Mormon proxy baptism of Daniel Pearl draws family's ire
March 1st, 2012
04:23 PM ET

Mormon proxy baptism of Daniel Pearl draws family's ire

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - A muckraking ex-Mormon researcher struck again this week, revealing that some Mormons conducted a proxy baptism for slain Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl last year.

The disclosure comes after recent revelations that Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including Anne Frank and a parent of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, had been baptized by proxy by Mormons.

Helen Radkey, who has been combing through Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints records for years, told CNN the Pearl incident was one of "the most egregious," because of the circumstances of Pearl's death.

Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped in Pakistan and beheaded by terrorists in 2002. Prior to his execution he was forced to read a statement on camera saying he was Jewish, an episode that was captured on video.

Radkey, found LDS records that revealed Pearl was posthumously baptized at the Twin Falls, Idaho Temple in June.

The baptism struck a nerve with Pearl's mother, Ruth Pearl. She said in a statement that while she knew Mormons had good intentions, and meant the baptism as a way to offer salvation, "rest assured that Danny's soul was redeemed through the life that he lived and the values that he upheld."

"He lived as a proud Jew, died as a proud Jew and is currently facing his creator as a Jew, blessed, accepted and redeemed," Ruth Pearl's statement said.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

"For the record, let it be clear: Danny did not choose to be baptized, nor did his family consent to this uncalled for ritual," her statement continued.

Pearl's widow, Mariane Pearl, told CNN's Brian Todd that whoever conducted the proxy baptism should have contacted the family out of respect.

"I'm shocked by the fact anyone would do something like this," she said.

Explainer: How and why do Mormons baptize the dead?

Baptism for the LDS Church is an important article of faith for the "remission of sins."  Adherents can be baptized by water immersion as early as 8-years-old. Mormons have always conducted proxy baptisms for the dead, whether a person was Mormon or not.

"Mormons believe that there is a place the dead go where they are in ‘spirit prison’ and where they have the chance to accept the Christian baptism,” Richard Bushman, a Mormon scholar at Columbia University told CNN's Belief Blog earlier this year. “But it’s a duty to actually perform Christian ordinance of baptism, so Mormons seek out every last person who ever lived and baptize them.”

Many Mormons are proud of the fact that they attempt to make their faith universal through baptizing the dead.

“Historically, Christians have been exclusive,”  Terryl Givens, an expert on Mormonism at the University of Richmond told the Belief Blog recently. “Catholics have taught that only Catholics are saved, and evangelicals say only if you confess according to their tradition. Mormons say, ‘No, salvation is open to all people.’”

After Frank's proxy baptism last month, the LDS Church said it is committed to disciplining members of its church who conducted such baptisms, which violates a 1990s-era policy against conducting such baptisms for Holocaust victims.

“It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place,” LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy told CNN in a statement, responding to the February report about the Anne Frank baptism.

The church apologized for the baptism of Wiesenthal's parents and blamed it on a technical glitch in its system for submitting names for posthumous proxy baptism.

Church officials say the principle in the Pearl case is the same, whether it is a Holocaust victim or a famous individual, the requests for a proxy baptism are only supposed to come from family members. One sticking point though is the church has no distinguishing line as to who counts as a family member.

"The policy of the Church is that members can request these baptisms only for their own ancestors," Michael Purdy a church spokesman said in a statement Thursday.

"It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention," the statement continued. "The Church will continue to do all it can to prevent such instances, including denying access to these genealogical records or other privileges to those who abuse them in this way.”

–CNN's Brian Todd, Dugald McConnell and Dan Gilgoff contributed to this report.

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

soundoff (979 Responses)
  1. cmcle

    The intent sounds good, though I can understand some people would be offended by it. But think about it. Isn't it more than a little absurd? It's like their "God" is some kind of accountant, or administrator.

    You die, then go up to heaven, where "God" has this checklist: "You were born, lived, died, yadda yadda yadda, all those boxes are checked. But the Mormon baptism box isn't checked."

    "What can I do, God?"

    "Well, honestly, it's no longer up to you. There's nothing you can do. I'm gonna have to send you to spirit prison. You should have been Mormon baptized while you were alive."

    "But I wasn't Mormon."

    "Yeah, I know, I see the Jewish box is checked here on your chart. Like I said, I'm gonna have to send you to spirit prison. And while there's nothing you personally can do, there's still hope."

    "Great! What do I do?"

    "Well, like I said, there's nothing you can do. But if you're lucky, some Mormons on earth will baptize you posthumously. If they do, you'll receive a form indicating who performed the ceremony, and where and when they performed it. What you'll need to do is sign and date the form, in the presence of a notary, who must then sign and seal it. Then, have the spirit prison warden send the original form and two copies to me. When I receive your form, I'll check off the last box on your checklist here, and you'll be in!"

    March 2, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • JGgirl


      March 2, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  2. Rational Libertarian

    Who cares who they posthumously baptise? They are a crazy cult, even making more mainstream Christianity seem reasonable (which is a fairly difficult task).

    March 2, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Rational Christian

      While I disagree with your insults toward Christianity and hope that your soul finds peace in Christ one day – for your sake – I do agree with your main point. Who cares if another religion claims a person as their own through posthumous baptism. If you believe that the religion is false then what does it matter what they claim?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  3. Steve

    I'm just curious as to why Pearl's family is so nice about it. I'd be absolutely livid. It's your right to have nutty beliefs. It's wrong to falsely inflate your religion's numbers by stealing people from other faiths.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Ben

      This practice only "steals" people if you believe it is true (and those do it believe they are helping people). I am more concerned with bigots who lurk on every news board hoping (and praying if they did) that there will be a topic they can launch their true bigotry on.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • David Koresh

      How does one steal a dead man from another faith by baptising some other random person for them?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Rational Christian

      If you believe the religion is false....what does it matter what they do with their rituals if it doesn't hurt anyone?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • RowJimmy

      Can you really "steal" a dead persons faith?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  4. grams09

    Do you notice the mainstream media has an anti morman or anti catholic articles daily? White House orders?

    March 2, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • spm

      I have recently been thinking the same thing!!!

      March 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Thomas

      Thanks to you, my Tin Foil stock just rose in price. Thank you.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • David Koresh

      They're pro controversy. It sells more advertisements.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Willard

      In answer to your question: Yes. I have noticed how mainstream media has been anti ignorance lately.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • David

      What do you not understand about freedom of the press. The White House has bigger fish to fry. It's part of the news to report about Religion's "War on Brains".

      March 2, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Rational Christian

      I've also noticed that you are anti-mainstream media

      March 2, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  5. us1776

    Don't you just love how religions love to get themselves all over other people?

    They never seem to be able to just mind their own business.


    March 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  6. gerc

    Hey, if you or your dead loved ones have been baptized for by proxy, you should be thankful. Who knows, you may just wind up in the Mormon heaven BEFORE they stopped polygamy. You might just have 7 virgins waiting for you! :):):)

    March 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Steve

      Actually, you get your own planet to live on.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  7. Stuck in Utah

    I like how the church spokesman will throw any member under the bus. Instead of admitting they are wrong. Does this mean if you are far far far related in any way that you are game for this hideous act? This shows total disrespect for other religions and the human race in general. Would they like it if people were to add them to a an atheist group upon their death? They would use all their Ill gained money to put a stop to it ASAP!

    March 2, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  8. cfrench

    One's a cult, they're all a cult.

    I defy anyone to find a difference by definition between organized religion and a cult.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Steve

      Tax-Exempt status.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  9. FedUp

    I think we're all used to religions telling us how we should live while we're alive. A living people we then, hopefully, have the option to embrace the teachings or move on. This time around though it's kind of crappy. You have a religion basically telling people, afer they are long gone and cannot reject, how to be dead. It's an arrogance that is unacceptable or at least should be in this country. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom to forcefully stamp your religion on those not in your church. It's disrespectful.

    If Romney believes this kind of practice is okay, I fear for his ability to make the right decisions for our country.

    And Dick, it may not mean anything but that doesn't change the fact that it is disrespectful and arrogant. And even more insulting done in secret.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Ben

      "If Romney believes this kind of practice is okay, I fear for his ability to make the right decisions for our country." And there you have it. This is how the media attacks Romney for his faith without "attacking Romney for his faith." All they need is a group of bigots like this one to pull it off.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Steve

      Even if Romney claims that it's ok, he'll flip-flop anyway, to whatever position seems to be popular with the electorate.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Wow

      This is for Ben...then why doesn't Mitt stand up in his next speech and say it is wrong and that he's against it? Being silent is tacit approval to many...especially with the Tea Party crowd. People regularly yells out a total lie at a GOP candidate's speech about Obama ususally with racial overtones, and it gets a rousing applause from the sheep in the crowd, but not one of them: Bachman, Santorum, Romney or Gingrich rebukes the idiot, so the sheep think it is true or at the very least thinks that the candidate agrees.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • David

      I see it this way. Christ died for all mankind. We can choose to accept Christ as our Savior. It is our choice. We can accept him or not accept him but he died for us. As a Mormon, the dead will have that same choice whether to accept our gift or not accept it, but the work has been done. We are not forcing anyone to be Mormon. We totally believe in free agency.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  10. Lee

    The more these stories come out, the more I suspect that it is all the actions by a small group of people dedicated to embaress the Mormon Church (and possibly to derail Mitt Romney). The story says an X member of the Mormon Church is making the discoveries. Only members in good standing can go to the temple and do the baptizims, but it is not that hard to lie your way into the temple, it has been done before. As a life-long Mormon, I suspect that someone became a Mormon just so they could submit these names and have the temple work done to create a stir. Some wolves in sheeps clothing among us.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Mack

      If that's what it takes to stop this ridiculous, pompous practice then so be it.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Steve


      They had to make a rule about baptizing holocaust victims for a reason. Mormons have been falsely inflating their numbers for years by baptizing the dead. All those Genealogy websites are Mormon owned.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Wow

      I knew a lot of right wingers were nut, but they are also the worst conspiracy nuts ever. Every time an article comes out that goes against the right wing mind set, it must be the White House ordering the "liberal media" to take out the opponent. Listen folks, most of the newspapers and media outlets are owned and operated by rich white GOP supporters. In fact the only reason we had to deal with GW Bush was due to all of the liberal papers supporting Bush in Ohio. If a Democrat would have won Ohio in either election, we wouldn't have had to deal with two wars, the biggest increase in the size of the Federal Government since FDR, the US committing torture and violating the Geneve Convention, the Patriot Act, tax cuts for the 1%, the biggest deficit in history and the blurring of the separation of church and state. I am from Ohio and the Columbus Dispatch endorsed Bush twice and even endorsed McCain/Palin. Bush won Ohio by around 100K votes. I think there is a conservative press problem in this country, not the other way around.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  11. grams09

    Well, Rev. Wright still bothers me.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  12. David

    It does sound ridiculous "babtisms for the dead". But it is really not, if you knew more about our faith you would understand why we do it. I am a member and proud of it. If I were not a member and new nothing about the Mormon church, I would probably think it was wierd too.

    I really think CNN is just trying to stir things up in the GOP.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Mack

      Take the Mormon part out of this (although it *is* one more in a long list of questions that already exist)...this is another example of the arrogance of religion. You would only proxy baptize someone if you thought doing so was best/right for people (ie: we know the real truth, this will allow you to be saved vs whatever you thought would get you saved, etc). Face it, you all can't be right. In pure undeniable fact, most of you have to be wrong in your thinking about God....that's the only known truth in this entire debate.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Robert

      David, too bad your church didn't teach you to spell, just pontificate.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Joe T.

      So you admit your church has weird and absurd teachings. This doesn't ring any bells off in your head?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  13. GKF

    For those questioning why it matters:
    6 million Jews died for their faith. Daniel Pearl died because of his faith. For these people to come along now and say that faith was misplaced, and those who died must be baptized to have eternal peace is a slap in the face to their families and those who cared about them. It matters little to the dead person, but to those who respect their memories, it's a travesty.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  14. Pat F

    I am completely sure, aren't you, that the media frenzy over this obscure practice, which is in direct violation of Church policy, has nothing whatsoever to do with Mitt Romney being a Mormon and the media's adulation for Obama. I am certain that this is legitimate and 100% newsworthy in its own right. The media could not possibly be trying to distract the Jewish voters who are understandably being alienated by Obama's endless apologies to Muslim fascist murderers with this cooked-up controversy, could it? Nah!

    March 2, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • Monti

      I find it rather revelaing of the mormon church...don't you??????????????????????

      March 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • FedUp

      It has everything to do with Mitt. It's pointing out that this is his failths' practice. If we had an atheist running for president, it would be the same. And remember all those stories about Obama's church while he was running. No one thought that was out of bounds at the time. Mitt is a big boy. He knew by running for office that his faith would be examined. Typically a faith can stand up to a solid examination. This practice by the mormon church is simply floating to the top because it's clearly a situation where the Mormon faith if in some of these cases secretly forcing a ritual on a person, dead now, who never embraced he faith or requested it.

      So yes, all about Mitt but that doesn't change the fact that it's an arrogant practice.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Jgirl

      Completely 100% spot on true. CNN, could your attempt at swaying the Jews to the left be any more transparent???

      March 2, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Pat F

      Monty, read the article – THE MORMON CHURCH DOES NOT PERMIT BAPTISM OF STRANGERS. IT IS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE AT THE REQUEST OF THE DECEASED'S FAMILY. But don't let the facts get in the way of your bigoted rant.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Pat F

      Fed Up, same to you: Read the article – THE MORMON CHURCH DOES NOT PERMIT BAPTISM OF STRANGERS. IT IS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE AT THE REQUEST OF THE DECEASED'S FAMILY. But don't let the facts get in the way of your bigoted rant

      March 2, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  15. msk

    As a proud and practicing Jew, I find this arrogant, annoying and ultimately meaningless. I suppose it gives the Mormons some comfort–which they seem quite desperately to need–but that would be the only benefit I can see.

    March 2, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Ben

      Sometimes you just gotta get over it. These people have no more connection to Pearl than if I claim to have made him a saint in my newly made up religion. This is just another in the steady attempts of the media to make Mormonism out to be crazy so they can attack Romney for his faith without "attacking Romney for his faith." As a practicing Jew (or anyone who believes in anything), this is the kind of behavior that should horrify you.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Steve

      "No more connection to Pearl"

      He was a journalist.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  16. Jesus Christ

    I only baptized those who asked for it. I was a pretty tolerant guy, you know.....

    March 2, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  17. liz

    Could Mormons posthumously benefit from being converted into gay people? At least one website seems to think so. The website All Dead Mormons Are Gay offers visitors the chance to "convert" any deceased Mormon they choose into a gay person.

    March 2, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • JGgirl

      Love it!

      March 2, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  18. GCD

    It is great that they have you all arguing about how many angels fit on the head of a pin while the country can't balance a budget. They know you so well and how to make you work for them.

    March 2, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Steven Capsuto

      And in what way does YOUR post help us balance the budget?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  19. Dick Marti

    EVERBODY gets "baptized" by the Mormons. It is meaningless. Conduct your own reverse baptism or baptize the Mormons into your own religion.

    March 2, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Loggan44

      What one religion does in their internal practices cannot possibly affect a person outside that system so I think it is silly for anyone to get upset over some rite practiced by the LDS church. Yes, the arrogance of it all might annoy me for 15 minutes but then we get over it and move on.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  20. J.C.

    Can you "unbaptize" somebody?

    March 2, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • liz

      Bill Maher did: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/bill-maher-unbaptize-mitt-romney-edward-davies-287107

      March 2, 2012 at 9:01 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.