WASHINGTON (CNS) – In an effort to block posthumous rebaptisms by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholic dioceses throughout the world have been directed by the Vatican not to give information in parish registers to the Mormons’ Genealogical Society of Utah.
An April 5 letter from the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, obtained by Catholic News Service in late April, asks episcopal conferences to direct all bishops to keep the Latter-day Saints from microfilming and digitizing information contained in those registers.
The order came in light of "grave reservations" expressed in a Jan. 29 letter from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the clergy congregation’s letter said.
Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the step was taken to prevent the Latter-day Saints from using records — such as baptismal documentation — to posthumously baptize by proxy the ancestors of church members.
Posthumous baptisms by proxy have been a common practice for the Latter-day Saints — commonly known as Mormons — for more than a century, allowing the church’s faithful to have their ancestors baptized into their faith so they may be united in the afterlife, said Mike Otterson, a spokesman in the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters.
In a telephone interview with CNS May 1, Otterson said he wanted a chance to review the contents of the letter before commenting on how it will affect the Mormons’ relationship with the Catholic Church.
"This dicastery is bringing this matter to the attention of the various conferences of bishops," the letter reads. "The congregation requests that the conference notifies each diocesan bishop in order to ensure that such a detrimental practice is not permitted in his territory, due to the confidentiality of the faithful and so as not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."