Mormons apologize for posthumous baptisms of Wiesenthal's parents
Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
February 15th, 2012
04:21 PM ET

Mormons apologize for posthumous baptisms of Wiesenthal's parents

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has apologized for "a serious breach of protocol" in which the parents of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal were posthumously baptized as Mormons.

The church also acknowledged that three relatives of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel were entered into the genealogy database, though not referred for baptism.

Asher Wiesenthal and Rosa Rapp were baptised in proxy ceremonies in temples in Utah and Arizona, according to the database records discovered by researcher Helen Radkey in Salt Lake City.

The Wiesenthal baptisms violated a 1995 pact in which the church agreed to stop baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims.

"We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the inappropriate submission of these names," said church spokesman Michael Purdy.

"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."

Mormons believe that they may be baptized by proxy for deceased ancestors who never had that opportunity.

Church members, however, are supposed to request such baptisms only for their own relatives, Purdy said.

The agreement over Holocaust victims came about after it was discovered that hundreds and thousands of names had been entered into Mormon records.

Jewish leaders said it was sacrilegious for Mormons to suggest Jews on their own were not worthy enough to receive God's eternal blessing. Radkey, who has been tracking Mormon genealogy records for a while for people who ought not to be there, said she inadvertently stumbled upon the Wiesenthal name a few weeks ago. Among others people she discovered had been baptized by proxy is President Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced the baptisms.

Wiesenthal's father died in combat in World War I. His mother perished at the Belzec concentration camp in 1942. Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal died in 2005 after spending years hunting down Nazis.

"We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon Temples," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who participated in many of the high-level meetings between Jews and Mormon officials.

"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," he said in a written statement.

He expressed gratitude to Radkey for "exposing the latest outrage."

Radkey also found the names of relatives of Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

"In this case, the Wiesel family names were not submitted for baptisms but simply entered into a genealogical database," Purdy said. "Our system would have rejected those names had they been submitted."

Purdy said it was "distressing" that church members had violated policy and regretted that "an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention."

Radkey said the church makes such breaches possible because any member can submit a name not connected to their own family.

"There are way too many entries slipping through the cracks, including Jewish Holocaust victims," she said. "It's (the Mormons') belief to save the dead that is causing the problem."

Wiesel, meanwhile, told the Huffington Post that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, should speak to his own church and tell them to stop the practice of proxy baptisms on Jews.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Judaism • Mormonism

soundoff (2,053 Responses)
  1. Tyler

    Ahh yes. Another organized religion doing stupid and down right sinful things to others. Aren't you happy that Organized religion is here to save the world and every one in it?

    February 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Bob

      As an agnostic (and therefore non-mormon), I've never understood what the big deal is here. If some people get together, read off the name of a deceased person (no matter what religion they were when alive), and get dunked into some water, why is that "sacrilegious" to anyone? How does it affect or bother anyone? If what the Mormons say is false, then it does nothing and hurts nobody. If it's true, then the deceased person is helped. If, when I'm dead, some Mormon wants to go into a temple and "baptize" me, what do I care?

      It cracks me up that the one woman wants Mitt Romney to talk to his church. Which, of course, plays the hand of whoever is making a big deal about this, they're targeting Mitt and his religion, trying to make him look foolish. So much for not having religious tests to qualify for public office.

      As the article explains, the Mormon church has a standing rule that people are not supposed to submit names of holocaust victims. Individual members of the church sometimes goof up, don't know the rule, or perform the baptism without knowing that person was a holocaust victim. When the church finds out about it, they strike it from their church records and say sorry. What else are they supposed to do?

      February 16, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  2. Monk66

    Trying for rational discussion here is probably too much to hope for, but I'll try.

    First, in terms of process, Church policy does require that you be related to anyone who's name you submit for proxy ordinances. However, there is a flood of names provided, and I don't know what controls are in place to avoid this problem. I've never had any responsibility in that area and can't speak to it. I do know that I have heard this instruction regarding not just submitting names of anyone, including Holocaust victims, several times. If this happened, it's against policy, all conspiracy theories to the contrary. Like any other organization (including churches) the LDS church has kooks that refuse to follow directions. There have been days when I have been numbered among them, I am sure.

    Second, there is no upside to anyone doing this in violation of policy, so it baffles me why anyone would do it. Nothing in the Church is conditioned upon how many names we've submitted to the temples. Some folks submit a lot; some none. Nobody is keeping track, and no "brownie points" are available. Nor do we count "dead" people as members of the Church. We may be a lot of things, but we aren't 1960 Chicago.

    As to doctrine, this is much less exciting than people would like to portray it. We believe that all people will have the right to accept or reject the message that we believe to be the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We also believe, like most Christians, that baptism is an essential ordinance. So, we perform baptisms for people who have died so that IF they accept the message after this life, then they will have had the ordinance performed on their behalf. If they don't, the ordinance is of zero effect. We aren't "making them Mormons." You may find that belief odd, heretical, or whatever label you choose to use. Doesn't matter and I don't care. But at least portray our beliefs correctly. I was baptized on behalf of my grandfather, who was a Methodist minister. Did he accept it? Beats me. I'd like to think that he did, given the number of time he incorporated Book of Mormon ideas into his sermon. But I don't know. All I know is that I loved him a lot, so that if he does accept the gospel after this life, the ordinance has been performed. If he doesn't, well, I think he knew me well enough to know that I did what I did out of love and respect.

    What baffles me is that this is seen as outrageous, but the mainstream Christian belief that Jews are condemned eternally for rejecting Christ is somehow preferable? And if you believe, as is your right, that what we do in our temples just a bunch of cultish mumbo-jumbo, then why care about this?

    Please remember that individual choice is at the core of our doctrine. We believe that all people should have the opportunity to accept or reject our message, and that requires that everyone have the right to accept to reject. We don't compel anyone to come into the Church, and we don't compel anyone to stay. This issue of proxy baptisms is consistent with that belief. If every single person for whom we perform ordinances rejects them, we're ok with that. Honest.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Red Riding Hood

      Do you also believe in the tooth fairy?

      February 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Spud

      Please reference the verse(s) of the Bible that describe or allow the baptism of someone who is deceased. Please note that I said Bible, not the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price or any other Mormon doctrine. Thank you.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • JCT

      1 Corinthians 15:29 KJV BIBLE. Maybe you should let your pastor know about that...I am sure you just take his word for though and go with it right? Could be wrong about you, but if you didn't know about this then its kinda a big deal.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • hwrcpa

      You odviously only know one religion. Jew do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior because they already have a covenant with God. Their savior was not so they could go to heven but was to bring them back to Israel. Their covenant with God – some 3000 years befor Jesus – ensures them "going to heven." Oh by the way, the Jews were there when Jesus was alive, and the Jews came up with the idea of a savior, so who was better to decide if he was or was not. You need to learn all about the lies your religion has told you over it's 2000 year history......and not from a "new testament."

      February 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Four Jumps to Insanity

      A "rational" discussion about Joe Smith, and the golden tablets, and the Book of Abraham ? You cannot be serious.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • soundnfury

      Well said, Monk66, well said.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  3. hwrcpa

    God I hate religion...and even he agrees.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  4. Chris W.

    Yeah, I'm sure they are "sorry" ....

    February 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  5. Jack

    Wow Xeno- if you are going to post something at least know what you are talking about, your post is not completely relevant.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • xeno

      What are you speaking of? That I believe you don't have the right to impose your views on other people? Have some respect for other people. I know you think your little stunt is just giving dead people "an opportunity," but it is not welcome. Jews died because of their religion. It is not "a little thing" to think maybe they wanted the opportunity to be something else.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  6. JCT

    If you don't believe in baptisms for the dead, then should it really matter whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint members do it? In my opinion, no, but out of respect for a particular religion who expresses that concern, then obviously, it should not proceed. What happened here, is not a revolt by the Latter-day Saint church (despite the angry Rabbi's words), but a couple of people who unfortunately slipped through the system. They instruct to only submit information for family names. This is not an affront to the Jewish religion or community.

    You can learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint belief in baptism for the dead here: http://www.lds.org/study/topics/baptisms-for-the-dead?lang=eng&query=baptism+dead and here: http://www.lds.org/ensign/1987/08/i-have-a-question/i-have-a-question?lang=eng&query=baptism+dead. But in short. Latter-day Saints believe that Baptism is essential for salvation (John 3:5 KJV: "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."). Some may wonder why it still is necessary if they were baptized in other churches, then why would they still need to be baptized by the LDS church members through proxy. The reason is because they believe that Christ's original church in both form and doctrine, unaltered in any way, was restored to the earth again after a long time of being gone through apostasy (or a falling away –2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 KJV). Because the church believes it has the priesthood authority to baptize in his name. They believe that only through the correct Priesthood authority can the ordinance of baptism be performed. So, there are many in the world who have died not knowing Christ or having the opportunity to accept or reject His gospel and therefore, by baptizing for the dead, the Church believes that it is giving those people an opportunity in the spirit world to either accept or reject the full gospel of Jesus Christ. They use as support for their belief also the scripture in 1 Corinthians 15:29 KJV. This chapter shows how Paul was trying to convince the Corinthians that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually occured...in his support, he said in verse 29, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" Basically saying that there would be no purpose in baptizing for the dead if there wasn't a resurrection in the first place.

    A lot of people on here have not educated themselves to be able to make the claims on here. Instead they spew hate and anger toward things they have not even attempted to understand...often times believing what people tell them instead of researching for themselves what the church believes. I would challenge people who are responding to research the church, ask a member instead of a preacher of another faith concerning the exact beliefs of the church. I don't claim to know everything about every religion, but one thing is for sure, I am first going to try to understand them before I begin launching attacks at them for being false. Take in all the information–information from actual members or sources not biased one way or another. I wouldn't go to a chevy dealership to talk learn about a Ford truck would I? Nope. I would talk to someone who knows most about the product and then decide for myself than have someone tell me what to think. Become educated at the very least! Even if you despise the particular religion afterwards or you think the Baptists are just plain wrong or the Mormons are wrong–maybe you should learn about them, tolerate their beliefs and believe whatever you want to believe, but do it with some respect. Is that too much to ask?

    February 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • JCT

      I have spent way to much time on this article–That was my final parting words...so keep spewing the hate if it makes you feel better...its what your pastor told you to do and say right?...but wait, you say that Mormons just blindly follow?? What? Go ask the person who knows things about it: http://www.lds.org/?lang=eng

      February 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  7. Mario

    Two facts. Number one, any religion that performs its rituals on someone without his/her concern (that he/she is dead is immaterial) is pushing its belief system on that person. The adoption of a religious belief should be voluntary, period. Number two, since death is the end for everyone, why bother with baptizing for the dead? There is no life after death or mansions or anything beyond your death or mine. How do I know that there is nothing after death? Simple: it is an unprovable situation, since nobody has ever come from the dead (sorry, zombies, no disrespect).

    Human imagination is amazing. It has built civilizations and bathed the world with music, art and wonderful ideas. But one of its downsides is that it creates things out of thin air, ergo, fantasyland. Religion is an obsolete belief system to symbolize important things in human life. We have better tools and better stories now.

    Sorry, Mormon church members, but your belief is disrespectful of everyone else in imposing your baptism for the dead practices.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  8. Lee

    This cult is just Creepy.

    However they've learned to be politically savvy with this "apology", their reversing the ban on blacks in the priesthood (while keeping the racism in the Book Of Mormon) and a century earlier, by agreeing to stop polygamy even though their prophet told them it was the thing to do (actually many, like the Romney's) kept doing it for a time (and some still do)

    But political skills in hiding the creepiness does not actually take away from the creepitude that is Mormonism.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  9. M in Oz

    Dead people can't talk i.e. they weren't really baptised. I just baptised myself in the bath.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  10. Randy

    Who cares? It's all fairy tales, people. Open your eyes.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  11. mendacitysux

    The only problem with baptisms is they pull their heads out from under the water too soon.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven .

    February 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • pazke

      You are delusional. Proven.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • M in Oz

      People change things. BTW "other living things" besides humans don't pray.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Prayer and a lot of money.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • just sayin

      The reference is to the destructive nature of atheism. Prayer is another issue.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Coherent, critical thinking is "destructive"? Imagine! I'm really glad you aren't an engineer!

      February 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Mario

      The destructive nature of atheism? Atheism is unhealthy? Are you afraid to step back from your beliefs and weigh opinions for and against them?

      Religion can be a very unhealthy influence, on the other hand. I don't need to prove it. Ask a neighbor.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • just sayin

      I have never heard lying described as coherent, critical thinking before.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Well, it's certainly not in your case, troll.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Kel

      Wow. Actually indoctrinating your children about what to believe in isn't healthy. Atheism at least tells you to think critically. Skepticism, doubt... these are good qualities to have. Always take things with a grain of salt and don't believe everything that someone, or an old book proven to be historically inaccurate, tells you.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Kel

      Doing things changes things. Praying and hoping does not and it's never been proven. It has been shown to be no more effective than a placebo.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  13. ANDERSON P00PER 360

    Yes that is my actual name

    February 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  14. Willie

    If the mormons were really sorry as they say they are, they would research all the names of those who were wrongly babtised and issue an apology to their heirs directly in addition to removing their names from their religious records. Perhaps even have a special ceremony to unbabtise them. Instead, they issue a blanket and hollow apology in the media and publicly call out a few popular names. You wonder why people hate your cult?

    February 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  15. William Demuth

    Dude i totally just p00d my pants, this is what happens when i dont take my medicine.

    I am willy dep00p, the greatest shltter alive. Bet nobody can top that!!!!

    February 15, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  16. vhalen

    I think its fair for Jews or anyone to ask this not to happen. However, I bet many a Mormon soldiers have died fighting to end the evil things that occurred in WWII, and continue to support Israel and are strong advocates for Jewish people. It appears they are also apologizing and making honest efforts to keep the promises they make to stop baptisms that offend-even if its against the tenets of their beliefs. I hope Jewish people can put it in proper perspective, and not take offense to the extreme.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  17. Jenninator

    Ok, I have had enough of you people...get lives, people. Move out of your parents' basements, get real jobs, stop living vicariously through the internet. Oh yeah, and STFU

    February 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  18. cantilever

    Let me see if I have this straight. You, without asking the deceased, can enroll him/her into your cult by "proxy baptism." Using this principle, I could triple my golf club's membership and charge 3 times as much for advertising in our newsletter. All good. I do wonder why Mormons can't just pray to Joseph Smith's ghost, to go off and Proxy-recruit the entire mass of dead people going back 500,000 years. I mean, it's not like they're checking anybody out beforehand, right? Would that not be more business-like? Why, they can proxy-recruit Joe Stalin, Hitler, and Ghengis Kahn while they're at it.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • JCT

      You are so educated man...I wish I was as educated as you!

      February 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  19. MonkeySender

    Just the Jews? They should not do this to ANYONE!!!! It's absolutely disgusting and should be stopped! These relatives need to honor there relative's decisions, not make them for them when they're dead!!! Do I need to add to my will that I don't want any mormon nut jobs baptizing me after I die?

    February 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • pazke

      It's supposed to be only people who either died before the religion was started or who were never given the opportunity to hear about the Book of Mormon before they died. It is my understanding that the Mormons believe that posthumous baptism simply gives the spirit the option of choosing the religion in the afterlife. They can still say "no" and it doesn't make them Mormon.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Job

      Dear Lord, save me from religion. Amen.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  20. Penny Lane

    this is the religious equivalent of "MOM HE'S WON'T STOP STARING AT ME!!!!"

    February 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • JCT

      A little insensitive the way it was phrased, but I agree with your premise.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • M in Oz


      February 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.