SALT LAKE CITY – Less than a year after the Mormon Church promised, again, to stop baptizing dead Jews into its faith, the Mormons have raised concerns by funding the preservation, at 10 cents a sheet, of thousands of names of dead Russian Orthodox Church members.
The church flatly rejects allegations that it is buying the names of dead souls and insists the effort in Russia is aimed only at providing an archive of genealogical data for the good of all mankind.
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Others say the church is continuing its oft-criticized ritual of posthumously baptizing the dead as Mormons, a practice called “proxy baptism” that critics say is rife with ethical and moral problems.
“Obviously we can’t approve the practice. It takes away the most essential gift God has given people, their freedom,” said the spokesman for the patriarchal parish of the U.S. Russian Orthodox Church.
“It turns religion into magic,” said Father Joseph, who does not use his last name and is secretary to the administrator of the parish, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long collected names from government documents and other records worldwide. The names are then used in temple rituals, during which Mormon stand-ins are dunked in water to offer the dead salvation and entry to the Mormon religion.
It is primarily intended to offer salvation to the ancestors of Mormons, but many others are included.
The practice “does not force a change of religion on any deceased person,” said Dale Bills, a spokesman for the Utah-based church which has more than 11 million members worldwide. “Proxy baptism is a caring expression of faith that provides deceased persons the opportunity to accept or reject what we believe to be a blessing offered in their behalf.”
Salt Lake City independent researcher Helen Radkey said she has found such notable non-Mormons as Adolph Hitler, Anne Frank and even Roman Catholic popes and saints within the church’s database of 600 million names.
“From our perspective, the Catholic church does not recognize the validity of Mormon baptisms,” said the Rev. Ronald Roberson, the associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
“Rebaptisim is, by definition, an impossibility,” he said. “Either you’re baptized or you’re not.”
But Mormon faithful believe that individual ability to choose continues beyond the grave.
“Nothing is forced on anyone,” Bills said. “Since no offense is intended, we hope none will be taken.”
In 1995 the Mormon Church agreed with Jewish leaders to end its practice of posthumously baptizing Jews. However, after several Jewish organizations complained that the practice hadn’t stopped and Radkey produced the names of at least 20,000 Jews in the index, the church last December rededicated itself to ending the practice and removing the names.
Radkey, however, said many names still have not been removed.