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Mormons apologize for baptizing parents of Nazi hunter Wiesenthal

February 14, 2012 |  3:52 pm

SimonWiesenthalSimon Wiesenthal's parents should not have been posthumously baptized, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has acknowledged. And on Monday, an official with the church apologized.

The uproar began last week when it was discovered that a member of the Mormon Church had submitted for posthumous baptism the names of Wiesenthal's parents, and that the couple, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, were baptized by proxy last month.

Simon Wiesenthal, who died in 2005, was a Jewish rights advocate and a survivor of the Holocaust. He spent decades hunting down Nazis and bringing them to justice. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, established in 1977, is named after him.

The Mormon Church member, who is not being identified by the Salt Lake City-based church, used a genealogical database to submit the names for proxy baptism. Such baptisms have proved controversial in the past, and the latest incident was certainly no exception.

“We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon Temples," the Wiesenthal  center's associate dean, Abraham Cooper, said in a statement Feb. 9. "Throughout his life, Simon Wiesenthal especially revered his beloved mother who was deported and murdered at Belzec death camp in 1942. Such actions make a mockery of the many meetings with the top leadership of the Mormon Church dating back to 1995."

In a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune on Monday, the church was quick to apologize. "We consider this a serious breach of our protocol, and we have suspended indefinitely this person’s ability to access our genealogy records," said spokesman Scott Trotter.

Over the years, the baptisms have been a particular source of contention between Jewish groups and the church. As incidents have cropped up, the church has apologized and pledged to implement safeguards to avoid similar situations.

In 1995, Mormon Church officials and Jewish groups struck an agreement to remove the names of several hundred thousand Holocaust victims from its genealogical database. In 2006, the church avoided a conflict when it removed Simon Wiesenthal's name from its genealogical records.

Then, in 2010, leaders from the church and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, a Jewish group based in New York, came to an agreement in which the Mormon Church said it would use a new computer system to remove the names of any Holocaust victims from its database.

The church wrote at the time: "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."

Some might wonder: What exactly are posthumous baptisms? 

Members of the Mormon Church believe that people retain the right to make choices in their afterlife, including accepting a baptism. In a posthumous baptism, church members stand in for the deceased and are baptized on their behalf.


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Photo: Simon Wiesenthal in 1999. Credit: Ronald Zak / Associated Press