Mormon Church Apologizes for Posthumously Baptizing Holocaust Survivors

The Mormon Church has apologized after it was criticized for posthumously baptizing relatives of a Jewish Nazi hunter and a Holocaust survivor – an incident that occurred despite a 1995 church ban on the practice.

The 1995 agreement was signed with a bid to end baptisms of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the LA Times reported. But records have revealed that since then, the parents of Simon Wiesenthal, an Austrian Holocaust survivor who tracked down and gathered information on former Nazis, as well as relatives of Elise Wiesel, a Jewish-American professor and writer, have received such a baptism.

The practice of posthumous baptisms is done based on the belief that ancestors can join church members in the afterlife and will not be separated. It is a celebrated tradition amongst Mormons, but problems have arisen when deceased members of other faith groups have been baptized due to their association with current members of the Mormon congregation.

Protests over the practice were especially vocal from Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who did not want their ancestors to be baptized as Mormons.

Although posthumously baptizing direct relatives of Mormons is still practiced, the church promised to end baptizing by proxy members of Jewish groups.

Apparently, the blame for the error falls on an unnamed member of the Mormon church, with officials describing the incident as a "serious breach of protocol."

Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who independently researches Mormon genealogy, made the discovery, according to the LA Times. The researcher is best known for making it public that President Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, had also been baptized posthumously.

"We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the baptism of Wiesenthal's parents," Mormon Church spokesman Matthew Purdy said. "We consider this a serious breach of our protocol and we have suspended indefinitely this person's ability to access our genealogy records."

After the story broke, Jewish leaders criticized the incident and said that it should not be repeated again.

"Their physical lives were taken, their communities were destroyed and now somebody is coming along, however well-intentioned, and is suggesting that they're going to rebrand their souls," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Cooper explained that the practice may be a "beautiful gesture" for Mormons, but is offensive to Jewish people, especially those who have died in the Holocaust.

The Mormon Church, formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has been in the news a great deal in recent times, due to the rise of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, who is a member of the church.

Romney has focused his campaign more on his policies and his record than his religion, but some are wondering whether his rising popularity might also help Mormonism garner widespread acceptance in society.

A recent poll by the Pew Forum revealed that Mormons themselves still do not feel they are being accepted by the larger American society, with 62 percent of Mormon respondents saying that Americans know little or nothing about Mormonism. Some theologians and experts have argued, however, that Romney's popularity is definitely putting Mormonism on the main tray of American discourse, but it remains to be seen if the recent momentum will be enough to elevate the denomination into mainstream status.

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