The Catholic Church has ordered dioceses across the globe not to give information in parish registers to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Vatican Congregation for Clergy issued a letter directing all Catholic bishops to keep LDS members from microfilming and digitizing information in registers, according to the Catholic News Service.
CNS reported the Vatican had "grave reservations" about the LDS Church's practice of posthumous baptisms by proxy, a practice in which the names of the deceased are baptized into the LDS faith so that they may be united in the afterlife with LDS families, if they so choose.
Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishop's Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs is quoted by CNS as saying the step was taken to prevent LDS members from using the records.
"The congregation requests that the conference notifies each diocesan bishop in order to ensure that such a detrimental practice is not permitted in his territory, due to the confidentiality of the faithful and as not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," CNS reports the Vatican letter stating.
The letter was issued April 5, 10 days before Pope Benedict XVI's U.S. visit, which included an ecumenical prayer service attended by two LDS leaders. CNS reports this was the first time Mormons had participated in a papal prayer service.
LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the LDS First Presidency hadn't had a chance to review the actual letter. "We haven't seen the letter yet, so it's premature to say anything," Trotter said. Church spokesman Mike Otterson said the church may have more to say on the subject later in the week and that LDS officials had not yet made contact with Vatican representatives about the issue.
Father Massa is quoted as saying he could see how the move could strain relations between the two churches. "It certainly has that potential," CNS quotes Father Massa as saying. "But I would also say that the purpose of interreligious dialogue is not to only identify agreements, but also to understand our differences. As Catholics, we have to make very clear to them their practice of so-called rebaptism is unacceptable from the standpoint of Catholic truth."
CNS quotes Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, as saying he didn't understand why the LDS church was singled out by the Vatican letter. "We have a policy not to give out baptismal records to anyone unless they are entitled to have them," Msgr. Fitzgerald told CNS. "That isn't just for the Church of the Latter-day Saints. That is for all groups."
The move by the Vatican could have a profound impact on the ability of genealogy researchers to trace many family histories.
Russell Bangerter has been doing professional genealogy research since 1979 and has a degree in genealogy family history from BYU. Bangerter said his clients, from many faiths, all have an interest in creating a bond with their heritage.
"Some of them are LDS and some of them are not LDS. They simply just want to know their roots," Bangerter said.
He said he has used parish registers in his research before. Bangerter said a typical parish register, Catholic as well as those of other Christian faiths, contain christening and birth data, marriage data as well as deaths and burial information.
Bangerter said much of his research doesn't have anything to do with religious work, and closing those records simply hurts families who want to know their roots."There's also the ecumenical side of things," Bangerter said. He points to the LDS Church's own Family History Library, in which people from all walks of life are welcome to access data. "I've seen all kinds of people there. I've seen rabbis, I've seen nuns and I've seen priests there as well."