September 2nd, 2010
06:39 PM ET
CNN's Kelly Marshall submitted this report from Washington:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a group of Jewish leaders have had come to an agreement on the Mormon practice of posthumous proxy baptisms.
The practice has been a source of contention between the Mormon church and Jewish groups, most notably The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, which complained that the names of Holocaust victims have repeatedly shown up in church databases despite repeated requests for the names to be removed.
A joint statement issued by the groups on Wednesday said that, “Over the years, survivors of the Holocaust have pointed out to the Church that its practice of posthumous proxy baptism has unintentionally caused pain due to the inclusion of names of those who perished in the Holocaust."
"As a result of dialogue and extraordinary efforts of the Church, computer systems and policy initiatives have been put in place that resolve this issue," the statement continued, "which is greatly appreciated by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, the result of which will be felt throughout the world.”
Mormons routinely perform proxy baptisms for the dead, though, according to the church's beliefs, the dead have the choice to accept or reject the services performed for them.
“Holocaust victims perished only because of the crime of being Jewish," said Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. "If you then convert them posthumously you’ll even take away why they died.”
It is one of the church’s core beliefs that families can be united forever after death, a major reason why genealogical research is so important many Mormons.
In the past, any church member could submit any name for proxy baptism. Although the church tried to avoid the names of Holocaust victims from being included, it couldn't guarantee it.
Now, improved computer software will make it less likely for any Holocaust victims’ names to be submitted again in the future.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Director for Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said he is glad the problem–which has been an issue for nearly 15 years–can be put to rest.
“I think that there was never a question of positive intent on the part of the church," he said. "Now finally the technology has caught up with the desire to fully rectify the situation.”
Bob Abrams, a former New York Attorney General who helped to mediate the recent discussions between Jewish leaders and church, agreed.
"This was a much heralded resolution and everyone in the delegation is extremely happy," he said. "This is a very generous and significant effort by the LDS Church to display enormous sensitivity to the Jewish community for victims of the holocaust and I think members of the Jewish community recognize what the church has done.”
Foxman said the Church deserves credit for being sensitive to Jewish pain and history. “They were sensitive enough to understand the Jewish faith and they made an exception to their basic principle,” he said.
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