Mormons warned against baptizing Holocaust victims

March 6, 2012

The LDS Church's governing First Presidency has issued an unequivocal
mandate to its members: do not submit names of Jewish Holocaust victims
or celebrities for proxy baptism. Doing so could cost Mormons access to
their church's genealogical data or even their good standing in the
faith.

"Without exception, church members must not submit for
proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as
celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims," Mormon President Thomas S.
Monson and his counselors wrote in a letter to all Mormon bishops, dated
February 29.

"If members do so, they may forfeit their New
FamilySearch privileges [access to the church's genealogical holdings].
Other corrective action may also be taken." The letter, which was to be
read over pulpits and posted on bulletin boards in every Mormon
congregation on March 4, reminds members that their "preeminent
obligation" is to their own ancestors, and any name submitted for proxy
rituals "should be related to the submitter."

The crackdown could
help LDS officials put an end to overzealous Mormons sidestepping the
rules or mischief makers bent on embarrassing the faith.

The
Mormon practice known as "baptism for the dead" involves living people
being baptized on behalf of their dead relatives. Mormons believe that
it is their moral obligation to do the temple rituals, while those in
the hereafter can either accept or reject the ordinance.

In the
early 1990s, Jewish representatives complained about the practice,
arguing that it disrespected Jews who died in the Holocaust. Mormon
leaders agreed to remove them from the list of candidates for baptism,
unless they were related to living church members.

The task,
however, proved difficult, and many of the Holocaust names continued to
pop up in the database. In 2010, the Mormons assured Jews that a new
computer system would help solve the problem.

But the issue
exploded again in recent weeks as reporters published accounts of proxy
baptisms for several well-known figures, including the deceased parents
of famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

The
LDS Church leaders reacted swiftly and decisively to the news, issuing
an apology and saying in several cases that they had removed the
submitters' access to their genealogical records. "We consider this a
serious breach of our protocol," spokesman Scott Trotter said in a
statement, "and we have suspended indefinitely this person's ability to
access our genealogy records."

Steps taken by Mormon authorities
also have blocked a prominent whistle-blower from accessing the Mormons'
database that chronicles baptisms for the dead. Utah researcher Helen
Radkey, whose baptism discoveries have embarrassed the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints for decades, said: "I have been effectively
stopped."

In a statement, Abraham Foxman, national director of the
New York-based Anti-Defamation League, welcomed the hard line from
Mormon leaders. "Church members should understand why proxy baptisms are
so offensive to the Jewish people, who faced near annihilation during
the Holocaust simply because they were Jewish, and who throughout
history were often the victims of forced conversions," Foxman said. 
—RNS