CDF, Further Questions Concerning the Validity of Mormon Baptism, 31 March 1992. Private.
What follows is a letter sent on October 25, 1991, from a Midwestern diocese about the theology of Mormon baptism to the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and a corresponding reply from the same congregation:
I am writing regarding the question of the validity of the sacrament of baptism as practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). The practice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been not to challenge the validity of baptism as performed by that American sect in regards to marriage. Knowing that
the question has been thoroughly studied by theologians attached to your Congregation, I respectfully ask that a number of points regarding this matter be clarified.
It would appear that regarding the form and the matter of the sacrament, there is little doubt that baptism as practiced by the members of the Mormon cult resembles baptism as celebrated in the Catholic Church and in certain Protestant ecclesial communities. That is, the trinitarian formula is used, and baptism is effected by means of total immersion in a pool of water.
Nevertheless, I am confused as to how baptism as performed by a member of that cult can be considered valid when one studies carefully their creed regarding the Holy Trinity and the nature of the Church.
Members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ are, in effect, polytheists. The Blessed Trinity is understood not as defined by the Church Fathers and by the work of the ecumenical councils, but rather as taught by their founder, Joseph Smith and associates in the celestial sphere. Among the multitude of gods, there exists the Godhead. The Godhead is made up of three separate gods: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mormons speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as beings with “body, parts, and passions.” As Joseph Smith stated this creed, “God (the Father) was once as we are now, and is an exalted man” (Journal of Discourses, vol. VI, p. 4). Furthermore, Mormons believe that “everyman who reigns in celestial glory is a god to his dominions… Hence, the Father, who shall continue to all eternity as the God of exalted being, is God of Gods. Further, there is a God above the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… Jesus was the Son of God and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father also” (Mormon Doctrine, Book craft, second edition, p. 322).
Also outrageously heretical is their belief that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were generated through acts of sexual intercourse. Regarding the Virgin Mary, Mormons believe that she was “carried away in the Spirit … and the conception which took place… resulted in the bringing forth of the literal and personal Son of God the Father” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 322).
In the above aberrations of Christian doctrine, it would appear that although the followers of this cult may pronounce the words of the Trinitarian formula for baptism and immerse the initiate in water, their intention is not to baptize in the Triune God, but rather in a group of three gods who were all once human beings and continue to exist in human form.
One must also question their intention at the time of baptism to bring the initiate into the grace of the new dispensation of Jesus Christ. Besides denying the necessity and even the existence of grace, Mormons believe
that the Church founded by Jesus’ preaching, death, and resurrection died with the death of the last of the twelve original apostles. What came into being at that time were “false churches” (see Mormon Doctrine, p.136). They further believe that sometime in 1829 or 1830 Peter, James and John appeared to Joseph Smith in America and gave him the keys of the kingdom and the power to proclaim a restored and final dispensation of the gospel and thus was able to reestablish the “true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Because they completely and absolutely deny any validity to the Catholic Church, the Churches of the East, and indeed to any of the Churches of the Reformation, it seems that one must question their intention to perform the rite of baptism as the means of salvation through Jesus Christ through His Church that has continued through the ages. Indeed, it would appear that the followers of the Mormon sect possess an intention not to baptize in the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Any point of clarification regarding the above would be greatly appreciated. Please be assured of my gratitude and respect for the most important service you provide for the entire Church.
The following reply was sent on March 31, 1992, from the secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It was addressed to the Bishop of the Diocese from where the letter originated. The text is as follows [English original]:
Prot. No. 9/90
Reverend A.J.V., the adjutant judicial vicar of your diocese had occasion to write to this Congregation last October 25, raising certain questions regarding the validity of Mormon baptism. We would be grateful if you would pass on to Father A.J.V. the following information, conveying our regrets for the delay in response.
While it would be inopportune here to go into all the counter-positions to the several arguments Father A.J.V. brings to bear against the validity of Mormon baptism, suffice it to say that all of the points he raised in his letter were taken into consideration in a recent in-depth examination undertaken by this dicastery, the outcome of which we are pleased to share with you.
On February 15, 1991, in an audience granted to the Cardinal Prefect, the Holy Father approved the conclusion of this Congregation’s study that “there are insufficient grounds to change the current practice not to contest the validity of Mormon baptism.”
It might be noted that this decision does not indicate simple confirmation of the validity of Mormon baptism. Rather, it points to the lack of reasons necessary to warrant an absolute decision of its invalidity,
where the proper form and matter have been used. It should be noted that it can occasionally in fact occur that a particular Mormon baptism may be certainly invalid because of a lack of proper form, for example, where two ministers have divided the words of the Trinitarian formula between them. For this reason each individual case must be examined to ascertain whether the proper form has been observed. This having been said, however, the practice followed in some regions of conditionally baptizing converts from Mormonism to Catholicism may continue.
I hope this information proves useful. Please thank Fr. A.J.V. for us for bringing his concerns on this topic to the attention of this Dicastery.
CDF, 31 March 1992, On the Validity of Mormon Baptism, RRAO (1992): 17-20.