Hillary met with Hatch to halt Mormon rituals for WWII Jews

Associated Press/April 10, 2004

Salt Lake City -- Despite a directive from Mormon leaders to stop the practice, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have continued posthumously baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims, adding more concentration camp victims to its roster of those offered conversion in the afterlife.

A New York Jewish organization was so outraged that it asked U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton to intervene, prompting a meeting in early March between the former first lady and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, an LDS church member, The Associated Press has learned.

"It was a private meeting between two senators," Clinton said when declining to comment on what was discussed. Likewise, Hatch, through a spokesman, would not comment, calling it a private matter.

However, Ernest Michel, chairman of the New York-based World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said he asked Clinton to intervene to force the Mormon church to abide by a 1995 agreement to stop the posthumous baptisms.

Proxy baptisms are conducted in Mormon temples to offer salvation to the dead. Church members stand in to be dunked in water in the names of the deceased non-Mormons, a ritual that the church says is required to get to the highest heaven. However, the practice has caused tension with members of other faiths, especially Jews, who find it arrogant and insulting.

The church has reaffirmed formally and informally the 1995 agreement in recent years only to have watchdogs find new Holocaust victims added to church's database of 400 million names - each of which has had, or will eventually receive, a proxy baptism.

Michel said that Clinton is "now involved in planning our next step."

"We are very hopeful that we will be able to convince the church to stop," he said. If not, his group will consider other options, including possible legal action.

Under the 1995 agreement, the church directed its members not to include the names of unrelated persons, celebrities and certain groups, such as Jewish Holocaust victims, for its "baptisms for the dead," according to documents provided by the LDS church.

The church also assumes that the closest living relative of the deceased being offered for proxy baptism has consented.

"It did not guarantee that no future vicarious baptisms for deceased Jews would occur," church papers say of the agreement.

Church leaders, who were preparing for the today's funeral of Majorie Pay Hinckley, wife of Mormon church President Gordon B. Hinckley, were not available for comment Friday.

In a Nov. 14, 2003, letter from church Elder D. Todd Christofferson to Michel, a copy of which was sent to Hatch, Christofferson said the church did not agree to find and remove the names of all deceased Jews in its database.

"That would be an impossible undertaking," Christofferson wrote. However, 400,000 names of Holocaust victims were removed, and the church continues to delete names when asked.

He also indicated the church was not interested in modifying the 1995 agreement, "especially considering that any further actions would constitute an intolerable burden on the legitimate exercise of our most fundamental religious beliefs."

The baptisms have long been a source of frustration for Jews.

"It's ridiculous for people to pretend they have the key to heaven," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "And even if they say they want to do somebody a favor & it's not a symbol of love. It's a symbol of arrogance."

The Mormon church has long collected names from government documents and other records worldwide for the rituals. The practice is primarily intended to offer salvation to the ancestors of Mormons, but many others are included. The church says the practice does not force a change of religion in the afterlife since Mormons believe the dead can still accept or reject the offering.

Even Clinton's late father, Hugh Rodham, was posthumously baptized Sept. 5, 2002, something she found out only after her meeting with Hatch, Clinton spokesman Joe Householder said Friday. Householder declined to say whether the two plan to meet again on the issue.

When Jewish leaders learned Mormons were performing proxy baptisms for Jews, including those killed during the Holocaust, they were incensed.

"I consider this an insult," said Michel, whose parents were found to have been posthumously baptized after their deaths at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. "I don't like them to impose their belief on me."

After the 1995 agreement, researchers, including Helen Radkey of Salt Lake City, later discovered that the baptisms hadn't stopped. Radkey has studied the issue since 1999.

Radkey said Friday the process still hasn't stopped.

Mormon leaders reaffirmed the agreement in December 2002 after Radkey found at least 20,000 Jews in the church's International Genealogical Index, including Anne Frank.

Radkey said in a search of what she described as a "small sampling," she recently discovered posthumous baptism records for at least 268 Dutch Jews killed in Polish concentration camps. All the death camp victims were posthumously baptized well after the 1995 agreement.

"The Jews have to either accept what the Mormons are doing or take legal action," said Radkey.

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