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. Audra

    I think there are a lot of angry people on here with a lot of misinformation. Any defense of Mormons is being stonewalled. They apologized for an honest mistake– what more can they do? Every attack on them I am seeing is more a personal issue or ideal than anything.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:56 am |

    The momos on here keep on spewing that their good intentions are not being understood, that it is somehow "beautiful" to change a family's ancestral history, build a flock of non-affiliated corpses who had the choice to become moron and neglected to by personal choice to claim as their inflated members. They have GOOD INTENTIONS in their own biased view, sure, and I mean no harm to them when I place hexes on them and summon my gods to kick their feeble god's ass for making his new age make-it-up-as-you-go cult into such a religious terrorist. #thinkingnotbelieving

    February 16, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • Aaron

      What is this world coming to let alone the media American news really for idiots.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • toadears

      Aaron, ditto what I said to Hal. If you don't like the subject, I suggest you find an atheist message board to spout out your dislike. It's beyond rude to look up a subject you object to and then enter the area only to bait and snipe at the people there. If I did that in a homee sensual bar you would agree that I was being rude. Same thing here. (And if I spell the word correctly, the CNN naazzies block me)

      February 16, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • i wonder


      Let's see... this article is about Mormons and Jews. Which one are you?

      February 16, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  3. toadears

    Honest Hal, learn to spell civilized. And you have the right to entertain yourself in a non-belief room. You weren't forced here.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  4. The 411

    Baptism: Mormons believe that baptism is an act that MUST be done on earth to achieve an opportunity to achieve Celestial Glory (i.e., the highest level of heaven). When Jesus was baptized, he set an example of what must be done. When performed by the authority of a member with the priesthood in the right manner, the baptism is done to satisfaction. Given the importance of baptism as an integral part of salvation, Mormons believe that a proxy baptism is possible / required for those people who have died but have not yet been judged (i.e. waiting for the second coming of Christ). This concept is mentioned in the Bible as the people of Corinth were undertaking this practice in the time of Paul the Apostle. Paul wondered why the Corinthians would be baptized in the name of the dead if there was no actual resurrection. Some scholars have claimed that Paul did not condone this work, but merely used it as an example to teach the resurrection. Most scholars do not address the scripture that mentions the practice. Mormons believe that the spirits of people after death remain in a state of learning and understanding, but guess what? They're dead, so they cannot be baptized on earth.
    Baptism for the dead: A member is physically baptized using the name of a deceased person. The spirit of the deceased person has the opportunity to accept the baptism or not. Mormons are not 'forcing' a baptism on someone who doesn't want it. Because the spirit has the opportunity to accept or reject the baptism, the act has no force if the spirit is unwilling. But if the spirit later wants to accept the baptism, it is done and does not need to be done again. Obviously, this is all rather precarious, because we have no way of knowing anything about what spirits are doing.
    So if all this is true ^^, then it's important for the deceased to be baptized by proxy in the eyes of the Mormon church.
    If it all is a load of BS, then it's unimportant.

    In NO case should anyone be offended that someone was baptized by proxy. The real mistake here was that the LDS church made that agreement in the past. Back then it should have said, "we understand your concern, however, we are not trying to offend you and we believe that the spirit of the deceased has the free choice to decide whether to accept this baptism or not."

    Now, you can be offended that the Mormon church doesn't believe that your baptism counts. That's your prerogative. And I understand that you might be sensitive to your family members names being used without your permission. But the reality is that if you believe Mormons are a crock, then ok be annoyed. But if you did believe in Mormonism, then it would matter tremendously.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • zip

      Time for the United States to invade Utah and restore democracy. There will be an insurgency, but God is on our side. We will prevail against the infideles.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • Bob Brown

      I am offended that you have the effrontery to tell me I should not be offended. Who are you to tell me what I should believe?

      Wotta maroon!

      February 16, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Bob Brown

      Invading Utah sounds right to me!

      February 16, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • The 411

      Bob Brown: I mean that you should not be offended because it is not you that are being baptized by proxy. And when (if) it is you, you'll be dead, and will be incapable of being offended.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Lybi

      Well put, The 411!

      February 16, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Over It

      Ah, the clash of unfounded imaginary beliefs and superst-itions...

      February 16, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • Zachary

      The real crime is that people who were persecuted, tortured, and died for their beliefs and ancestry are in any way pitied and lent an insulting helping hand into heaven by some new world Christian sect. It's insulting.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • Hiernonymous

      Of course it's offensive. It's offensive on so many levels it's hard to keep track of them. It's offensive to the truth: the individual in question was not a Mormon, and putting him or her on the rolls posthumously simply misrepresents the truth. It's offensive to the memory of the individual in question (and anyone who respected him or her as an adult capable of making decisions): respect the decisions he or she made in life and have enough humility to consider that maybe, just maybe, that individual was just as capable of you of looking at the world around him or her and drawing conclusions as good as yours. It's offensive to the Almighty, if there is such a one: if the spirit in question is amenable to entering Heaven, and the Almighty is amenable as well, it's the height of absurdity and arrogance to think that He need wait for one of the living to give him the nod.
      The best reason I can think of for this bizarre ritual is to swell the ranks of the Mormon Church, giving it the appearance of having had both more members, and more influential members, than it actually had. It's actually quite clever: in another generation, who will remember that Edward Davies was a militant atheist who thought this was hogwash?

      February 16, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • NSL

      Whether you are trying to be offensive or not isn't the point. The point is your practice is offensive. You have no right to decide to do this for someone you didn't follow your beliefs, as it shows a complete lack of respect for that person and their beliefs. It's unfortunate that you are incapable of grasping that fact, but even that doesn't make you or your church any the less offensive and outrageous.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:48 am |
  5. The Phist

    Believers live in fear because they can't grasp existing without purpose. And their purpose is to worship something that doesn't exist. The irony here is that existing to worship imaginary friends doesn't fulfill a purpose at all. It is the complete opposite.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Bob Brown

      That might be more meaningful if it were written in English.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Over It

      Bob Brown,

      I get The Phist's gist quite well - gee, maybe I speak/hear in tongues and don't know it!

      February 16, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  6. susanna king

    The Mormons had a lot of nerve doing something like this. They might think its ok to do posthumous baptisms but its really sick and upsetting to others

    February 16, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • JMan

      A Jew who converts to Christianity during his life can be converted back to Judaism after death by a family member. Every organized religion is absurd.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Ignorance is Bliss


      February 16, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  7. The Phist

    The mormon cult is full of trash.

    To the moron that brought up William Lane Craig.... Sorry, but christianity has already been debunked by a book you might be familiar with. It's called the bible.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • toadears

      A bit harsh on every level. I hope God isn't like you.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  8. Marie

    Any person that puts information in the site that they have Ancestry gets themselves and family baptized as a Mormon. Beware of them they are leeches.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Know What

      Who cares? They might as well burn incense or chant in voodoo or sacrifice a goat... there is not a shred of evidence that any of it (including baptism before/during/after death) accomplishes a dang thing.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Lybi

      this is not true and also NOT respectful.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  9. Tom

    The more I read about organized religion, the more I dislike religious fundamentalism

    February 16, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  10. Lybi

    If you are interested in hearing a Mormon perspective on this issue, I'll venture forth mine.

    Baptism for the dead is an important part of the Church of Jesus Christ. It was part of the church that Jesus established and is mentioned in the New Testament. Note 1 Corinthians 15:29

    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?

    I'm very grateful to be involved in proxy work for the deceased. I believe that baptism IS important, else why would Jesus have taken the time to show us by his example? And he wasn't just quickly going along with what was most convenient, but actually searched out and traveled to see John the Baptist so he could be baptized by one with authority. If baptism is important, then there MUST be a way for those who never had an opportunity to join His church to take His name upon them in their life. Some wonderful person who did not believe in (or had never heard of) Jesus Christ can CHOOSE to accept the ordinance or not. Dead people do not "become Mormon" when their ordinances are performed. They have the option (if they want!) to accept Jesus Christ and be on the same standing as someone who was baptized during their life. That is all. The idea that baptism IS essential to salvation, but that there is NO baptism for the dead is FAR stranger and grotesque to my view. Who could possibly believe that a beautiful infant that dies without baptism will burn in hell? ETERNALLY?!? Or what about someone who never heard of Christ? Does God hate them? Are they absolutely damned? No, He loves all His children, and has a plan where everyone is on equal footing, and people have multiple chances to accept Christ as their Savior and I am grateful for it.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • toadears

      The whole concept that emerging someone in water will save their soul leaves out personal responsibility to accept God. Can you baptize a dead atheist or Satanist into heaven? Against their will? If there is one constant in the Judeo Christian faith it is that we have free will. We are allowed and permitted by God to choose our path. You can't come along and wipe that choice out with a post humus baptism. It leaves out the entire process of choosing for oneself which path to follow. If they choose to reject God, then that is their choice. Earth is a test. You choose your ending.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • mike

      The Bible gives no support for the idea that anyone can be apart from a personal faith in Christ. John 3:18, John 14:6. Paul is reporting on the practice, but he is not commanding it. The Mormon idea of "retroactive" baptism = salvation is crazy. Why not baptize Hitler...or Judas?

      February 16, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Bob Brown

      I'm not dead yet, and I don't want to be baptized by proxy, either now or after I'm dead. I just want to be dead and out of trouble. Got it?

      February 16, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • andyt

      You guys are forgetting. That just goes you are baptised proxy doesn't mean you have to accept it. You guys will still have your free will to accept or not after this life.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • The 411

      You missed this part: "They have the option (if they want!) to accept Jesus Christ and be on the same standing as someone who was baptized during their life."

      February 16, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • toadears

      Andy, you cannot and should not choose for someone after they are dead. It diminishes their life and how they lived it.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • toadears

      I don't think you mean to harm anyone with this practice. But let me give an example of my point. My parents left a will and we had many discussions on how they wanted their property dealt with after their deaths. I honored that. It is important to me to honor what THEY wanted, not what I want. It is a matter of respect. Sorry. I will not agree with you, but carry on. No reason to belabor the point any further.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  11. kcl

    This group feels that anyone who didn't choose to become a Mormon made a mistake in life that they will correct for them in death. It's a disrespectful practice, assuming none of us know our own minds well enough to make a choice in religious preference. They are supposed to wait 100 years, and only do it to known ancestors/relatives, but they do it to anyone they want in reality, in as little as a year after death. It's just another misinformed minority believing that their way is the only way. Nothing new, and not all that interesting. If anyone cares, research Reverend Solomon....he wrote the "Book of Mormon" as an historical romance novel.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Bob Brown


      February 16, 2012 at 12:52 am |
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    February 16, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  13. Honest Hal

    I'm not a religious person & I find it increasing­ly annoying that religion is rearing it's ugly head again.

    Having said that, I have absolutely no objections to anyone holding whatever religious belief they choose, as long as it remains private and not foisted on others.

    Public life should be devoid of religion and religious interferen­ce, and I really feel strongly about religious schools being promoted as somehow better for the next generation­.

    So, this is a golden opportunit­y for that much-vault­ed, level playing field we hear so much about, but can rarely nail down..!!

    Let's have an end to religion seeping back into everyday life; and when I say religion, I mean all religions. I don't want bishops, rabbis or mullahs ranting on about hellfire and damnation & inflicting their beliefs onto others.

    Many of us have evolved in our thinking; we don't need the threat of dire consequenc­es from a mythical being – we know what's wrong and what's right – it's called being a civilised, sensible and law-abidin­g human being.

    So let's leave behind the mumbo-jumb­o, the priesthood­s and the promise of better things at sometime in the future.

    After all, religion and fundamenta­l religious people only bring conflict, division, death and destructio­n to the world – it has been the cause of so many deaths in the world, it's time to grow up and be independen­t of this nonsense.

    ..but I don't if others want to continue to believe – just don't inflict it on me..

    February 16, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Lybi

      Atheism is legalily a religion, and it's advocates are pushier with their beliefs than any other religion on the earth!

      February 16, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Over It

      Lybi, "atheists are pushier..."

      No they aren't - you haven't been around much, have you?

      February 16, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • Bethany

      Honest Hal,
      I'm sorry to hear that you've had such a terrible experience with religion and feel that people are trying to force it on you. However, if I understand you correctly, you want all religious beliefs to be a secret. Sounds like forcing YOUR beliefs on the rest of the world.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  14. Andy

    Sure, go ahead and do it if that is what you want to do. Who is stopping you? You are free to do whatever you want. Respect others and their beliefs and you will be respected for yours. That is my religion... respect for all!

    February 16, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  15. Yozhik

    I've posthumously converted Jedediah Smith and Brigham Young to Satanism. Baptized them the blood of the Dark Lord as we danced around a bon fire wearing goats horns. Take that Mormons!

    February 16, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  16. Westerman1

    What a wonderful world it would be if there was no religion. All this concern, anger, and angst over something totally irrelevant; sad, sad.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  17. Matt

    Although the large number of priest-molestation cases throughout the world are downright disturbing, all of these other non-harmful goofy things people in these religions do (mormons, scientology, _____, ______, ________, christianity, _______) are laughable. You people spend your entire lives in the shadow of man-made rules all the while pumping money into churches and worshiping religious figures who laugh all the way to the bank. Instead of baptizing decomposed zombies, try doing something that actually benefits society.... volunteer at a food shelter or donate a kidney – ANYTHING! lol

    February 16, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  18. synergy

    It is the belief that baptisms for the dead are necessary for those relatives who did not receive baptism by one with authority when alive. Mormons also believe that these deceased persons, now in heaven (also known as the spirit world) have the choice to accept or reject of the service provided by proxy. No ones agency has been ursurped or abused. Paul spoke of baptisms for the dead, see 1Corinthians 15:29.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Daniel

      According to the Bible, the gates of heaven do not open till rapture....so..no1 is in heaven

      February 16, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Chris

      What if the deceased are in a different heaven, you know, one from a different religion, and they don't get the email about their new baptism? How can they accept or reject the service? How about deceased who are in hell? Do they get email access?

      February 16, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • silence

      You sound like a Mormon. You must understand that we don't all believe that your church is the only true "one with authority" to baptize. My family chose to leave Scotland rather than give up their religion and I have a relative who thinks its a good idea to have these ancestors baptized postmortem. These ancestors gave up everything they knew to keep their Catholic religion. How presumptuous.
      Fact is, any religion that teaches that "you, too, can be a god" by swallowing, hook, line and sinker, everything it teaches, is a cult.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  19. CS Madison

    The only thing they are sorry about is that they got caught. They have been doing this kind of thing for years. The Mormon practice is a take off of the old Catholic trope about buying your ancestor's way out of purgatory by making a healthy donation to the church. Catholics gave that up a while back.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • silence

      Ya, but at least they were doing this to other Catholics who, if they were alive, might actually have appreciated the gesture. Mormons do this to people who were devout in their religious beliefs and if given the opportunity, would reject the offer as an offer from the devil himself.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  20. Chris

    This is really cool !!!!
    Can I start my own religion/cult/whatever and start baptizing dead people at random to increase the number of affiliates of my religion and then use that to not pay taxes?
    I will start writing a religious book right away.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • toadears

      Yes, you can become a false prophet. Of course, when your family starts dying with cancer and stuff, there' s no going back you know. And you could possibly lose your mind and end up in a jungle in Guyana or a fortress in Waco, but knock yourself out there, KID.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:57 am |
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About this blog

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.