am often asked what caused me to open myself to the Catholic Church and leave
Mormonism. Another question I am frequently asked is how to go about speaking to
Mormons. What will help to open their eyes to the truth?
The Apostles failed. The Church given to them by Jesus lay in ruins, overcome by
the forces of hell. A new organization, a "great and abominable church," rose
from the ashes of the old. This wicked Church came to be known as "Catholic." In
her corruption, she tore many "plain and precious parts" from the Bible,
rendering it useless for conveying the full gospel plan. But Satan would not win
the day. Heavenly Father gave us a restored Church, with the full plan of
salvation and a new prophet.
As a Mormon, I knew all this was true. I knew the Great Apostasy happened. I
knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he had been entrusted with the
task of bringing to mankind the Book of Mormon, the divinely inspired Scriptures
that were another testament of Jesus Christ. Most of all, I knew the Church
Joseph Smith had restored and organized, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday
Saints, was true. I knew all this by the power of the Holy Spirit.
After all, we Mormons just knew these things we had been taught by the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true.
Born and raised in Utah, the older of two children, I was brought up in a
nominally religious home. Even so, religion played a major part in our lives. My
parents were raised in Utah families with connections all the way back to the
early Mormon pioneers who settled the Great Salt Lake Valley in the mid-1800s.
My great-great-great grandfather on my mother's side was probably the first in
my family to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on
February 14, 1832, less than two years after Joseph Smith founded it. Grandpa
Alva Benson convinced his wife, mother, father and father's family to join up in
the winter of 1832. They moved to Jackson County, Missouri, but were driven out
for being Mormons. In 1834, they traveled to Clay County to join with the main
body of the Church. Four years later, they were again forced out of Missouri by
a combination of militia troops and vigilantes after Governor Boggs issued his
infamous "Extermination Order." The order charged the Saints with being in "open
and avowed defiance of the laws and of having made war upon the people of this
state." It mandated that "the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be
exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace — their
outrages are beyond all description." My family eventually settled in Utah in
1852, five years after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley under
the leadership of Brigham Young, Joseph Smith's successor.
Young directed my family to settle in a high mountain area of the Wasatch Range
in northern Utah. According to my great-great-great grandfather's account, "We
met the Apostle Ezra T. Benson at the point of the mountain. We asked him what
the privileges were in the valley and he said, 'Find the best place you can.' "
They found that place on the southeast side of the Hyrum Valley, and established
a 20-acre farm with about 12 or 15 other families. All of my extended family
since those early pioneers were born and raised as members of the LDS Church. So
it was only natural that my sister and I were brought up in the religion, as
Mormonism in Utah is not a Sunday religion, it's a way of life. School, social
activities, scouting, dancing, music, theater and sports all revolve around the
Church. My parents were not regular attendees, but were adamant that my sister
and I not miss out on anything the Church had to offer. They paid their Fast
Offerings and welcomed the visiting Home Teachers in an effort to maintain their
ties with the Church and thereby remain in good standing. In those days, anyone
who was less than an active member was ostracized by the majority. Approximately
77% of the population of Utah belonged to the Mormon Church, and my parents
didn't want me or my sister to become one of those unmentionable,
Mormons have a very carefully groomed image of family togetherness and steadfast
moral values. Mormons believe that strong families make a strong nation, and
strong nations make a strong world. They have a program called "Family Home
Evening," in which each participating family sets aside one evening per week to
gather and discuss issues concerning the Church. In fact, the goal of every
faithful Mormon is to go to the temple and be sealed for time and eternity as a
family unit. In order to enter the temple, each individual needs a "temple
recommend" from his or her Bishop and Stake President. The recommend is only
granted to Mormons in good standing with the Church, ie. those who live
according to the strict moral and health requirements, pay 10% tithing, attend
church regularly, etc.
In addition to ministering to its own members, the LDS Church has more than
50,000 men and women missionaries around the world dedicating two years of their
lives, at personal expense and great sacrifice, to spreading Mormonism. The
missionaries' appeal comes from their youthful appearance and enthusiasm and
from the many social programs the Church offers.
Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have complete
and unquestioning trust in all that is Mormon. They firmly believe that theirs
is the only true Church on earth. It is their goal (and responsibility) to
spread that belief to everyone else. As I was growing up, I had very little
contact with people outside the LDS Church. The few non-Mormons I knew were
viewed as outsiders and were treated differently than the members. Even Mormons
who didn't attend church regularly or didn't live according to the Church's
teachings were still considered somehow "better" than nonmembers. I experienced
this social exclusion firsthand when I decided not to attend the
Church-sponsored seminary program during my first year of high school.
Although it was outside the normal curriculum and even located across the street
from the school, almost everyone who was Mormon went to the seminary classes. It
was difficult for me to relate to my friends as they exchanged stories about
what they were learning in seminary and the activities in which they were
involved. I didn't make that mistake again! I participated in the three-year
seminary program rather than the normal four years, and was once again content
to find myself included in conversations with my friends.
In seminary, we studied LDS doctrine as communicated in the Scriptures or
"Standard Works," as they're called. However, the Mormon Scriptures include a
number of additions to the traditional Christian canon. All told, there are four
volumes: the Bible (King James Version), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and
Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Of the four, the Book of Mormon is held
to contain the fullness of the everlasting gospel. Joseph Smith described it as
"the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion." The
Doctrine and Covenants consists primarily of revelations given to Joseph Smith,
and is full of instructions regarding baptism for the dead, celestial marriage,
priesthood and polygamy. The Pearl of Great Price is a collection of smaller
writings and contains the 13 Articles of Faith, a summary of beliefs of the LDS
From the Mormon perspective, there are three basic classifications of Christian
churches. First is the Catholic Church, which claims it has had an uninterrupted
existence since it was originally founded by Jesus Christ. Second are the
Protestant churches, founded by reformers who believed that the original church
fell into apostasy and that the gospel can be recovered through an intense study
of the Bible. The third classification consists of those who believe that the
church fell into total apostasy and could not be reestablished through
reformation, but only through a restoration. This is the LDS position.
As a Mormon, it was easier to relate to members of the Protestant churches
because they had a common disdain for the Catholic Church. I agreed with
Protestants in their recognition of the Catholic Church as an apostate church,
but felt they had only the corrupted Bible as their source for doctrine. It was
easy to use the Bible to support the Mormon position where possible and then to
claim that it was not translated correctly when it conflicted with LDS doctrine.
This is the confidence that the Saints have in their faith.
When I left Utah in 1968 to join the military, the Mormon bishop gave me a metal
dogtag. Engraved on one side was a picture of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake
City. On the reverse side were the words, "I am a member of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints." When times were hard, I would wear my dogtags with
the Mormon medal as a reminder of my roots and my heritage. It gave me comfort
to remember that I was at heart just a simple Mormon boy from Utah, protected
from the evils of the world by my family, friends and church.
Nevertheless, over time I slipped away from regular participation in the Church,
eventually becoming inactive. About a year later, I met Anne, a Catholic. We
were married by a priest in Germany in 1971. Our two daughters were raised
Catholic, and for many years I attended Mass, often as a musician with the
choir. While stationed in San Francisco, I played guitar at the local Army
chapel along with a Baptist piano player. We often joked that we knew the words
to the Mass better than most Catholics.
Still, I had no intention of joining the Catholic Church. I continued to proudly
proclaim my Mormon affiliation, even though I did not attend the services. I
knew how much it meant to my family back in Utah that I remain a member of the
LDS Church. While I dreaded visits from the Home Teachers, I always made sure
that my church records followed me to my new duty station. But aside from my
friendship with another Mormon service member, I kept my distance from the LDS
We moved to Virginia in January of 1993 for an assignment at the Pentagon, and I
began attending Mass regularly. I joined the contemporary choir because I
enjoyed the music and thought it was a nice, neutral way to worship God. When
asked to do a newsletter for the Schoenstatt Rosary Campaign, I jumped at the
chance to display my computer talents. Through the preparation of the
newsletter, I was first introduced to the rosary and to Mary's special role in
the life, suffering and death of Jesus. I could not help but be touched by the
things I was reading. I began to ask questions.
Anne was, of course, excited about my interest and started dropping Catholic
literature around the house for me to find. Suspicious, I asked if she was
trying to convert me. She said she was not and reminded me that she had never
pressured me to become Catholic. For more than 22 years of married life, I had
gladly called myself a Mormon, and I told Anne that I had no intention of
becoming otherwise. "I was born a Mormon, I was raised a Mormon, and I'm going
to die a Mormon!," I exclaimed. But something was happening to me. The power of
the prayers that were being said for me by Anne and others was having an effect.
The Holy Spirit was working.
On November 20, 1993, I sacrificed a Saturday to attend a seminar given by Scott
Hahn. He told of how he assumed the role of a detective, attempting to prove
once and for all that the Catholic Church was false. In the process of his
studies, he became a Catholic. I remember thinking that obviously he did not do
his research very well, or he would have become a Mormon instead. I decided to
try the detective thing myself, just to prove the LDS case.
I began researching furiously. I read books on Mormonism, Protestantism and
Catholicism. I listened to audio tapes and watched videos. I grabbed at anything
I could get my hands on to confirm that the only true church on earth was the
one restored by Jesus Christ to the "Prophet" Joseph Smith. Much to my chagrin,
every direction I turned and on each point I investigated, I found overwhelming
evidence against the Mormon position. I discovered that the Mormon claim of a
"Total Apostasy" in the early Church was simply not true.
The overwhelming historical evidence supports the Catholic teaching on apostolic
succession. It was first demonstrated in the replacement of Judas by Matthias
(Acts 1:15-26). The chain has been unbroken from St. Peter to John Paul II
(Matt. 16:18). Without a complete apostasy, there would be no need for a
Another truth I discovered through research is that there is only one God. I
could no longer accept basic Mormon principles like a plurality of gods made of
flesh and bone, God's past humanity and man's ability to progress to godhood.
Through the mystery of the Holy Trinity, I began to understand that God has one
divine nature in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy
Lastly, I came to know that God is the first cause of everything, and that our
souls and bodies are created at the moment of conception. I could no longer
accept the Mormon plan of eternal progression, consisting of a premortal
existence where each person is born into this world according to his previous
merits in the spirit world. I realized nothing exists that does not owe its
existence to God the Creator.
The next logical step was to see that Mary was created as the most exalted
creature on earth. She was, after all, the daughter of God the Father, the
spouse of God the Holy Spirit and the mother of God the Son. Through a better
understanding of the virtues of the Blessed Virgin, we can more nearly follow in
the footsteps of Jesus.
By Christmas, I was absolutely convinced that the Mormon Church was wrong. I was
devastated! How could so many good people be so deceived? What about all the
sacrifices my ancestors made for the Church? How could I turn my back on my
heritage, my upbringing, my family and friends? I wanted to pretend I never
started on this journey. I wished I could go back to the way things were, but it
was too late. I had found the truth.
Upon deciding to become Catholic, I had a wonderful feeling of peace because I
knew I was doing the right thing. God was prompting me along and giving me the
grace to open my mind and heart to the truth of the real gospel.
At the same time, there was a tremendous battle raging around me that left me
wondering what was going to happen next. I was challenged from all directions in
what seemed like a concerted effort to prevent me from trusting God. The
spiritual warfare even manifested itself in physical ways. About two weeks
before my baptism, another driver ran into the back of my car. I was verbally
attacked by members of my Utah family, as well as some of my coworkers in the
Pentagon. On Ash Wednesday, I was heckled by my supervisor for having "dirt" on
my forehead. The distractions and obstacles were constant and unrelenting. I
kept reminding myself that I must be on the right track since all these
obstacles were being thrown at me. I accepted my sufferings as the devil's last
desperate attempt to steer me away from the true Church.
Not to be outdone, God gave me some loving affirmations that He was with me. One
evening at church, I was overcome with joy and drawn almost uncontrollably to an
image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I genuflected toward the tabernacle and made the
sign of the Cross for the first time in my life. On Ash Wednesday, just days
before my baptism, I had a moving experience that confirmed the Real Presence of
Christ in the Eucharist. During my first confession the next day, I received yet
another spiritual nudge assuring me of the authority of the Pope as the Vicar of
Christ. By that time, I had no problem discerning which combatant was sending
On February 19, 1994, I received the holy sacraments of baptism, confirmation,
penance, first Communion and validation of the sacrament of matrimony performed
more than 22 years earlier. It was a sacred day I will cherish forever.
I am often asked what caused me to open myself to the Catholic Church and leave
Mormonism. I can point to a number of different things that happened
simultaneously, but I cannot isolate any single event as having planted the
first seed. Over the years, many seedlings had taken root in my mind and heart.
Scott Hahn's lectures certainly poured on lots of water and food for thought,
but the prayers of my wife and many others were undoubtedly the light that
warmed and nurtured my budding faith.
Another question I am frequently asked is how to go about speaking to Mormons.
What will help to open their eyes to the truth? Each person we encounter should
be approached with a spirit of love and patience, not interrogation or rebuke.
Know your Faith, live your Faith and be ever ready to explain your Faith. Plant
the seeds of truth with humility and charity. There are countless loopholes and
inconsistencies in Mormon doctrine that are easy targets of attack.
One good approach is to engage in a friendly discussion about the theory of the
"Great" or "Total Apostasy." If no universal apostasy of the Church took place,
the whole basis for Mormonism collapses. The New Testament clearly shows that
Christ left a Church that would last until the end of time (Matt. 16:13-19). He
told His Church, "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt.
The writings of the early Church Fathers (like Saints Clement, Ignatius, Justin
Martyr, Polycarp and Irenaeus) are available in books like the three-volume set
from William A. Jurgens entitled, The Faith of the Early Fathers [The Liturgical
Press, Collegeville, MN, 1979]. These writings clearly indicate that the early
Fathers did not teach distinctive Mormon doctrines (eg. plurality of gods,
premortal existence, eternal progression, polygamy, baptism for the dead,
celestial marriage), but rather, consistently upheld Catholicism (eg. the Mass
as a sacrifice, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the primacy of St.
Peter and his successors).
As you might imagine, it has not been easy for my family in Utah to accept my
conversion to Catholicism. To my knowledge, I am the first of our family to
officially leave Mormonism for the Catholic Faith. For this reason, my
relationship with my relatives has been strained. Nevertheless, my wife and I
continue to pray that they will someday understand why I chose to leave
Mormonism for the true Church.
When we become followers of Christ, we must truly follow Him, no matter where He
leads us or what we have to give up. We walk in the confidence that the things
left behind cannot compare to the joy that lies ahead.
Steve Clifford "From Utah with Love." Envoy (June 1998)
This article is reprinted with permission from Envoy Magazine. All