an examination of that possibility and an inventory of the means to diminish it.

            While there are many reasons for conversion from Roman Catholicism, such as the reality of the First Vision, the truth of the great apostasy, and the need for a Restoration, I’m going to focus on another reason, because I argue it is foundational to so many other reasons: the LDS Church’s understanding of male-female relations, which is almost diametrically opposed to that of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, when I finally reached Richard Sherlock by phone after hearing of his conversion to Catholicism, the first question out of my mouth was, “Do you no longer believe you have a Mother in Heaven?” to which he replied that it was “unnecessary” to hold that belief.  That is a gendered stance, to be sure: no LDS woman would have ever said such a thing. 

The Basics, LDS and Roman Catholic

            So let’s review some of that revolutionary LDS doctrine, just in case we have naturalized it so much that we can no longer see how extraordinary it really is.

            The Restored Gospel teaches that the term “god” means an exalted woman and an exalted man married in the new and everlasting covenant (D&C 132:19-20).  We are taught that there is no God without men and women loving each other as equals.  Growing up as a Roman Catholic and attending catechism school, I was taught, in effect, that Heavenly Father is an old bachelor, and that godhood is therefore gendered male.  But my new religion taught me that Heavenly Father is not an eternal bachelor; he is married to our Heavenly Mother. I now understand there cannot be “godhood” without men and women being together in an eternal relationship.  In fact, the LDS Church teaches me that the one who’s an eternal bachelor is Satan—and that is both a sign of and a punishment for his rebellion.

        Second, the Restored Gospel teaches that all will have their male or female body forever.  It is not a curse, but a great gift and a blessing that each soul had to prove itself worthy to have.  Women readers, your breasts, your womb, your ovaries, are not unclean cursings; they are blessings.  And the Restored Gospel also teaches me that I will be married forever, and that I will have children forever, and that the life of being a woman married to my sweetheart and having children forever is the life that will bring me the fullest joy in the eternities—as it has here on earth. 

       Contrast this view with the view presented by the nation’s foremost female Catholic theologian, who was invited to speak at BYU several years ago.  In the question and answer period, she discussed how she looked forward to the next life because she would no longer have to be a woman, with a woman’s body, and there would be no more gender inequity because there would be no more gender.  When I suggested that I was looking forward to being with my husband forever as a married couple, she joked, “Well, that’s your problem.”  Her husband was sitting with us in the audience.

       Clearly shown here is the strange notion, with which I grew up as a Catholic, that if a woman is good in mortality she can aspire to not be a woman in the hereafter.  Her aspiration for her Heavenly destiny is to be sexless, to no longer have a female body, which will represent a step up for a woman.  (Interestingly, in my experience, male Catholics do not believe they will be sexless in heaven, since to be male is to be in the divine image of God, who is a Father.  It’s only Catholic women, struggling with the fact that their femaleness makes them unlike the Father, who seem forced to conclude they will be sexless in heaven.  However, given that Catholics do not believe God has a body, it’s all pretty mystifying in the end, at least to this former Catholic.)  Indeed, the Virgin Mary, called the Queen of Heaven, is noteworthy for the fact that Catholics believe she is an eternal virgin—that she never had sex in her mortal life, nor will she have in the next, and that she bore no other children besides Christ.  Only in her complete asexuality could she be considered as a model woman, a Madonna. 

       This belief echoes with the Catholic understanding that to commit most fully to the Lord, one must renounce sexuality altogether and remain celibate.  Those speaking on behalf of the Lord—who, remember, is conceptualized as a male figure that is not wedded to a female—must be bachelors themselves.  (And the most righteous women are, of course, celibate also, as nuns.)  To refuse on principle to enter a loving, committed, intimate relationship with a woman is a sign within Catholicism that a man is more devoted to God than if he were in such a relationship.

       Contrast this with the LDS notion that a man must enter a loving, committed, intimate relationship with a woman if he hopes to progress spiritually, and that only such men can be considered to become leaders of the Church.  To embrace what woman offers is for a man to move closer to God, for that is how the gods live. Bachelors by choice, then, would never be chosen for Church leadership.

        Third, LDS doctrine teaches that men and women are equals before the Lord and before each other. “Equal” does not mean “identical”—for example, there are no two men who are identical, and yet they stand as equals before each other and before the Lord.  Can we imagine an understanding of equality that means that a man and woman, though different, can be equals before the Lord and before each other? That is the vision of equality that the Restored Gospel teaches.  While most Roman Catholic thinkers posit the equality of men and women before God, their assumed male-ness of God, combined with their condemnation of Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden (explored below), pose some inherent contradictions concerning the situation of women in the Catholic worldview.

        Modern general authorities of the LDS Church have strived mightily to maintain doctrinal coherence on this issue.  For example, Elder L. Tom Perry, an apostle of the LDS Church, said in 2004: “There is not a president and vice president in a family.  We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing.  They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.”[3]  What an incredible vision, especially for a Christian denomination, many of which denominations (such as the Southern Baptists) preach some type of doctrine of submission of wives to husbands.  The LDS do not preach submission of wives. 

Eve and the First Tree in the Garden of Eden: The LDS Version

        In my opinion, we cannot fully understand this revolutionary doctrine of the LDS Church unless we go back to the story of the Garden of Eden.   Again, let us start with three main points of difference from most Christian denominations in the telling of that story from the vantage of the Restored Gospel.

        Number one: the LDS do not believe that the Fall was a great tragedy.  Rather, we believe that the Fall was foreordained, that it was for our progression, and thus the Fall was a blessing.  Number two, the LDS do not believe that Eve sinned in partaking of the fruit of the First Tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And number three, because the LDS do not believe Eve sinned, we also do not believe that Eve was punished by God for her role in partaking of the fruit, but rather rewarded.

        The Great Plan of Happiness devised for the children of God mandated that they leave their heavenly home, receive a mortal body as a blessing, enter into full agency by being separated from God, and then return once more to their heavenly home to be judged for how they used their agency. That is, the Plan was to be a “round,” if you will: it would take us from our heavenly home and if we walked that path well, the plan would bring us back to our heavenly home, now much more like our Heavenly Parents, with much more knowledge, a fuller agency, a desire to choose the right, with so much more than we ever could have acquired if we had stayed in heaven with a pale or dilute version of agency.

        Only the children could choose to leave, and to bring to pass a separation from their divine parents.  And so in the Garden were placed a son and a daughter of God, and two trees.  Two persons, two trees.

        Both Trees represented doorways along the journey of the Great Plan.  The First Tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, symbolized the doorway leading from heaven, and the ordinances of entering mortality with a mortal body, gaining full agency, and having the light of Christ awakened within.  The Second Tree, the tree of eternal life, symbolized the ordinances of salvation and exaltation, and the doorway back to our heavenly home.

        Eve was created second, then, not because she was derivative of Adam: she was created second to highlight that the giving of the gift of the First Tree was the gift to be given by women in the Great Plan. [4] It is through women that souls journey to mortality and gain their agency, and in general it is through the nurturing of women, their nurturing love of their children, that the light of Christ is awakened within each soul.  And we should include in that list of souls Jesus the Christ.  Even Christ our Lord was escorted to mortality and veiled in flesh through the gift of a woman, fed at his mother’s breast, and awakened to all that is good and sweet in the world. Women escort every soul through the veil to mortal life and full agency. It is interesting to think that even Adam, who was created before Eve, entered into full mortality and full agency by accepting the gift of the First Tree from the hand of a woman.  In a sense, Adam himself was born of Eve.

        If Eve was foreordained to give this good gift as her stewardship in the Great Plan, then she did not sin--and that is LDS doctrine. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of the LDS Church, has said, “Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it.  Not the Latter-day Saints!  Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall.” [5]   We believe that our Heavenly Parents, and also all of the rest of God’s children, were happy and grateful that Eve offered her gift.

        Eve, then, was not the worst among women; Eve was the best among women!  She was the most courageous, the most full of faith.  It was also right, then, that the first mortal being that the resurrected Jesus showed himself to was not a man; it was a woman. Jesus’ performance of the Atonement repaid Mother Eve’s faith in the Plan, her courageous opening of the door represented by the First Tree.

        Did God curse Eve? We know that the ground was cursed for the sake of Adam and Eve—is this a cursing of Adam and Eve?  In the teachings of the LDS Church, we do not believe that that was a curse meant to punish them—it was a curse meant to start that law of opposites that undergirds agency: virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, light and darkness, truth and lies (2 Ne 2:11-13). Eve was told she would labor in childbirth—was this a cursing of Eve?  Again, from the LDS perspective, absolutely not.  To have children, to be able to fully give the gift of Eve, is one of the most soul-satisfying parts of a woman’s life that she will either experience here or in the hereafter if circumstances have prohibited it here.

        And then in the King James Version of the Bible, we are told that Eve, as part of her punishment, was told that Adam would rule over her.  Is that what the LDS believe?  Actually not.  Elder Bruce C. Hafen, a seventy in the LDS Church, says: “Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to “rule over” Eve, but. . . over in “rule over” uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling with, not ruling over. . . . The concept of interdependent equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel.” [6]

        So the LDS alone among all Christian religions assert that not only did Eve not sin, but she was rewarded for her courage and wisdom, and God was assuring her that just as she fulfilled her role in the Great Plan of Happiness, that Adam would step up to the plate, and he would perform his role in the Great Plan of Happiness, and that would entitle him to rule with her.  This is absolutely revolutionary and astounding doctrine among all the Christianities!

        What gift will Adam give to further the Great Plan?  The LDS believe that Adam and his sons will give the gift of the fruit of the Second Tree to the children of God, those who are worthy to receive it, just as Eve and her daughters give the fruit of the First Tree to all who are worthy to partake of it.  The fruit of the Second Tree are the ordinances of salvation and exaltation administered by the sons of God. Just as the doorway through the veil into this life is administered and guarded over by the women, the daughters of God, so the doorway through the veil that brings us home, is administered and guarded over by the sons of God.  And those that have accepted the gift of the Second Tree from the hands of the sons of God will pass through that veil and back to that celestial place where they can be with their Parents once more.

        Just as Adam was asked to hearken to Eve and received the fruit of the First Tree, Eve is asked by God to hearken to Adam in accepting the fruit of the Second Tree.  We would be remiss if we did not see that there were two hearkenings, two gifts given, two gifts received, two stewardships.

        That means that priesthood, in the LDS understanding, is not some extra given to men and denied women.  Priesthood is a man’s apprenticeship to become a heavenly father, and it is clear from LDS doctrine that women have their own apprenticeship to become like their heavenly mother.  The ordinances—and they are ordinances—of body and of agency--pregnancy, childbirth, lactation—the spiritual ordinances of the First Tree are not less powerful or spiritual than the ordinances of the Second Tree. [7]   Women have their own godly power, and it is not tied to asexuality. 

        Some have erroneously felt that the Church and its male leaders preside over the members’ families, and that somehow that means that men are to rule over women.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Restored Gospel helps us see that the Church is intended to be the gift that the sons of God give to the family, just as the daughters of God give a great gift to the family. The Church, then, is but an auxiliary to the family, which stands above it in the eternal plan.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle of the LDS Church, has said, “There might be wards and stakes in heaven—I don’t know anything about them—or there may well be some other organization that we don’t know much about.  What we do know will exist in heaven is families.  And most of what has been revealed about our afterlife, our eternal life, our celestial life, focuses on family organization . . .” [8]   The family is the divine organization, and we know from LDS doctrine that in the family, women and men rule as equals. President James E. Faust, of the first presidency of the LDS Church, said: “Every father is to his family a patriarch and every mother a matriarch as coequals in their distinctive parental roles.” [9]   Notice the drumbeat, again, of equality.

Eve in the Garden of Eden: The Roman Catholic Version

            Rosemary Radford Ruether, a prominent contemporary Catholic writer and thinker, summarizes well the feelings I absorbed as a girl growing up in the Roman Catholic Church:

“Roman Catholic Christianity has a problem with women. This problem is deeply rooted in its history, in its assumptions about gender and sexuality. The foundational thinker of Latin Christianity, St. Augustine, in the late fourth and early fifth centuries established certain assumptions that still plague Catholicism. Although Augustine acknowledged that women possessed the image of God and were redeemable, he believed that as feminae or females they were created by God from the beginning to be under male subjugation. Women’s disproportionate guilt for the fall of humanity into sin, rooted in women’s disobedience to their subordination, meant that women could only be redeemed by accepting a redoubled subjugation to the male, even coercively so. For Augustine the female could never represent God. Maleness was the appropriate image of rationality and spirituality, while the feminine represented the body and the material world.

“Augustine’s view of women was worsened by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century by the appropriation of Aristotle’s view of gender. For Aristotle and Aquinas, women were intrinsically inferior, being produced biologically as incomplete human beings. This meant that women could never represent normative humanity. For this reason Christ had to be a male in order to represent normative humanness." [10]

           It is very painful for me to remember what I learned about Eve as a girl in the Catholic Church.  For example, I remember stumbling across these lines from Tertullian, a second to third century Church writer, who taught that women should dress modestly . . .

“walking about as Eve mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve—the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium (attaching to her as the cause) of human perdition. ‘In pains and in anxieties does thou bear (children), woman; and toward thine husband (is) thy inclination and he lords it over thee.’ And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve?  The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too.  You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.  You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.  On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die.” [11]

            In commenting on the Fall, St. Augustine notes the serpent “had a deceitful conversation with the woman—no doubt starting with the inferior of the human pair so as to arrive at the whole by stages, supposing that the man would not be so easily gullible, and could not be trapped by a false move on his own part, but only if he yielded to another’s mistake.”  Augustine also feels that sexuality is only for the purpose of reproduction because “[I]f God had wanted Adam to have a partner in scintillating conversation, he would have created another man; the fact that God created a woman showed that he had in mind the survival of the human race.”  His conclusion: “I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”  (And we cannot forget St. Thomas Aquinas, who noted, “woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates,” and “woman, even as to her soul, was more imperfect than man.” (Scriptum super Sententiis, II, 21, question 2, article 2).  [12]

           Heterosexual intercourse, to Augustine, does not embody a relationship of equality, because a man is having sex with an inferior.  The turn to celibacy frees Augustine from the need to engage in such a degrading practice. [13]   But as Carol Gilligan cogently notes, “If one can justify shutting down the forms of sexual intimacy through which human beings experience loving connection, care, and mutual responsiveness, one is well on the way to shutting down the psychological basis for ethical reasoning and experience.” [14]   Amen to that.  I would also suggest that religions that view heaven as a release from having to be embodied will always view women in a spiritually inferior position, for it is one of the great gifts of women to clothe immortal souls in bodies through the labor of their own bodies.

            The Roman Catholic Church leadership and intellectual class would now never write the types of things that Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did so many years ago [15] , and there is some excellent and inspiring work on gender equality being penned by feminist Roman Catholic scholars such as Elizabeth Schiltz and Prudence Allen. [16] (In all fairness, it should likewise be acknowledged that comparison of some statements by, say, Brigham Young with those of the living oracles evidences that, over time, the continuing stream of revelation that flows to the Church has resulted in a much fuller appreciation of the role of women in the divine plan.) Nevertheless, the unspoken explanation for the still-current requirements of celibacy for priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church and the unspoken but continuing interpretation of the story of the Garden of Eden, linger on and creep into the consciousness of its membership, as it did when I was growing up as a Catholic girl on the East Coast. 

           Here’s one way of seeing how my conversion to the LDS faith has fundamentally changed the way I look at things now from the way I used to look at things when a Catholic.  In my experience growing up Catholic, good Catholics do not name their daughters “Eve,” which would be about the same level of disgrace as naming one’s daughter “Jezebel.”  Liberated by the Restored Gospel, I proudly named my youngest daughter “Eve.”

        I remain a steadfast member of the Mormon Church because for the first time in my life, I understand why it is not a curse to be born a woman, and how it can be said with a straight face that men and women stand before God and before each other as true equals.  This is one of the most important reasons to turn from Roman Catholicism to a greater light and knowledge. No one can understand divinity (who is God?), exaltation (what is our destiny?), or Zion (how are we to live together?), without understanding the truth about women.  And only the LDS Church preaches that truth.

       I understand because of my conversion to the LDS faith that women are that they might have joy (2 Ne 2:25).  And, odd as it may sound to some, I believe that one of the most profoundly feminist acts one can commit is to share the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.  The Restored Gospel not only restores right relations between man and God, but right relations between men and women, making it the strongest, most progressive force for women in the world today. 

Policy Applications: Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage

            But, it may be proffered, all of this doctrinal brouhaha does not detract from the fact that Catholics and Mormons can stand together on a whole host of policy issues, such as abortion policy and marriage policy.  If we stand in the same place, policy-wise, what does it matter that our paths to those positions differ?

            It matters a great deal, according to this LDS woman, and these differences should not be lightly glossed over even as we embrace the opportunity to learn from and appreciate Roman Catholic thought and to cooperate with Roman Catholics in policy debates.  We can most easily see how this is so on the issue of abortion policy.  Both Catholics and Mormons are on what would be termed the “pro-life” end of the spectrum, but they do not stand in the same position.  The difference in their positions rests, I would argue, almost solely on one’s capability to respect the integrity of a woman as a moral agent.  If one is taught that Eve’s decision in the Garden of Eden is to be respected and celebrated for its wisdom, it is easier to respect the decisions of her daughters in situations fraught with spiritual import.  If one is taught that Eve’s decision was wrong and lamentable, it is harder not to suspect the decisions of her daughters will likely be faulty and regrettable, as well.   

           The LDS Church teaches that in the case of rape or incest, or where death or severe disability would come to a woman from proceeding with a pregnancy, or in the case where the fetus cannot survive outside the womb (condemning its mother to carrying a fetus to term who must die as she gives birth to it), the mother may legitimately choose abortion after prayerful consideration and consultation.  The Roman Catholic Church would judge such a decision to be morally illegitimate and sinful in each and every circumstance listed above.  I would contend these differences in position derive in large part from the very different view of women held by the Roman Catholic Church and the LDS Church.

            Consider, for example, the case of St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, which has been stripped of its formal association with the Roman Catholic Church by the local bishop, Thomas Olmsted, because it terminated the 11 week pregnancy of a 27 year old mother of four little children who would have almost certainly died (taking her fetus with her) had the termination not happened. [17] For those who wonder if the abortion was really necessary to save the life of the mother, who was suffering from pulmonary hypertension, here is a relevant quote:

A letter sent Monday from Catholic Healthcare West, signed by Sister Judith Carle, board chairwoman, and President and CEO Lloyd Dean, asks Olmsted to provide further clarification about the directives. Agreeing that in a healthy mother, pregnancy is "not a pathology," it says this case was different. The pregnancy, the letter says, carried a nearly certain risk of death for the mother. "If there had been a way to save the pregnancy and still prevent the death of the mother, we would have done it," the letter says. "We are convinced there was not."

           Olmsted, acting for the Roman Catholic Church, had already excommunicated a nun, Sister Margaret McBride, who had approved the emergency termination. Now, the Church has also “excommunicated” the hospital.  Is a mother that dispensable to her four living children?  Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church believes she is.  This is not the judgment call the LDS Church would have made: the LDS Church would have affirmed that abortion could be a morally legitimate decision by the mother in such a situation if that was her informed and prayerful choice.

           And consider the case of the ten year old Mexican girl impregnated by her stepfather and forced to carry the baby to term because of state law, modeled after Roman Catholic tradition.  The Roman Catholic Church approved of this girl being denied an abortion. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, made the general statement, “(W)e must always save life even if it is the fruit of violence.” [18] .  The LDS Church would have had a different response, based on respect for the girl’s dignity and wellbeing as a daughter of God: abortion would be seen as a possible legitimate decision after prayerful consideration and consultation.  But maybe that is because the leadership of the LDS Church is composed of men who have had loving, committed, intimate relationships with women, and are the fathers of both sons and daughters.  The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are, by principle, neither: they have never been the lovers of women or the fathers of 10 year-old daughters.

           Indeed, the most nuanced and sophisticated understanding concerning abortion is not to be found in the Catholic tradition at all, despite its 2000 year history—it is to be found in the LDS tradition, with its less than 200 year history.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ 1999 talk on the subject [19] is the finest example of moral reasoning on abortion to be found anywhere, and Catholics could learn a great deal from it.  Elder Oaks’ talk manifests the power and reality of Restoration, which clears the scales from our eyes that have accumulated through centuries of living with the erroneous traditions of the fathers concerning women’s place and women’s value in God’s eyes.  We must not downplay the distinctiveness of our vision on such an important matter.

           Important differences can also be seen with respect to LDS and Catholic views of marriage.  For example, the Roman Catholic Church proscribes birth control, suggesting that all sex within marriage should be open to conception, else it is sinful. This attitude echoes Augustine’s influence. This doctrinal approach creates horrific moral quandaries; for example, the Roman Catholic Church disapproves of the use of condoms in marriage, even where one spouse has or is strongly suspected of having, AIDS.  For many women in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where women do not have the right to insist their husbands practice abstinence even if they have AIDS, this is morally equivalent to the Catholic Church requiring that these women, usually mothers of young children, commit suicide.  As one Cambodian woman put it, “A woman with a husband is in much more danger than a girl in a brothel.” [20]  Noteworthy is the fact that Catholic health workers in poor countries openly encourage women to use condoms in order to protect themselves from AIDS. [21]   These health workers sense the moral incoherence, even real cruelty, of their Church’s position in a context where unprotected sex may mean death for young women and mothers, even if they are married.

           In contrast, the LDS Church has no such prohibition on contraception, for while it teaches that couples should be open to life, it also teaches that the timing of conception should be a matter between the couple and the Lord.  The LDS Church would also not frown on the use of condoms in marriage to protect against AIDS, were one spouse to have that disease.  Furthermore, the LDS Church has consistently taught that the appropriateness of sex between a husband and wife is not defined first and foremost on the grounds of whether it is open to conception. Sex between a husband and wife is equally, perhaps even more fundamentally, for soul-to-soul bonding within the marriage covenant, for that bond is the root of all the family’s good, including the children thereby called into mortality.

           These differences also color LDS and Catholic approaches to the topic of same-sex marriage.  Roman Catholics oppose same-sex marriage primarily because it is by definition non-procreative.  LDS, I would argue, oppose same-sex marriage because our destiny as children of God is to live how the gods live—and they live in heterosexual marriages as exalted men and women, as equal and loving partners.  The procreativity of heterosexual marriages is a natural consequence of living as the gods live; procreativity is not the telos of marriage, but the fruit of living the telos of marriage.   Furthermore, it is more than quixotic for celibate male ecclesiastical authorities who believe they show their greater commitment to God by repudiating marriage to a woman to be defending heterosexual marriage.  It is philosophically incoherent, I would argue, and cannot help be perceived as anything but a hypocritical stance.  Men in loving, committed marriages with women, as the LDS Church leaders are, are infinitely more persuasive to both men and women on this subject.  And as artificial reproductive technologies advance, the LDS argument opposing same-sex marriage, rooted in a revolutionary concept of what divinity means (an exalted man and an exalted woman united for eternity), will remain viable, while the Roman Catholic argument opposing same-sex marriage, rooted in the preeminence of procreation as the purpose of marriage because of an impoverished asexual or even masculine conception of divinity, will not.  Again, the LDS do not gain by hiding the distinctiveness of our vision, for the importance of that distinction will but grow in the future.

Concluding Thoughts

           Is all of just this arguing about whose sword is sharpest while the barbarians ram the gates to the City of God?  In other words, is what brings LDS and Catholics together much more important than what divides them?  Well, yes and no.  We can and should work with others, including the Roman Catholic Church—but only if we simultaneously commit to resisting what for some subset of LDS intellectuals appears to be a real appeal.  Self-silencing and disaffection are not inevitabilities.  But as my three colleagues have shown me, for some, self-silencing and disaffection are things about which we must be mindful and vigilant. 

           Here’s my suggestion for drawing the line: self-silencing, especially on issues concerning women, must be scrupulously avoided—especially by male LDS intellectuals, who may underestimate the importance of LDS doctrine concerning women to our possibilities here on earth as well as to our eternal possibilities.  Indeed, we owe it to our Heavenly Parents to make sure that we not only not silence ourselves, but that we speak openly about and celebrate the revolutionary understanding of divinity and its relationship to women that the Restored Gospel provides us—and speak of these things in the presence of the Roman Catholic theologians whom we admire.  Where we stand on women must figure prominently in our faithful reflections on both the limits of our interfaith cooperation and also the development of our policy stances.

           This played out recently when the Deseret News, an arm of the LDS Church, ran an official editorial descrying the recent French ban on burqas and other face coverings, suggesting it was an unjustified intrusion on religious liberty.  As we all know, Mormons are very sensitive to the trampling of religious freedoms.  But if we were keeping in mind the importance of women in the eternal scheme of things, would we not have a different view on this particular issue?  As I wrote in a counter to this piece, which the Deseret News, to its credit, published,

“That it was the Deseret News that questioned the ban strikes this reader as ironic, given the newspaper's ownership by a church that preaches a revolutionary doctrine concerning women and their equal standing with men in the sight of God. One authority of that church memorably stated, "The [LDS] Church will never bow down before any traditions that demean or devalue the daughters of God," and other general authorities have inveighed against cultural and religious traditions of male dominance over women, such as brideprice. Members of that church should be in the forefront of efforts to improve the visibility and voice of women, not in the rear guard, muttering against such efforts.

“Some might believe that questioning the French bill is striking a blow for religious freedom. While there may be a tactical element to it, this stance is, in my opinion, a strategic disaster. Both the state and the society are undermined when women are undermined. It is a grave mistake to posit religious freedom as a principle capable of overriding a society's concern for women. Let us not aspire to secure religious freedom by betraying our sisters. After all, what profiteth it a man to gain unconstrained religious liberty and lose his soul in the process?” [22]

           And so in conclusion, I issue the same plea, worded slightly differently: let us not aspire to secure the admiration of Roman Catholic leaders by betraying our sisters.  The Restored Gospel’s teachings on women should, in prayerful reflection, circumscribe the limits of our cooperation with other faiths, as well as the stances we take on important policy issues.  We must never self-silence on matters we know to be at the very heart of our eternal possibilities, but rather make it a point to articulate in the presence of leaders from other faiths the restored truths about divinity and about women that have been revealed to us—as well as the important differences the restored truth about women makes in our policy stances.  After all, what profiteth it a man to gain the admiration of notable Roman Catholics and lose his soul in the process?


[1] http://www.mormontimes.com/article/1089/Mormon-Catholic-tolerance-goes-back-to-Brigham-Young . [Back to manuscript].

[2] Richard G. Sherlock, personal communication with author. [Back to manuscript]

[3] L. Tom Perry, “Fatherhood—An Eternal Calling,” Church News, 10 April 2004,:15, hard copy version only; the original wording is in the audio version of the 2004 April General Conference address at http://broadcast.lds.org/genconf/2004/apr/4/4_2english.mp3 . [Back to manuscript]

[4] Alma Don Sorensen, “The Story of Eve,” in Alma Don Sorensen and Valerie Hudson Cassler, Women in Eternity, Women of Zion, Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, pp. 68-101. [Back to manuscript]

[5] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, November 1993, pp. 72-75. [Back to manuscript]

[6] Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” Ensign, August 2007, pp. 24-29. [Back to manuscript]

[7] Analiesa Leonhardt, “The Sacrament of Birth,” SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 1, Spring 2010, http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleLeonhardtBirth.html . [Back to manuscript]

[8] Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, LDS Church, February 9, 2008, p. 12. [Back to manuscript]

[9] James E. Faust, “The Prophetic Voice,” Ensign, May 1996, p.4. [Back to manuscript]

[10] http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/topics/reform/documents/
. [Back to manuscript]

[11] http://books.google.com/books?id=Ux3bSDa2rHkC&pg=PA132&lpg=PA132&dq=
. [Back to manuscript]

[12] A nice source for teachings on women from a variety of religions is Serinity Young (ed.), An Anthology of Sacred Texts By and About Women, New York: Crossraod, 1995. (Aquinas quote from p. 69.) [Back to manuscript]

[13] Indeed, Augustine envisioned righteous men siring children without becoming sexually aroused by women at all. [Back to manuscript]

[14] Carol Gilligan and David Richards, The Deepening Darkness, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 115. [Back to manuscript]

[15] However, concerning Tertullian, as Emily Ann Powers notes, “Other contemporary Fathers such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen relied on the Book of Enoch and came to similar conclusions about women.  None of these Catholic Fathers felt that women could not be redeemed, but they were unanimous in their ideas that women were weaker because of Eve’s sin.  The Montanist Perpetua Uibia, who likely died before On the Apparel of Women was written and was herself a woman, also writes negatively about the souls of women.  Thus, one cannot claim that Tertullian is the driving force behind prejudice against women in Catholic thought or that he originated negative ideas about women.  He was a product of the ideas of his time, relying on the sources available to him.” (64)  Even St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas have been quoted approvingly by Catholic feminists such as Elizabeth Schiltz and Prudence Allen, who note that Augustine felt women would have perfect female bodies in the resurrection and that Aquinas asserted sexual differentiation was part of the perfection of creation. (Emily Ann Powers, "Orthodoxy and orthopraxy : an examination of Tertullian's purpose in writing On the Apparel of Women," MA Thesis, Department of History, Brigham Young University, 2006, p. 64) [Back to manuscript]

[16] See, for example, Elizabeth R. Schiltz, “Taking Complementarity Seriously: A Catholic Approach to Gender Differences, Feminism, and Public Policy,” draft paper, March 2011; Prudence Allen, “Man-Woman Complementarity: The Catholic Inspiration,” 9 Logos 87 (2006). [Back to manuscript]

[17] http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/05/15/20100515phoenix-catholic-nun-abortion.html#ixzz1CeT8zVRy . [Back to manuscript]

[18] See http://www.rcrc.org/issues/Amnesty_medright.cfm and also http://news.change.org/stories/10-year-old-mexican-rape-victim-denied-abortion . [Back to manuscript]

[19] http://lds.org/liahona/2000/03/weightier-matters?lang=eng . [Back to manuscript]

[20] Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky, New York: Vintage, 2010, p. 138. [Back to manuscript]

[21] Kristof and WuDunn, p. 142. [Back to manuscript]

[22] http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700068244/We-must-see-the-faces-of-our-women-for-the-sake-of-God-country.html?pg=1 . [Back to manuscript]

Full Citation for this Article: Hudson, Valerie M. (2011) "The Curious Appeal of Roman Catholicism for Certain Latter-day Saint Intellectuals," SquareTwo, Vol. 4 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonAppeal.html, accessed [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 2 Comments

1) Thomas Rogers

Masterful. If anything could set some of us straight, it would be your strong, unambiguous piece. Your argument with respect to women is itself most powerful. Right off, I can think of at least three more:

1) the Nicene Creed's utterly 'mystical' (irrational and confused) definition of the Godhead, so in contradiction to what we are plainly shown and told about them in the New Testament;

2) the absence in traditional churches like the Catholic of a non-professional, lay priesthood and of the social dynamic by which ALL members are called upon to serve one another--thus enabling them to become true brothers and sisters, "fellow citizens" and no longer "strangers" in "the household of God" and thereby developing one'sr spiritual natures as in no other way;

3) the lack of a correct understanding of the fundamental Christian ordinances. Do we encounter in the NT a single instance of infant baptism? Or was the sacrament at all instituted for automatic forgiveness of sins?

As for nuns, are they only allowed to view themselves then as consecrated "brides of Christ" while still alive-- a temporal sop, simply an earthly indulgence? How cruel! But then, does any tradition besides that of the pristine and now restored gospel assert and promise the possibility of eternally ongoing marital and family continuity?

Even many a Mormon fails, I suspect, to consider that eternity also includes the present and that our present nurturing of marital and family ties--a process, not just a future achievement--is (or can be) as much an essential phase of what we aspire tor in the eternities: exaltation and the promise of divine heirship.

Your momentous assertion--"To embrace what woman offers is for a man to move closer to God, for that is how the gods live."--says it all.


2) Raymond T. Swenson

Thank you for your wonderful article! This is the best single exposition of the LDS teachings on the eternal role of women that I have seen. I had the feeling of all the puzzle pieces, which I had held before, suddenly clicking into place to make an integrated picture. I am sending the link to my wife, daughter and daughters-in-law. We have 13 grandchildren, including 8 granddaughters. This essay is going to be preserved and given to them as they learn to read and understand it.

I subscribe to First Things and have had a couple of letters published there. I have appreciated many of the Catholic viewpoints presented there, though it always puzzled me that Richard John Neuhaus was usually so negative about recognizing Mormons as Christians, particularly because his monthly column always recounted myriad examples of how Catholic priests and bishops, and leaders of other traditional Christian churches, were regularly abandoning core aspects of the Gospel in favor of secular fashion, but were nonetheless, in his eyes, still fully “Christian”.

With respect to Catholic teaching on marriage, birth control, and abortion, my understanding from various recent surveys of American religious affiliation and behavior is that we LDS are far and away the Christians with the largest families, while Catholics on average are back in the pack with other Christians. It seems to me that a more balanced approach to the management of pregnancy and childbirth, added to a theology that sees raising children as a crucial cooperative venture with God on behalf of fully developed persons awaiting their entry to mortality, does more to bring children into the world than an inflexible policy that is unable to transmit a believable theology for most Catholics.