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Mormons, Jewish group sign pact on baptisms

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(JTA) — The Mormon Church and a Jewish group have resolved a dispute over the church’s posthumous baptisms by proxy of Jewish Holocaust victims.

The church and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants announced the agreement Wednesday in a joint statement.

Under the resolution, the church agreed to eliminate the names of Holocaust victims from its genealogical database using a new computer system, while the Jewish group acknowledged that the church had good intentions when it practiced "baptism for the dead" in order to allow the deceased the option to join the Church of the Latter-day Saints — an ongoing practice since 1840.

Mormons no longer can submit the names of Holocaust victims or celebrities for the proxy baptism unless the deceased is a direct ancestor of the submitter.

Mormon officials have agreed in the past to remove Jewish Holocaust victims’ names from the database, but many names have remained, they say, due to inevitable errors. Church officials said the new computer system should take care of the errors, according to reports.

They also responded that the souls have the option of declining the baptism offer. Under the “baptism for the dead” practice, living people stand in for the deceased.

In the joint statement, the church and the Jewish group said that "It is gratifying that the good-faith efforts undertaken over the years to deal with an important issue of sensitivity to the Jewish Holocaust survivor community have eliminated a source of tension between our two groups, enhancing our ability to cooperate, including important programs of humanitarian aid across the world.”

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