When Mitt Romney formally accepts his party's nomination for president next Thursday at the Republican National Convention, it will be a Mormon-Catholic affair.
Kenneth Hutchins, a retired Massachusetts police officer and former stake president in the Mormon church, will offer the invocation before the presumptive Republican presidential nominee speaks in the evening. Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will offer the benediction after the speech.
The news about Hutchins was first confirmed Wednesday evening in an article in the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City-based commercial newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Dolan's appearance, meanwhile, was announced by Romney in an interview that will broadcast Thursday evening on "The World Over Live," a popular TV show on EWTN Catholic network.
Joseph Zwilling, the cardinal's spokesman, said in an interview that the Republican National Committee invited Dolan to speak and that "he is going solely to pray" and "not for a partisan appearance." Dolan will not be giving a speech, Zwilling said, and told the RNC that he is also open to praying at the Democratic National Convention the week after, though it is currently not on his schedule.
The Archdiocese of New York is one of dozens of Catholic organizations suing President Barack Obama because of a portion of his health care overhaul that requires employers, including Catholic schools and hospitals but not houses of worship, to provide free contraception as part of employee health plans.
According to excerpts of the TV interview, Romney, who recently released an ad that says Obama "used his health care plan to declare war on religion," says that he understands any law he may propose will be scrutinized based on "its impact on religious freedom."
Romney also says in the interview that his work as a bishop -- akin to a pastor -- in a Mormon congregation in the Boston area helped him "understand the very real concerns and pains people have, the struggles that they have." Hutchins, 71, counseled Romney when the politician was a stake president in the Boston area in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The role is similar to leading a Catholic diocese.
According to the Salt Lake City-based newspaper, Romney's son, Tagg, called Hutchins Monday morning to ask him to lead the invocation.
Political observers have speculated if Romney, who has typically shied away from discussing his religion on the campaign trail, would mention his religion or have a member of his church offer prayers at the Tampa convention.
An article Monday confirmed that the Romney campaign would highlight the candidate's work as a bishop and church leader in Boston, which included counseling the poor, sick, immigrants, troubled couples and wayward youth.
Raised in Walpole, Mass., Hutchins became president of the Boston church stake after Romney left his position in 1994 to run for the U.S. Senate. He was in the position through 2003, then became mission president for the church in Tampa, Fla., overseeing missionaries from around the world who came to proselytize in the Tampa area.
When Hutchins left Massachusetts, he also left his career as chief of Northborough Police Department, a job he held since 1980.
In an interview with the newspaper, Hutchins called the chance to offer the invocation at the convention, which is Monday through Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, an "honor." Currently battling cancer, he said the opportunity lifted his spirits.
How does a Mormon prayer look and sound?
Joanna Brooks, a Mormon author who recently wrote on the subject, says it can be hard to distinguish between a Mormon prayer and common Christian prayers. According to Brooks:
LDS people are taught to adopt and adapt the general model of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament for use in personal and family prayers and prayers offered at group events. ... Prayers customarily begin with the opening address "Dear Heavenly Father," which is followed by a litany of thanks for God’s blessings small and large, and then a set of petitions for help, strength, and guidance. Mormons close our prayers “in the name of Jesus Christ" and with an "Amen." By custom, some Mormons pray using pronouns from Elizabethan English ("thee," "thy," and "thou"), which reflects the LDS preference for the King James Bible. Mormon prayers also tend to be more formal, modulated, and understated than evangelical Christian prayers, and in non-ritual settings Mormons customarily pray with eyes closed, arms folded, or hands holding the edges of the pulpit, and heads bowed.
This is not the first time a Mormon will offer a prayer at the Republican National Convention. In 2004, during President George W. Bush's nomination for reelection, Sheri Dew, a prominent female Mormon leader and author, offered an invocation at the convention.
Several other religious and civic figures will be offering invocations and benedictions as part of the convention. Organizers have not released a full list of participants, but they will include the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, pastor of New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, Calif., and president of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition; and Archbishop Demetrios of America, the current archbishop of Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.