A potential conflict between Jewish organizations and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over vicarious baptism was averted Monday when the church said that Simon Wiesenthal's name was removed from the church's genealogical records.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles had demanded earlier in the day that Wiesenthal's name be removed from the church's online International Genealogical Index, the church's database of posthumous "ordinances" or vicarious baptisms.
"We are astounded and dismayed that after assurances and promises by the Mormon Church that Mr. Wiesenthal's life and memory, along with so many other Jews, would be trampled and disregarded," Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center's founder and dean, said in a statement.
"Simon Wiesenthal was one of the great Jews in the post-Holocaust period. He proudly lived as a Jew, died as a Jew, demanded justice for the millions of the victims of the Holocaust and at his request was buried in the state of Israel. It is sacrilegious for the Mormon faith to desecrate his memory by suggesting that Jews on their own are not worthy enough to receive God's eternal blessing," Hier added.
Within hours after Hier released the statement to the press, Mormon Church spokesman Bruce Olsen said Wiesenthal's name had been removed from the international index.
"In response to a request by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and in accordance with the commitments the church made in 1995, no church ordinance was performed for Simon Wiesenthal and his name was immediately removed from the International Genealogical Index," Olsen said in a statement.
Hier said he was happy to receive the reassurance from a top church official.
Olsen said the Mormon Church "continues to emphasize" its policy that church members submit only names of their own ancestors to the index, a step toward vicarious baptisms.
After a 1995 agreement with Jewish groups, church officials have said that the names of several hundred thousand Holocaust victims had been removed from its genealogical database.