A recent letter issued by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy directs Roman Catholic dioceses worldwide to keep The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from "microfilming and digitizing information" contained in Catholic sacramental registers, according to a report in the Catholic News Service. The reason give for the move is to prevent LDS Church members from using the records to posthumously baptize Catholic ancestors by proxy.
The Vatican directive says the purpose of the policy is to:
"... ensure that such a detrimental practice is not permitted in [each bishop's] 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."
One of the core tenets of Mormon faith is that the dead can be baptized into the Church to offer them the opportunity to accept the faith in an afterlife and achieve salvation. Many Jews and Christians have been upset by this practice, and see it as usurping the memory of their departed relatives. Some of this has been due to such names appearing in the International Genealogical Index (IGI) which does include the records of temple work submitted by member of the LDS Church, but also includes names extracted from civil records as part of a Records Extraction Project. In other words, just because a name is in the IGI, doesn't mean the individual was baptized into the Latter-day Saints faith after their death, although stories such as Will Pope Benedict become a Mormon after he dies? seem to appear in the news media fairly regularly. Ironically, the Vatican Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared in June 2001 that baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not valid. The response was signed by the prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI.
I'm often asked if I'm a Mormon when people first learn of my interest in genealogy, but in actuality I'm a Catholic - and on just about every branch of my family tree. I just spent some time this week researching some of my French Catholic ancestors in 17th century parish registers - online, of course! I can't even begin to imagine how long this research would have otherwise taken trying to compose letters in French to request copies of baptism and marriage records for which I did not have an exact date. Without those Catholic parish registers there would have been few, if any, surviving records available to help me piece together my family tree.
The LDS Church has microfilmed millions of pages of parish registers from all over the world -- many of them from Catholic parishes. In doing so, they preserve these valuable records for future generations, and make them available to people all over the world - people of all faiths and beliefs. Restricting access to these records by the Latter-day Saints hurts everyone, and possibly even denies the Catholic church part of its own heritage as unfilmed records are lost to decay, flood or fire. As David M. Bresnahan so eloquently stated in his article Genealogists Need Catholic Records to Find Ancestors - Families Have Right to Family History, "Hopefully Mormons, Catholics, and genealogists of all faiths can unite in prayer that those who are responsible for this decision will reconsider, particularly as the consequences of this policy become manifest.