Church 'true' to word on Holocaust victims

The Church has been "true to (its) word" and is not performing proxy baptisms or other temple rites for Holocaust victims, except in rare cases where victims' names have been submitted by living descendents who are LDS.

That was the message reiterated by Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy on Nov. 10, the same day a group of Holocaust survivors announced they were ending negotiations with the Church on the temple work/name database matter.

In 1995, the Church entered into an understanding with the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors that it would immediately remove Holocaust names from its public database used to extract names for temple work. The agreement also stated that Jewish groups "would provide to the Church any names that reappeared on the database so the Church could remove them."

According to a Church news release, the survivor group's honorary chairman, Ernest Michel, is refusing to provide those names to the Church in the future. Church leaders are disappointed by what has been called a "unilateral" decision.

"The Church has done what it said it would do," Elder Wickman told reporters. In fact, since 1995, some 43,000 names have been removed from the Church's database. Of that number, all but 1,000 names were identified by the Church.

The Church has been "true to (its) word" and counsels Church members not to perform temple ordinances on behalf of Jewish Holocaust victims, except in the rare instances where the victims are actually related to them, he added.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve and other Church leaders met with Mr. Michel and his associates on Nov. 3. A letter signed by Elder Wickman and Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy was mailed to the group three days later. The letter expressed a wish "that our many years of discussion will finally lead to a lasting peace between us" on the matter.

The letter said that concerns were raised in the meeting that the Church had acted disrespectfully toward Holocaust victims and their families by virtue of its work for the dead.

"As Elder Oaks said, we are pained by this perception," the letter read. "We believe there is no faith group outside of Judaism itself that nurtures a deeper or more cordial feeling toward the people of Judah — God's Covenant People — than we do.

"The enormity of the crimes perpetuated against Jews for centuries, culminating in the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, are unparalleled in the history of man's inhumanity to man. It was this very uniqueness that persuaded our Church leaders nearly a decade and a half ago to make the accommodations reflected in the 1995 Memorandum (of Understanding)."

At press time, there had been no reply to the Church's letter.

How the Church proceeds on the matter will be decided by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

In his press conference, Elder Wickman explained the Church's practice of performing vicarious baptisms in the temples, calling the ordinance a "free offering" that recipients can choose to accept or reject. Such an ordinance is not doctrinally designed to alter one's ethnicity or heritage.

He also spoke of the Church's cordial ties to the Jewish community, its ongoing work with Jewish genealogists and Brigham Young University's Jerusalem Center in Israel. "I think our relationship with the Jewish community has been excellent."

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