LOS ANGELES - The Mormon Church on Tuesday apologized that its members had performed posthumous baptisms into Mormonism of the long-dead Jewish parents of famed Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal.
The baptisms "by proxy" were performed last month in Mormon temples in Utah, Arizona and Idaho, according to the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization named after the man who hunted down more than 1,000 Nazi war criminals in the years following the Holocaust.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told Reuters the baptisms were "unacceptable," adding that people who lost everyone and everything and were murdered for being Jewish during the Holocaust should not have their souls hijacked by another religion.
The Mormon Church, formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, permits dead people to be baptized into the religion, with the belief that the dead person "in the next life" can then choose to accept or decline the baptism. In these baptisms "by proxy," a current Church member is baptized on behalf of a dead person.
Wiesenthal's mother Rosa died at the Belzec concentration camp in Poland in 1942. His father Asher Wiesenthal died during World War One. Simon Wiesenthal died of natural causes in 2005.
The Church, in a written statement, put responsibility for the matter on a single Mormon who it said was disciplined for the actions. The statement did not identify the person.
"We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the Church led to the inappropriate submission of these names," Michael Purdy, a spokesman for the Church, said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters.
"We consider this a serious breach of our protocol and we have suspended indefinitely this person's ability to access our genealogy records," Purdy added.
"The policy of the Church is that members can request these baptisms only for their own ancestors. Proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims are strictly prohibited," Purdy said.
The apology by the Mormon Church came on the same day that Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel called on Republican US presidential candidate and prominent Mormon Mitt Romney to address the issue after Wiesel's own Holocaust victim parents were similarly baptized by the Mormon church.
Cooper participated in meetings between Jews and Mormon officials since 1995 in an effort to halt such posthumous baptisms. "A heartfelt apology is certainly appropriate, but it rings hollow if it keeps happening again and again," he said.
Cooper, who knew Wiesenthal for 30 years, said he would have been deeply hurt by the baptisms.
"He revered his mother. She raised him. He was unsuccessful in saving her during the Second World War," Cooper said. "If Simon Wiesenthal was alive today, he would be in deep pain."