VATICAN CITY (RNS) -- The Vatican's authoritative Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith has issued an unprecedented ruling declaring thatthe Catholic Church does not regard baptisms in the Church of JesusChrist of Latter-day Saints -- the Mormons -- as valid. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said Tuesday (July 17)that Pope John Paul II personally approved the ruling, dated June 5, atan audience with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the congregation. The ruling consisted of the one-word reply, "Negative," to aquestion in Latin as to the validity of Mormon baptisms. It was signedby Ratzinger and the congregation secretary, Archbishop TarcisioBertone. The article in L'Osservatore Romano that disclosed the ruling saidit was the first by the Catholic Church to question the validity of anyform of baptism, the sacrament by which the baptized is cleansed of sinand becomes a member of the Christian church. "Given that this decision changes the past practice of not disputingthe validity of such baptism, it seems suitable to explain the reasonsthat have led to it and to the consequent change in the usualprocedure," the Rev. Luis Ladaria, a consultant to the congregation,said in the article. Ladaria said that the ruling was based on the "substantialdifference" between the Catholic and Mormon churches regarding "thefaith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the name of whombaptism is conferred, and regarding the reference to Christ whoinstituted it.
" The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds a modifiedview of the Holy Trinity and contends that men may become gods in thesame manner as was Jesus. While Catholics believe that the Trinity is made up of "threepersons in whom the one divinity exists," Mormons hold that the Father,the Son and the Holy Spirit are "three gods that form one divinity,"Ladaria said. "There is not, in fact, basic doctrinal coincidence." But he said the ruling was not intended as a judgment on Mormonswith whom Catholics often work "on a series of problems regarding thecommon good of the entire humanity." "One can thus hope that through further studies, dialogue andgoodwill it might be possible to progress in reciprocal comprehensionand mutual respect," he said.