In the latest issue of Ecumenical Trends, James Massa, who heads ecumenical outreach for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, tells the inside story behind the invitation to the Mormon Church to attend the ecumenical meeting with the Pope during his April 2008 visit to the U.S.
The request to attend the meeting came from Ralph Hardy, an LDS Area Authority Seventy and DC attorney. Massa writes how the request ended up posing the usual question: are Mormons Christian? The Pope was to host two meetings, one “ecumenical” with Christians; and one “interreligious” with non-Christians (Buddhists, Muslims, etc.). Which meeting should the Mormons attend?
Massa asked the Vatican for advice; the Vatican told Massa that the decision was his. He asked Orthodox and Evangelical attendees whether a Mormon presence would cause offense. The upshot was that the Mormons could come, but were not to be given prominence (Elders Cook and Ballard were given second row seats).
That Mormons had any seats at such an ecumenical event is quite unusual. Massa relates some of the theological grounding for such an arrangement: although Mormons are not sacramentally initiated Christians (Mormon baptism is not a valid Christian baptism according to the Vatican), “room must be made for those who seek salvation under the mantle of Christ’s saving cross, even while denying other essential elements of the Christian faith.”
Theologies aside, there is another reason for this Catholic move to recognise Mormons as Christian. Massa explains the friendly relations between the past and and present Bishops of Salt Lake City and the LDS hierarchy. Certainly George Niederauer and Prop 8 have played a role here.