LDS Struggle to Keep Proxy Baptisms Appropriate
T H E S A L T L A K E T R I B U N E Oct. 1999, By B O B M I M
perhaps the best - known of death camp martyrs -- Anne Frank and members of her family -- continue to pop up in Mormon temple and genealogical records.
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Further, the records show temple work has also been done vicariously for the Holocaust's chief perpetrator, Adolf Hitler, and many of his Nazi henchmen.
Church officials acknowledge the renegade records are thorns in the flesh, but they insist they have done their best to honor their 1995 agreement to keep Holocaust victims out of temple rites -- and to eradicate records for "fictitious or inappropriate" figures, like Hitler, when they are discovered.
The battle, they say, goes on, an arduous task considering the faith's genealogical databases contain literally billions of names. What is more, "As interest in family history increases, hundreds of thousands [more] names of deceased people are continually being submitted by members of the church and others around the world," said church spokesman Michael Purdy.
Mormons believe proxy baptisms give the dead an opportunity to join the church in the spirit world. Similarly, dead spouses and their children can be "sealed" for eternity, just as living Latter-day Saints enter into eternal marriages and families are "sealed" together in the faith's temples. Only Mormons "in good standing" -- those who regularly tithe, live moral and law-abiding lives and adhere to the church's prohibitions against alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea -- are issued "temple recommend" cards that allow entry to temples.
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Mormons are encouraged to limit submissions of names for vicarious temple work to their own ancestors.
Still, church genealogical records contain a "Who's Who" of historical figures targeted for Mormon baptism for the dead, family sealings and marriages in the hereafter.
The list spans both the noble and ignoble, famous and infamous. On one hand is a host of Roman Catholic popes and saints, among them Joan of Arc, Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier, the latter now listed as married, or sealed, despite lifelong celibacy.
Columbus also is there, sealed to a Beatriz Enriquez Harana -- the explorer's mistress; so are Buddha and the mysterious "Mrs. Buddha." King Henry the VIII, along with several of his six wives, have appeared in church genealogical records, along with the Communist foursome of Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi-Minh.
It is harder to understand why some Mormons choose to offer posthumous salvation to history's tyrants and madmen. Herod the Great, whom the Gospels recount massacred Bethlehem's infant boys in an unsuccessful bid to kill Jesus, was baptized in the Logan Temple in 1994; Ivan the Terrible, Dracula (Vlad "The Impaler," Prince of Wallachia) and Rasputin, spiritual adviser to the doomed Romanov family of Imperial Russia, also have cropped up in church files. And then there is Hitler, whose dreams of a German Third Reich resulted in the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews and the deaths of tens of millions of others during World War II.
It took only seconds recently to retrieve Der Fuehrer's record -- and that of wife Eva Braun -- from the LDS Church's Ancestral File via the FamilySearch Internet site familysearch.org. The records also listed two men as having provided the most recent of recurring Hitler-Braun files.
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One, a Salt Lake City man, insisted he had neither submitted nor done proxy temple work for Hitler and Braun, and that his name was being used by someone else. The second man, however, acknowledged having been baptized for Hitler and several of his lieutenants -- among them Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhardt Heydrich and Joseph Goebbels -- in the Los Angeles Temple.
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"I firmly believe [Hitler] will be in Outer Darkness [the Mormon equivalent of hell]," said the man, a longtime LDS Church member who agreed to talk only on condition of anonymity. "But I'm not the judge." The man said any doubts he had about the submissions eased when, riding up a temple elevator, he saw a plaque containing a quotation from the church's canonical Doctrine and Covenants: "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." Apparently, that decision has already been made in the case of Hitler and his minions. While their names may still pop up, periodically submitted by diehard genealogists, Purdy said any temple work done for them is for naught.
Recognizing their crimes against humanity, particularly Holocaust victims, submissions for Nazi leaders are deemed inappropriate to a rite originated out of members' love for, and desire to perform sacred temple rites for, their ancestral dead.
"Policy is to remove them as soon as possible. Moreover, in the case of the names in question, Hitler, Eichmann, etc., the temple ordinance work for these individuals has already been nullified," Purdy said. The fact that such figures of infamy continue to crop up in LDS genealogical records at all angered Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which operates the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
"Whether official or not, the fact remains that this is exactly the kind of activity that enraged and hurt, really, so many victims of the Holocaust and caused alarm in the Jewish community," Cooper said. "Whatever framework in which it is presented, the notion of performing these sort of rites for Hitler, Himmler and other Nazis . . . is beyond [understanding].
"It also can be utilized by forces who always are looking to marginalize the murderous behavior of the Nazis and in many ways try to rehabilitate them," he added. "Even if that wasn't the goal of the people who did this, in the real world that is what could happen." Nonetheless, Cooper also has praise for the faith, in particular the work of Mormon genealogists, to support restitution claims from World War II financial institutions on behalf of Holocaust victims. "Since 1995, there has been a new spirit in terms of relations and activities, and in many quarters even a sense of trust [between Jews and Mormons]," Cooper said. "This kind of behavior, showing up in official documentation of the church, hurts that."
However, while the Wiesenthal Center insists the church's Family History Department find a way to better monitor questionable genealogical submissions, the prime mover behind the 1995 agreement, Holocaust survivor Ernest W. Michel, is more forgiving. Michel, who signed the pact in New York on behalf of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, acknowledged that improper LDS records submissions "keep happening, but in few instances.'' "What I assume is that there are some hotheads within the church who will continue to do that despite it having been forbidden by church decree," said Michel, executive vice president emeritus of the New York
Jewish Federation. "But in my opinion, the church has kept its word." Under the agreement, the church removed some 400,000 Jewish names from its International Genealogical Index. Mormon leaders also issued edicts forbidding temple work for Holocaust victims. The only exception provided by the 1995 pact is for church members with direct Jewish ancestors.
Learning recently that names of the Anne Frank family had once more surfaced in Family History records, Michel contacted the church. "I was assured these names would be removed," he said.
Lisa Davidson, a spokeswoman for the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, also called for more stringent measures to prevent improper submissions. "Yad Vashem is against this continued baptism of Holocaust victims and as a signatory to the agreement believes that steps should be taken to prevent future baptisms of this nature," she said.
Family History Department officials have referred all inquiries -- including questions about a rumored computer programming effort purportedly in the works to weed out improper submissions -- to the church's media relations office.
Purdy could provide no details on the programming initiative except to say, "I expect that church leadership will continue to explore ways to resolve these isolated incidents."
Meantime, he stressed, the Family History Department "has taken all reasonable steps to notify those who have previously submitted such names not to do so in the future.
"Members of the church have a preeminent obligation to their own ancestors [and] should not submit for temple ordinance work the names of celebrities and non-approved groups," Purdy said. Helen Radkey, a longtime genealogical researcher and frequent critic of church members' propensity for baptizing dead non-Mormons, remains skeptical.
"In fairness to the LDS Church, they have a rather complicated system when it comes to removing names," the Salt Lake City woman said. "I honestly don't think the left hand knows what the right hand is doing there."
Radkey, who says she converted from Catholicism to Mormonism and then was excommunicated in 1978 after disputing church discipline of other members, found a new battleground when researching the pedigree of Gabriel Lalemant, a 17th century French Jesuit missionary killed by Iroquois Indians.
She stumbled across LDS Church records showing Lalemant had been posthumously baptized into the Utah-based faith. Further research revealed temple baptisms and marriages -- many of them duplicated time and again -- also had been done for numerous other revered Catholics. "I have three lists of Catholic saints, and every prominent saint has pretty much been done. Also the popes," Radkey said. "It is farcical of the Mormons, though well-intentioned, to be marrying people who were extremely well-known to have never married, like [saints] Francis Xavier and Bernadette of Lourdes and [recently beatified] Padre Pio." Radkey has repeatedly taken her concerns to Catholic leaders, even traveling to the Vatican to present her findings. In Rome, she says, her research was accepted with thanks and encouragement to continue. She has not, however, found fertile ground among local Catholic leadership. The Most Rev. George Niederauer, bishop of the 100,000-strong Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said the question has not merited his making any official inquiry of the LDS Church.
"I don't take it has an insult to my faith in large part because I don't think it is meant as one," he said. "If there is not harm intended, why should I concoct harm?"
Niederauer acknowledged Catholics could find some offense in the disregard for their own baptism that Mormon temple workers imply by doing proxy rites for Catholic dead, but he sees the controversy as a minor one.
"I really don't believe that Joan of Arc and Ignatius Loyola are bent out of shape by this," he said.
In 2003, Jason Todd Ready, a prominent and violent neo-Nazi was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in July 2004, he had the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon him by Russell Pearce who baptized Mr. Ready into the Mormon Church. Mr. Ready was ordained an elder of the LDS faith. On May 2nd, 2012, J.T. Ready and four others were found dead in a massacre in Gilbert, Arizona. Ready had shot the other four and then pulled the trigger on himself. J. T. Ready was a political associate of former AZ senator Russell Pearce who was ousted in a November 2011 recall election.
J. T. Ready, left unfolding a banner of Adolf Hitler.
Portrait of a baptism: T.J. Ready is center, front row, ex-state Senator Karen Johnson clasps Ready's arm, while state Senator President-elect Russel Pearce, top row, fourth from right, smiles for the camera.
Source: This article appeared in the THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE on October 9, 1999, by BY BOB MIMS at http://www.sltrib.com/1999/oct/10091999/religion/35861.htm
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