The perennial controversy over the Mormon Church performing posthumous proxy baptisms on Jews is not only back in the news this week, but highlighting two people who are iconic symbols in their respective religions.
On Tuesday, Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate, called on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to urge his fellow church leaders to stop performing the proxy baptisms.
“I think it’s scandalous,” Wiesel said of the practice after being told of a report that his name had been submitted to a restricted genealogy website as “ready” for posthumous proxy baptism.
His call on Romney to speak out is sure to complicate matters for the candidate, who has sought to keep his religious views and beliefs out of the campaign.
Helen Radkey, a formerly Mormon researcher, said that the names of Wiesel’s late father and maternal grandfather had also been submitted, according to a report in the Huffington Post.
There were also reports that the parents of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who were Holocaust victims, were similarly baptized posthumously.
Since 1840, the Mormon Church has sought to gather the names of every person who ever lived and offer their souls the choice of baptism so that they might enter the Kingdom of God. For the last two decades, Jewish groups have sought to keep Jewish names exempt, and there have been several agreements reached with the church since 1995, only to have the problem reappear.
In September 2010, Jewish and Mormon leaders announced a “breakthrough” pact stipulating that the church will allow Jewish Holocaust victims to be the only category exempt from church doctrine calling for the symbolic baptism.
Church officials this week apologized for the submission of Holocaust victims’ names for baptism, noting that it was “clearly against the policy of the church” and that the individuals involved had been disciplined.
Clearly, as Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman pointed out, more work needs to be done by the church in educating and sensitizing members who submit names for baptism. And more vigilance is required in maintaining the church computer system. Perhaps one day the church will emulate the Catholic Church’s bold step in Vatican II and change a long-held theological tenet so offensive to those of other faiths.