Mormon Church apologizes for Jewish baptisms for the dead

Volunteer's access to database revoked after Holocaust survivor's name is submitted

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 10:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church has suspended access to its genealogy database for a church member who last month had a posthumous proxy baptism performed for the parents of famed Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal.

The church also issued a public apology.

"We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the inappropriate submission of these names," church spokesman Scott Trotter said. "These submissions were clearly against the policy of the church. We consider this a serious breach of our protocol and we have suspended indefinitely this person's ability to access our genealogy records."

At the same time, the Huffington Post is reporting that the names of Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and his father (who was a Holocaust victim) and maternal grandfather had also been submitted for proxy baptism, although an LDS Church spokesman said those names were not actually submitted for baptism, but were simply entered into a genealogical database.

"Our system would have rejected those names had they been submitted [for baptism]," said church spokesman Michael Purdy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long asked members to engage in baptisms for the dead only for direct relatives. More specifically, according to agreements reached between LDS and Jewish officials as recently as 2010, the LDS Church has promised that the names of Holocaust victims would not be submitted for baptism for the dead in any of the church's temples unless those names belong to direct ancestors of those submitting the names.

"We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon temples," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and one of the Jewish representatives who participated in the Mormon/Jewish discussions of the matter. "Such actions make a mockery of the many meetings with the top leadership of the Mormon church dating back to 1995 that focused on the unwanted and unwarranted posthumous baptisms of Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust."

Cooper added that "the only way such insensitive practices would finally stop is if church leaders finally decided to change their practices and policies on posthumous baptisms, a move which this latest outrage proves that they are unwilling to do."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor himself, was more measured in his response.

"We believe the Mormon church is trying to act in good faith to live up to its agreement to prevent the names of any Jewish Holocaust victims from being submitted for posthumous baptism," Foxman said. "They understand that this issue is extremely important to the Jewish people, as Holocaust victims died precisely because they were Jewish. Listing Jews as 'Christian' on one of the most researched genealogical sites in the world inadvertently aids and abets denial of the Holocaust."

Foxman pledged to continue to work with LDS leaders to bring "greater understanding and respect to both of our faith communities."

"A lot more needs to be done by the LDS Church to educate its membership about its policy prohibiting names of Holocaust victims to be offered for posthumous baptism," Foxman continued. "Perhaps the ultimate solution would be for the church to revisit its theological position on posthumously baptizing Jews and believers outside the (LDS) Church, just as other religions have reconsidered centuries-old beliefs."

At the very least, Foxman hopes that the LDS Church "will increase its vigilance of its computer system, launch an education program for its members and appropriately discipline those church members who violate the policy."

According to the LDS Church Newsroom website, Latter-day Saints have been performing baptisms in church temples on behalf of their deceased relatives for nearly 180 years.

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