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High-ranking LDS official Henry B. Eyring has been invited to attend a "historic gathering" at the Vatican later this month to "discuss how men and women complement each other in marriage," the Utah-based faith announced Monday.
Eyring, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will join religious leaders and scholars from 14 faiths and 23 countries including Muslim and Jewish representatives as well as megachurch pastor Rick Warren and Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore for a three-day "colloquium" titled "An International Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman."
It will be held in Rome from Nov. 17 to 19 and will feature about 30 "presentations and 'witness testimonies' from leading religious figures and scholars."
Pope Francis will speak at the meeting's opening, and Eyring, accompanied by Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry and Bishop Gérald Caussé, of the LDS Presiding Bishopric, will address the assembly Nov. 18.
"At this time of rapidly declining moral values and the challenges to traditional family structures and relationships throughout the world, we are pleased to unite with the Catholic Church, other fellow Christian denominations and other world religions," the church said in a news release, "in standing firm and speaking clearly about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."
The gathering comes just weeks after the pope and senior Catholic leaders wrapped up a two-week Vatican Synod on the Family, which discussed the role of gays and lesbians and cohabiting couples in Christianity's largest denomination.
"Despite initial overtures toward gay and lesbian Catholics and the 'gifts and qualities' they had to offer the church," Religion News Service reported Monday, "the final synod report scaled back that language. Conservative and traditionalist Catholics said any attempts to soften the church's teaching on homosexuality was a 'betrayal' and akin to heresy."
Organizers hope the new conference will show, the RNS report said, "the church can nonetheless seek common ground with religious leaders outside the Vatican."
"I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel," Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told RNS, "especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled."
The Vatican gathering also comes in the wake of same-sex marriage becoming legal in Utah and a number of other U.S. states.