Mormons are posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims, as well as grandparents of public figures like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Steven Spielberg, despite church rules intended to restrict the ceremonies to a member's ancestors, according to a researcher who has spent two decades monitoring the church's massive genealogical database. The discoveries made by former Mormon Helen Radkey and shared with the AP likely will bring new scrutiny to a deeply misunderstood practice that has become a sensitive issue for the church. In a statement, the church acknowledged the ceremonies violated its policy and said they would be invalidated, while also noting it has created safeguards in recent years to improve compliance. The AP takes a deep dive into the practice's history and Radkey's findings:
- What they are: Proxy baptisms are tied to a core church teaching that families spend eternity together, but the baptisms don't automatically convert dead people to Mormonism. Under church teachings, the rituals provide the deceased a choice in the afterlife to accept or reject the offer of baptism. The ceremonies first drew public attention in the 1990s when it was discovered they were performed on a few hundred thousand Holocaust victims, which Jewish leaders condemned as grossly insensitive.
- The church makes a move: After discussions with Jewish leaders, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1995 established a rule barring baptisms of Holocaust victims except in rare cases where they're direct ancestors. It also bars proxy baptisms on celebrities. But periodic controversies erupted when new proxy baptisms were found listed in the church's genealogical database, including Radkey's 2012 discovery of one performed on Anne Frank.
- Safeguards: In recent years, it has implemented additional safeguards, including adding four full-time staffers who watch the database and block baptisms on restricted names, he said. That includes a list of Holocaust victims sent each month by a Jewish human rights organization in Los Angeles.
- How Radkey learned of the recent baptisms: Proxy baptisms are recorded in a password-protected part of the www.familysearch.org site accessible only to church members. Radkey, who left the LDS church in the mid-1970s and was later excommunicated after publicly criticizing it, recently got a login from a Mormon friend. Printouts and screenshots of Radkey's latest research show that in the past five years, proxy baptisms were performed on at least 20 Holocaust victims.
- Who else: They also were performed on Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe; the mother of Queen Elizabeth II; and grandparents of Kim Kardashian, Carrie Fisher, Joe Biden, John McCain, and Mike Pence. Radkey said she found no evidence of ancestral ties to Mormons.
- In the church's defense: Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, the former national director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said he's seen firsthand that the church takes seriously preventing Holocaust baptisms and said leaders are acting in good faith to honor the agreement. The fact that only 20 slipped through in a five-year period is a testament to how much money, time, and effort the church has devoted to upgrading its computing systems to detect and block unauthorized baptisms, he says.
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