Touchdown Jesus, Catholic Blessings, and Supporting Mormon Religion

By January 9, 2013

Not even a Catholic blessing could save Manti Te’o and the dying pop-culture Mormon moment he represents. (source: Wall Street Journal)

[cross-posted at Religion in American History]

On Monday afternoon, just hours before the Alabama Crimson Tide blew out the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS National Championship football game, Peggy Fletcher Stack posted a short note at the Salt Lake Tribune‘s Following Faith blog on the Catholic pregame rituals of ND.

Specifically, Stack drew readers’ attention to the Mormon story embedded within a fuller exploration of that subject at the Wall Street Journal: Star linebacker, Heisman Trophy runner-up, and devout Mormon Manti Te’o joins his teammates in “attend[ing] a Catholic Mass, receiv[ing] ‘a priest-blessed medal devoted to a Catholic saint,’ and ‘kiss[ing] a shrine containing two slivers Notre Dame believes came from Jesus? cross.'” He was even photographed receiving a blessing from Notre Dame president emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh (a blessing Te’o reportedly sought out). Football team chaplain Father Paul Doyle explained that Te’o has privately told him that “he feels supported here [at Notre Dame] in his Mormon religion.”

All of this immediately brought to mind some of my previous thoughts on Mormon supplemental worship, in which Latter-day Saints supplement their Mormon activity by attending other Christian church’s services (a habit that dates back to at least the late nineteenth century). While the example provided by Te’o is clearly part of that larger historical tradition, it also strikes me as unique for a couple of reasons:

1. Most Mormon supplemental worship seems to take place in Protestant chapels instead of Catholic churches, joining a choir or playing the organ for the local Methodist church, for example, or tuning into televangelist Joel Osteen’s broadcasts on Sunday mornings before heading off to Sacrament Meeting. The supplemental worship of Manti Te’o, by contrast, is explicitly Catholic, and while I have previously expressed my own admiration for Catholic liturgy, I’ve never gone so far as to participate in the eucharist or receive a blessing from a Catholic Priest.

2. Manti Te’o is Hawaiian, and his Polynesian ethnicity introduces an important element to my considerations of Mormon supplemental worship. What role, if any, does race and ethnicity play in the ways Mormons choose to (or not to) supplement their regular worship? I can’t speak specifically to Te’o’s case (I’ve heard that the theological and political disputes that divide Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons in mainland America aren’t as pronounced among adherents in the Pacific Islands, but am happy to be corrected on that point), but I wonder about racial minorities closer to home. Do black Mormons, for instance, ever attend more traditionally black Protestant services? What about Latina/o Mormons and Spanish-language Catholic and evangelical services? I don’t have answers to these questions, and hope others will weigh in and share their experiences/observations. And I’d really love to see a more thorough and  scholarly examination of these issues—any takers?

Article filed under Biography Cultural History Current Events International Mormonism Popular Culture Race Ritual


  1. Interesting post. While I can’t say much about your second point (great questions, though!) I can weigh in a little on the Catholic thing. I think the exclusivity of the Catholic church is one of the reasons Mormons often seek out Protestant churches. You cannot receive the Eucharist at a Catholic church if you are not Catholic, while many Protestant churches ‘only’ ask you to be a believer in Christ. (My own church welcomes visitors to take the Lord’s Supper if they are Christ followers living in harmony with their own congregation. I think this is fairly typical for mainline churches, although you will find stricter Protestant congegregations that only allow their own members.) So a Mormon in a Catholic church would always remain an outsider, I would imagine (the same way I as Protestant am always an outsider when I attend mass) while he/she would perhaps be able to blend in at a Protestant church. Just a thought.

    Comment by Saskia — January 9, 2013 @ 5:37 am

  2. Just one usage note: a cathedral in Catholicism is a church which is the home church of a bishop, the “head church” of a diocese. Thus, most Catholic churches are not cathedrals. And the size and elaborateness of a building do not make it a cathedral. It all turns on whether it’s the the seat of a bishopric.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 9, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  3. This post reminds me of the lovely picture in the Prince book about David O. McKay which shows Episcopal Bishop Arthur Moulton blessing President McKay. Oh, nice. The picture is by Rose Datoc Dall; the other night for FHE we watched a bunch of “I am a Mormon” videos, and one that the children selected was about Sis. Dall.

    Comment by Amy T — January 9, 2013 @ 10:16 am

  4. Thanks, Saskia. That’s a good point and I appreciate you bringing it up here.

    Thanks for the correction, Mark. I’ve updated the post to reflect your comment.

    I’d forgotten about that picture, Amy. Thanks for the reminder! One thing I didn’t do in this post is adequately historicize Manti Te’o’s participation in Catholic rituals; if I had, I certainly would’ve made mention of President McKay and his persistent efforts in repairing/strengthening the relationship between Mormonism and Catholicism, which indirectly makes Te’o’s presence at Notre Dame altogether possible.

    Comment by Christopher — January 9, 2013 @ 11:01 am

  5. Thanks for this, Christopher.

    Comment by Ben P — January 9, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  6. Chris, there is an article in Paul Spickard and Jane Iwamura’s “Revealing the Sacred in Asian and Pacific America” that seems revelant. William Kauaiwiulaokalani Wallace, III talks about his desire to connect his Mormonism to ancient Hawaiian traditions. Although it’s not the same as supplementing between Catholic/Protestant/Mormon faith traditions that you are talking about, there does seem to be a connection.

    Comment by Amanda — January 9, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

  7. Hawaiian Saints, and probably their Gentile cousins, bring much local folklore/religion into their church. Myths regarding the menehune, heiau (and the curse of removing their sacred stones), experiences with spirits good & evil, etc. are of a piece with Joseph Smith tales. If these folk beliefs are shared with their Catholic and Protestant cousins, then we could expect that mainland arguments over transubstantiation, immaculate conception, predestination, etc. would fade in relative importance.

    Comment by PaulB — January 9, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

  8. Interesting thoughts….A number of years ago, in San Francisco, where I served as a High Counselor in the Mormon Church, I attended Mass with a close Catholic friend. The Archbishop met me on the stairs of the church, hugged me,and called me a “kindred-spirit”. He then asked me to participate in passing the collection plate and taking the Eucharist. It was a great experience in sharing. I didn’t feel or see any barriers. I just had a wonderful experience.

    Comment by Jim — January 10, 2013 @ 7:37 am

  9. For me, this is the principle taught plainly in The Book of Mormon, that “all good things come from Jesus Christ.” I am fortunate to live in a community where leaders of several denominations, Catholic, Protestant and Mormon meet monthly to share concerns and support community activities centered around family values. Paraphrasing a wonderful Latter-Day Saint Japanese Hawaiian, who served in the General Relief Society Presidency, “If I know how you feel about Jesus Christ, I’m a lot less concerned about how feel about other things.” I’m sure there’s a solid understanding between the Notre Dame community and Manti Te’o about their respective feelings and love for Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Karalea Cox — January 10, 2013 @ 8:05 am

  10. I think the term supplemental worship is not the right term. I’ve watched many TV churches in my day and consider that education to be part of my LDS requirements. We are instructed to read from the best books and learn about all things in the world. There is truth in every religion and it should be our duty to know where non LDS are coming from. I have given priesthood blessings to non LDS people and greatfully accept their prayers for me.

    Comment by Robert M. Johnson — January 10, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  11. Have you ever wondered about all the Catholic and Protestant people that attend any of the BYU schools? They are required, as part of the cirriculum, to participate in religious studies, they are present for prayers and such. As has been mentioned, I believe it is the intent of the heart and God knows it.

    Comment by Jason Steed — January 10, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  12. While living in New Jersey I was accepted into Seton Hall. The dean was excited to see my earlier transcripts came from BYUI. He was complimentary of the LDS faith and invited me to join in any religious meetings on campus. I did go to mass when my schedule permitted and I even took time to sit and pray in the beautiful chapel. My professors were very accepting of me and we had many good philosophical conversations about our beliefs. I loved my time at Seton Hall and enjoyed learning about the Catholic faith. I cherish the experience and hope more members of the church would seek similar opportunities. I respect the people I went to school with, I love the traditions of the Catholic church, and I felt very welcome by every one.

    Comment by Maddie — January 10, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  13. I am not LDS but family is. Raised Catholic. I watch Joel Osteen. Ecumenical? I think the more we learn about others, the more we find we have in common. When I say, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, I don’t mean it irreverently, but there are things that certain churches believe that don’t really hinder the general acceptance of the belief in God/Jesus. Plus if what one person believes does not hurt anyone else, then why should there be so much angst. I agree with commentors 8 and 9.

    Comment by Judy Petersen — January 10, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  14. I agree with commenter 10 in that supplemental worship is not what I call my learning of others religions and rejoicing together in our common Christian beliefs. I have sent my children to Vacation Bible Study in the summers with their friends and participated in Catholic Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It has only strengthened our friendships in our community and opened doors where great conversations on religion have begun. My children have actually been blessed by the Pope in Rome during a special children’s Mass. I have attended community pastoral meetings where I have united with other churches religious leaders in community events and my husband has offered and given blessings of healing to friends of other faiths who were sick. They accepted with great gratitude and faith. When we extend ourselves as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the common ground of Christianity, it only makes things better.

    Comment by Emily J — January 10, 2013 @ 10:57 am

  15. As a High Counselor in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I am assigned to deliver a 20 minute talk in various Wards and Branches (congregations) within our Stake (8-10 wards and branches comprise a Stake). On these assigned Sundays, I drive anywhere from 30 minutes to 1-1/2 hours. As I travel to and from these assignments, I always listen to Sunday services from a variety of faiths on the radio. Even though there are doctrine issues that do not hold to my beliefs, I am always able to take away good thoughts that are often included in my talks. As stated before, there is truth in all religions and I find this common ground when I hear others sharing teachings of and their love for our savior Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Rick — January 10, 2013 @ 11:42 am

  16. I think all one needs to reflect on is in our Articles of Faith, which extends to everyone as well as Latter Day Saints. #11 states-We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. See more at- Karen

    Comment by Karen — January 10, 2013 @ 11:52 am

  17. There is so much we have to gain by letting ourselves enjoy and even learn from those who aren’t baptized LDS. I have many Christian friends who live true to everything they believe about Jesus Christ, and who are a wonderful example and inspiration to me. I listen to contemporary Christian music all week long because it is upbeat and reinforces important beliefs about the atonement, grace, the glory of God and faith, and I don’t have to compromise my personal standards to listen to music I enjoy. (I also listen to LDS artists, but there are only a few and there are many more non-LDS artists who are amazing!) For pure worship and doctrine we have temples and prophets and the Book of Mormon, and what a splendid blessing we’ve been given to have them. But for examples of Christ-like living and association with people of incredible faith and devotion, I believe we have people from many religions who enrich our lives with their goodness, if we seek them. I believe I’m a better person for having associated with and been inspired by good people from other religions as well as my own.

    My experience has been that many members of our church, and many members of other churches don’t feel this loving appreciation for one another; there is fear and mistrust and sometimes just plain mean feelings toward each other, but I know the current leaders of our church don’t feel that way, and they teach us to be kind and enjoy the good in people of all faiths. I’m glad we’re talking more about it because I think the best of our leaders have felt that way for decades, but I don’t think we’ve talked about it in our congregations much.

    I should maybe add that I’m not in any way diluting or departing from our beliefs. I wouldn’t do anything to call into question anything taught by our current leaders; I love them and sustain them with all my heart. On the contrary, I think they’re teaching us to find the good in everyone, and to value the pure and good that is in people of any faith.

    Comment by Brian Mealey — January 10, 2013 @ 11:58 am

  18. Roll Tide.

    Comment by Sharon — January 10, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

  19. I appreciate these kinds of sincere study and reflection on the practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a active member of the LDS faith I can say that just as we try to learn about faiths other than our own, we truly appreciate when someone makes an effort to learn about our Faith with the same respect. Just as we wish others to correctly view us as Chrstians and see the similarities in our beliefs, we recognize that these other Christian religions share some of our own beliefs. As exhibited in this instance, sometimes the opportunity to worship in our own faith on a regular basis is difficult due to Many differing factors. Though ALL our beliefs are not the same, we all share a belief in Christ and can therefore feel of his spirit where many are gathered together in his name. This is a welcome comfort. Manti Te’o is an excellent example of how we can still respect and benefit from religions other than our own. Thank you for your refreshing inquiry.

    Comment by Melissa England — January 10, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

  20. For over 16 years I’ve taught band – and sometimes choir – in various Lutheran (of both synods)and Catholic schools. (We sometimes joke about me being the “token Mormon.”) The years have been full of missionary moments – especially when our son served his mission to Brazil, and then graduated from BYU. We’ve all been learning from each other, growing in our love for the Savior, sharing prayers and blessings for each other, and gathering together as the righteous. There have been times that have seemed more like rough mission days, but there have been many more days that that are like golden mission days. And the wonderful students I get to serve are able to see that, truly, we are all on the same side.

    Comment by Jess — January 10, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

  21. I am married to someone who is a member of the Catholic faith. My children and I have attended his services, he has attended ours. Because it was important to him, and with the “blessing” of my bishop, we had our marriage “blessed” in a Catholic service about 15 years after we were married. We’ve also attended serices of other faiths- the most interesting experience was taking a Utah high school choir to an evangelical African American service in Washington DC- what an eye opener for the kids. As a missionary, I also attended services of other faiths and enjoyed that very much. It’s all part of being part of a community.

    Comment by Robyn — January 10, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

  22. I am a Chinese-American convert to the LDS faith. Most of my family members are Buddhist/Taoist. When I am in the Far East, or when I am visiting family in greater NYC, I will attend worship services at Buddhist and Taoist temples and shrines, mostly in the context of honoring my ancestors.

    In my community in Northern Arizona, LDS and Catholic members get along really well, especially in the context of coordinating in service projects. There’s a lot of mutual respect, but that’s true of all of the faith participants in this area.

    Comment by Brenda — January 10, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

  23. I attend Presbyterian services with my husband who is of that faith. I also sing in the church’s choir. I enjoy the back to basics sermons that are given weekly and the members of this particular Presbyterian church that are sincerely service oriented.

    Comment by Nalani Redira — January 12, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

  24. Re: my Jan. 10th post:
    The band members from my different schools all combine to be one band for our Christmas and spring concerts, and music festivals. We have combined rehearsals before our concert dates, and we pray together at rehearsals and before each performance (and at other times, as well). While they play against each other in their sporting events, being able to watch them grow together musically and in Christ is a gift I will always cherish.

    Comment by Jess — January 12, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

  25. I love the tone of the article here as well as that in the comments. There is a feeling of open discussion and respect that is very appreciated. As an LDS member, I have sought out people from other faiths to learn of them and understand them better. They often seem hostile at first, but eventually warm up to sincerity. I would one day love to attend a mass and see what I may learn from it. Most members of the LDS church are open to learning from all things that are good as all good is from God.

    My father was a stake president in my home area while I was in college. During his service time there he felt that there was too large a rift between the Christian religions of the town. The Baptist church burned down one day, and without any payment he urged the members to donate towards the funds for rebuilding their church house, or donate their time to help in the labor of such, donate supplies and the like. It forged a much deeper connection with those of that faith. Then later it was recognized that the Catholic church was too small for the area and the congregation they drew and their many masses took a toll on the priest there because he could do fewer if the building held more people. He applied to the diocese over the area and was turned down for funds. I recall my father urging members to donate money toward funds to help them build a larger meeting chapel… and we did. We all donated generously and were able to fund the building of a larger meeting chapel for their masses. This also forged a good will bond.

    So many times other faiths seem to see us as challenging of theirs, or in opposition rather than seeing the good. I know most LDS like myself prefer to serve all those that we know regardless of beliefs and to get to know them and their faith.

    As a college student I had a dorm room-mate who was Lutheran. When I visited her home I went to church with her and it was a lovely experience with a warm feeling. When she came home with me, she did the same, and even came to the local college ward when I was asked to speak there. She did so out of support. This kind of bond between faiths, particularly those centered in Jesus Christ and his teachings are encouraged and appreciated.

    Comment by Lisa — January 14, 2013 @ 2:10 pm


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