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Genealogists reacting to Catholic Church's restriction on records

Genealogists reacting to Catholic Church's restriction on records

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Marc Giauque and Carole Mikita reportingA significant announcement from the Roman Catholic Church will affect The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A directive from the Vatican will block Mormons from accessing parish records.

Neither the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese nor Latter-day Saint church leaders have seen this letter from the Vatican, so neither would comment today. But with a billion Catholics worldwide and millions of Latter-day Saints engaged in genealogical research, a number of them are wondering about strained relations.

Helen Radkey said, "I personally had a meeting with Vatican officials in November 1998 over the proxy baptism of Catholic saints and popes, so I'm happy to see some kind of resolution here."

Radkey was talking about a Vatican letter dated April 5, directing all Catholic bishops "to keep the Latter-day Saints from microfilming and digitizing information contained in parish registers to prevent Latter-day Saints from using records to posthumously baptize by proxy the ancestors of church members."

The proxy ordinances are performed in Latter-day Saint temples all over the world.

Gerald Haslam, Ph.D., said, "A few people searching out their families will run into some problems with parish priests. In my experience with the priests, the Catholic priests, they've almost all been favorable."

Russell Bangerter, a professional genealogist, anticipates a few bumps his work. "I'm only as limited as what the records can allow me to go into or what those clients' families want me to do."

The Family History Library attracts people from all over, including Nancy Walker and Valarie Boman from Arizona. Though they appreciate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints making its records available, they, too, are put off by the concept of baptism for the dead.

"I respect what you want to believe, but then respect my dead relatives and leave ‘em alone," the women said.

The Church encourages its members to research their ancestors and to have proxy ordinances performed for them. Church members believe those ancestors, in the afterlife, have the choice to accept or reject those ordinances.

This same issue surfaced several years ago when Jewish Holocaust survivors met with Latter-day Saint church leaders at the Family History Library. The survivors did not want proxy baptisms done for their relatives.

Holocaust survivor Ernest Michel said, "My parents were baptized by the Mormon church. Therefore, I, as a Holocaust survivor, feel very strongly about this issue."

Rory Mele, an LDS member with Catholic relatives said, "My grandparents, they're Catholic and we're Mormon, and we have our different beliefs and we understand that, where they're coming from. And we love our grandparents, and we'll respect their wishes."

During Pope Benedict's visit to America, two Latter-day Saint church leaders participated in a Papel prayer service that was a first, focusing on common beliefs.

This letter will undoubtedly bring a dialogue that focuses on differences.


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