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Jews, Mormons to meet over baptism for the dead
Frustration: Jewish leaders contend that proxy posthumous baptisms by LDS faith continue despite previous agreements
By Mark Thiessen
The Associated Press
Published April 9, 2005 12:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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Jewish leaders say Mormons continue to posthumously baptize Jews and Holocaust victims into the LDS faith, and promise to confront church leaders with a decade of frustration over what they call broken promises.

''We have proof, and we are bringing that,'' said Ernest Michel, chairman of the New York-based World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

Michel plans to show posthumous baptism records to church officials in meetings Sunday and Monday - records he said prove tens of thousands of Jews, including some who died in Nazi concentration camps, were posthumously baptized over the past 10 years and as recently as last month.

A 1995 agreement signed by Jewish leaders and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for an immediate halt to unwanted proxy baptisms. After evidence was found in the church's massive International Genealogical Index that the baptisms for many Jews - including Anne Frank - continued, the two faiths reaffirmed the agreement in 2002.

New York Jews have bitterly complained that the baptisms never stopped, and last year asked Sen. Hillary Clinton to intervene. The New York Democrat met with Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and active Mormon, though neither side would comment.

Michel said Mormon church leaders invited them to Salt Lake City for what he said would be ''a very serious discussion.''

Kim Farah, a church spokesperson, said in response to an inquiry that ''the Church won't be commenting at all on this issue for the moment. We are looking forward to discussions with our Jewish guests.''

''We look forward to a decision-making conversation,'' said David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee in New York. He has served as an intermediary between Michel and Mormons and will act as well as a facilitator at the meeting.

The Mormon church has long collected names from government documents and other records worldwide for posthumous baptisms. Church members stand in to be baptized in the names of the deceased non-Mormons, a ritual the church says is required for the dead to reach heaven.

The practice is primarily intended to give salvation to the ancestors of Mormons, but many others are included by a church that believes that individuals' ability to choose a religion continues beyond the grave. Most Catholic popes have been proxy baptized, as have historical figures like Ghengis Khan, Joan of Arc, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Buddha, according to Salt Lake City researcher Helen Radkey.

Mormon church President Gordon B. Hinckley, 94, called the proxy baptism process a ''revealed truth'' when the LDS church held its 175th annual conference last weekend.

''We serve in behalf of those who have died without a knowledge of the gospel. Theirs is the option to accept or reject the ordinance which is performed,'' Hinckley said.

However, the church directed its members after 1995 to not include the names of unrelated persons, celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims for the baptisms.

The church also assumes that the closest living relative of the deceased being offered for proxy baptism has consented.

Carol Skydell said that didn't happen when her paternal grandparents and aunt and uncle apparently were baptized by proxy. Skydell, another researcher, found their proxy baptism records in the Mormon International Genealogical Index in 2002.

''Nobody asked me, nobody asked my cousin. It's ridiculous,'' said Skydell.

Both Skydell and Radkey said they documented numerous cases of Jews whose names, after being removed from the Mormon index in 1995, showed up again as re-baptized.

Church leaders have blamed some of the baptisms on overzealous members, which both Radkey and Skydell say exposes a major flaw with the church's genealogical index.

''They have no control over what is going on,'' Skydell said.



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