Catholic Churches Told To Keep Records From FamilySearch Digitizers

Catholic Churches Told To Keep Records From FamilySearch Digitizers

You may already have heard the Catholic News Service reports that the Vatican has directed Catholic dioceses throughout the world not to allow FamilySearch to digitize or index parish registers.Father James Massa, executive director of the US bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told the Catholic News Service...

You may already have heard the Catholic News Service reports that the Vatican has directed Catholic dioceses throughout the world not to allow FamilySearch to digitize or index parish registers.

Father James Massa, executive director of the US bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told the Catholic News Service that the directive, issued in an April 5 letter from the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, aims to prevent Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) members, or Mormons, from using the records to baptize the dead.

The LDS Church operates the FamilySearch genealogy Web site.

The letter reads in part, “The congregation requests that the conference notifies each diocesan bishop in order to ensure that such a detrimental practice is not permitted in his 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.”

Posthumous baptism by proxy is central to the LDS faith: Mormons can offer baptism to their ancestors so families can be united in the afterlife. That’s why the LDS Church digitizes and microfilms records. Generally, FamilySearch negotiates contracts with churches to film their records.

The LDS Church makes the records available to members of all religions for use in genealogical research. And microfilmed Catholic Church registers are the major resource for finding ancestors in Europe before civil (government) registration began, usually during the 1800s.

Jewish groups also have criticized posthumous baptism, especially for Holocaust victims. The LDS Church agreed in 1995 to stop the practice of baptizing Holocaust victims, but some say it continues.

What do you think of the Vatican’s directive? Click Comments to post here, or post to our Hot Topics Forum.

Related Products


Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  1. Well of course it’s disappointing from a genealogical standpoint – I happen to be a Catholic and I use the Mormon resources for my own family history. And I would wish more, not less – I feel that keeping my family’s history has often honored their faithful lives.

    I have in fact noticed some of my or my husband’s Irish Catholic ancestors were &quot;sealed&quot; by some or other LDS member – which only causes me a chuckle usually for I know these persons lived and died in their own faith, not the Mormon faith. I’m not quite certain of the objection of the Catholic hierarchy – for the church teaches salvation depends on what we do on earth, not what happens to us after death. Perhaps with the church taking this stance, the Mormons will reflect on the propriety of &quot;baptising&quot; Jewish or Catholic or other religious people, and some compromise may yet be worked out (i.e. records yes, baptisms no.)

  2. As a Catholic and as the compiler of my family history, I should be appalled at the Church’s directive. But I am not. To me, it is more of the same. This is the opinion of the hierachy, not doctrine. And it is sad.

    My mother was a convert to Catholicism and that side of our family is completely Protestant. Over the years it is obvious some of them were baptized posthumously in the Mormon Church, as were some of my Catholic ancestors. But they are gone. So is my mother. She is the one who would have been appalled at this. She embraced her new faith, but never, ever, to the exclusion of her family.

  3. I have no ax to grind with any religion, except when its directives appear petty, self-serving and revenue-driven.

    I see no harm in &quot;baptizing&quot; the dead. What bad could come from this, regardless of whether the deceased was of another faith? Frankly, it’s irrelevant since nobody from the afterlife has ever been known to complain.

    But as a Catholic and a genealogist, this Vatican directive on access to digitize or index parish registers makes me question the priorities — privacy or potential profit?

    The fact that the LDS church makes records available to members of ALL religions for use in genealogical research speaks volumes.

  4. Being a Catholic, and interested in family history, I am apalled at the Catholic Church’s stance. I would guess that 90% of the microfilmed records are used by genealogists rather than LDS members. They are hurting us instead of the LDS Church.

    Klostermann means &quot;Man from the Cloister (Kloster), i.e. Monastery Man. Lets hope the Vatican sees thru the light and changes their mind in our Lifetime.

    Very sad about this development. Every Catholic genealogist should withhold contributing to the church until they change their stance.

  5. I have seen this same thing come up on other forums as Ken says &quot;…privacy or potential profit?&quot;. It will be interesting to see how this turns out in a year or two and the Catholic church decides to go into the very lucrative business of providing it’s records to the genealogy community, at a price of course.

  6. I think the point being missed is that the Church considers itself to be the keeper of the true faith. And by extention, it shouldn’t participate in assisting another religious entity to persist in fallacy.

    The harm isn’t to the dead, but to those who are propagating the error.

    If the LDS were simply recording the data for the benefit of fellow researchers, I suspect there wouldn’t be an issue with it. But if they are doing it with an overt (genealogy research) and a covert (religious practice) intention, then the Church should have the right to have its way.

    To flip it around, if the Church provided the LDS the information, with the understanding that the LDS would &quot;unseal&quot; any Catholic it had posthumously baptised, would they? Probably not, because genealogical research is the means, not the end.

    Just my quick take on it.

  7. As a Catholic and family historian I would have been upset if I hadn’t read about the posthumous baptisms. No one has the right to presume on anyone, living or dead.

    The Catholic Church IS a private institution BUT it is also VERY open its members. Just in the last 6 months I utilized contacts in the Archdiocese of Phila for family research. They have their own website that families can access and every person I dealt with at either the Archdiocesan or parish level were VERY helpful and knowledgeable. I found family I never even knew about through their knowledgeable staff and volunteers.

    I’m glad that they are keeping my family’s records out of the hands of those with other motives. Would I like the info to be digitized?…YES…but that will be the Church doing it for itself and it’s members…in due time, I suppose.

  8. As a Catholic, I say Alleluia! The Catholic Church has a right to protect their records. They can digitize their own records in the future if they want. I would gladly pay a fee to search their records and I am by no means well-off. I can go to my hometown Diocese now when I am in town and research their microfilm all I want or for a minimum fee have someone look up dates for me, not any more than it costs to go to a FHC and order a couple of films. I often wondered why the church would let LDS microfilm their documents and I happy to see that they have put a stop to it. I appreciate that the Mormons have microfilmed so many records, but, as much as I love researching my family history, I agree with the Vatican’s position. It will be interesting to hear the Mormons response.

  9. sufferingsunfish

    It is a disappointing development. Although I’m not Catholic I do have relatives who are.

    If the LDS wishes to baptize my dead ancestors — so what? In my view and belief system it does nothing at all, so let the LDS do their thing but don’t deprive the rest of us of Catholic records.

  10. You would think the Catholic Church had more important things to worry about. I have always found it interesting that the RCC in my area keeps a choke hold on records (you pay $25 for one hour of research and you may or may not get info you need) but just across the river the RC diocese records (up to a certain year) are available on microfilm at the library. The official RC line is that records not open to the public for privacy reasons. I don’t think someone who has been dead for more than 100 years is really going to care that I looked at his/her baptismal record.
    As far as how Mormons use the records–some of my Catholic ancestors could probably use all the help they can get!!!!

  11. I think perhaps the Catholic Church is out to lunch. Either that or they are saving their records for when they can make money off of publishing them. Of course, they may just be thinking that they are better than the rest of the world and that NO CATHOLIC would ever want to research their own family history. I may be wrong, but I have yet to understand the reasoning behind a lot of the Catholic Church practices. Is it any wonder my family never stayed with that faith? Of course this means it is harder to trace the family but oh well – the Pope has no family to follow after him (that we know of) so he doesn’t have to worry about them trying to trace him down.

  12. These people should mind their own business and let this good work continue; what they don’t understand is we may be doing them a favor. By the way, know why Pope Benedict went out and bought two 10 pound bags of birdseed? Cause all the members of the &quot;Sacred&quot; College of Cardinals were hungry. Don’t you get it? Cardinals (Birds). and their Birds Nest is inside the Sistine Chapel.

  13. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I wanted to add a comment. We only baptize those who are our ancestors and the baptism isn’t binding if the person the work is done for does not accept it. I didn’t want anyone to think that we just baptize any and everyone. There are many people who lived good lives but did’t get the opportunity to be baptized. Sorry if that got a little &quot;preachy&quot;! I’m sure the Church will respect the wishes of the Catholic Church, but it’s disppointing.

  14. Wow, it only took a dozen comments to turn into mockery.

    Most of the western world derives from the values of our ancestors (which surely as genealogists we can all agree). These same ancestors were predominantly Catholic for longer than their more recent progeny have not been.

    Whether or not you understand Catholicism, or like or dislike the Pope or the structure of the Church doesn’t matter. It isn’t a public or democratic institution. Their records are their own to decide how to manage.

    You can’t barge into a private company or organization and demand to see the historical files of their employees and clients, right? So why should the Church be obligated to provide the same? Not a public or government controlled institution, so access is the choice of the keeper.

    If the Church is defending the faith (as it knows it to be), who are we (freedom-of-religion-loving Americans) to tell them otherwise? Unless of course we only respect the religions that give us free genealogy or don’t believe in themselves enough to stand up for their beliefs.

  15. Due to the fact that Catholic records are the only records for many places and times, I think they should be considered public records. As some people have noted, I’ll bet the Catholic Church will charge for research. I was surprised when I first found out that the Mormon Church doesn’t charge non-members. I don’t care that my ancestors may be baptised. I don’t see what good or bad it does after they’re dead. This control by the Catholic Church is one more reason why I left.

  16. I also was once a member of the Catholic church, but I respect their practices. Like Todd pointed out, the church is a public institution. The parish records are their own to keep, not keep, publish or destroy. I understand the disappointment, maybe the two religions will come to a resolution to the issue.

  17. It’s funny that Catholics don’t even believe in the premise of baptising after death – I was raised Catholic, am not one now – so where’s the problem if another religion believes in that? The Catholic church will provide records already, and at a price. When I wanted to get my Irish Catholic relatives’ records from a Church in England, I was told it would cost X amount of dollars. I couldn’t use a credit card, or send a check; it had to be in English pounds. The transfer fees would have cost more than the cost of the records. So much for my Irish research. In many Eastern European countries, the Catholic records were also civil records and as a result were copied by LDS (fortunately for us). Italy is a big problem, they won’t give up their records especially if a village is near the seat of a diocese. To me, baptising ‘someone’ after death is ridiculous, but to each his own.

  18. I would like to make two points:

    1. With all due respect to Michelle, while it may be the current policy of the LDS church to only perform baptisms for their deceased non-LDS family members, that has not always been the case. For many years (decades) the LDS church has &quot;gathered names&quot; through an &quot;Extraction&quot; program. This was done to provide names for the LDS people going to their temples, because so few LDS were actually working on their own family histories. Without the Extraction Program, they would have to greatly reduce the hours of operation of their temples.

    2. The LDS church members believe that after a person dies, their spirit still has &quot;free will&quot; – meaning that they can accept or reject the &quot;proxy baptism&quot; which has been performed on their behalf. LDS also teaches that it is the LDS members’ duty to perform the proxy baptisms, with the HOPE that the deceased person will accept it.

    This second point is what the Catholic Church should be aware of. Besides, they let the LDS microfilm the records to start with many years ago, and all genealogists have access to it now (albeit not as easily as if the indexes or digitized images were online).

    To paraphrase my late (non-LDS) Genealogy Mentor: &quot;If it’s true (the LDS doctrines), then the proxy baptisms are great. And if it’s not true, who cares?&quot;

    In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I used to be LDS, and I worked in and ran a family history center for several years.

  19. I am amazed at the comments ascribing the motives of the Catholic Church as petty and money-grubbing. Had you read the *original* news article (genealogists are supposed to locate the original source, aren’t they?), it would be obvious that the motive was a doctrinal one, having originated with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Had you followed up on the news story, you would have found that this is *nothing new*. The recent letter that was sent from the Vatican is simply a reiteration of one sent three years ago, summarizing what has always been the policy of the Catholic Church.

    I must conclude that the so-called genealogists who read this blog know nothing about Catholic sources in the US. Every diocese in the US has an archives; many, such as those in Pittsburgh and Detroit, have well-managed preservation programs that freely serve genealogists, without ripping them off, as alleged. Others open up their parish records at the level of the individual church.

    No other church (Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, Presbyterian,etc.) has turned over their records carte blanche to the GSU. And the LDS doesn’t allow non-members access to the records of its temple work. So why the double standard for Catholic sacramental registers? One can only conclude that the scurrilous comments above were made out of ignorance and bigotry.

  20. As a Catholic, I must say the Church’s position on this is remarkably misguided.

    I believe the Mormon’s call the practice ‘vicarious’ baptism. The pastoral way of looking at this would be: if vicarious baptism did not achieve Christian baptism, then the practice is harmless. If it did achieve baptism of dead souls – hey, cool.

    Too much to ask for the Church to take a logical position.

  21. I a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As such I am very disappointed that the records won’t be digitized and made readily available to everyone free of charge because of my church’s teachings. It makes researching my family harder. They were Catholic for generations but most are not anymore. But I believe that the Catholic church has every right to keep what is sacred, sacred. Just because you don’t understand a church’s practices doesn’t make them wrong. We have to respect their decision and just work harder.


  22. The directive from the Vatican Congregation for Clergy instructs bishops not to permit LDS/GSU to microfilm or digitize its parish registers. Thse sacramental records, kept by each parish, are for baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages, and funerals.

    The directive doesn’t say that parish registers can no longer be accessed on behalf of individuals. It only speaks about the microfilming and digitizing of parish registers.

    The Catholic Church is opposed to re-baptism. It doesn’t want to be a party to it or facilitate it. As a private institution, the Catholic Church has the authority to make decisions for itself.

    The Catholic Church may be aware that LDS members have posthumously baptized many Jews, including Jewish victims of the Holocaust, despite periodic promises by LDS leadership to put a halt to it. Nonetheless, some LDS members continued to perform these baptisms.

    As an example, Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and to hunting down the perpetrators still at large. He was born Jewish in 1908. Because he was Jewish, he was interned in concentration camps. Members of his family were murdered because they were Jewish. He lived his whole life as a Jew. When he died in 2005, he was a Jew. One year after his death, he was baptized by a member of LDS. Mr. Wiesenthal certainly knew about Jesus and about LDS. He chose to remain Jewish.

    This whole matter is discussed on the JewishGen website. The title is &quot;The LDS Agreement. The Issue of The Mormon Baptisms of Jewish Holocaust Victims And Other Jewish Dead.&quot;

    Everything below in quotation marks is from that article.

    &quot;This author was among the first genealogists to discover the names of thousands of Jewish Holocaust victims in the International Genealogical Index. The names were extracted mainly from two Holocaust memorial books [books commemorating people who were murdered by the Nazis]. &quot;Gedenkbuch&quot; was extracted by individuals; the &quot;Memorbuch&quot; was part of the Church’s ‘Extraction Program’, an ongoing program that acquired records and distributed them to trained Church member volunteers who then extracted the names and submitted them for posthumous baptism.&quot;

    &quot;American Jewish leaders…initiated discussions with the Mormon Church that culminated in a voluntary 1995 agreement by the Church to remove the inappropriate names. Has the church done anything to uphold its decade-old agreement with the Jewish community? The bad news is that the Mormons did (and still do) hijack Jewish genocide victims and other Jewish dead. Moreover, when a Jew is baptized, the door is open for all of his deceased ancestors to be baptized as well. Regrettably, their baptismal records place before the public a revisionist view that these deceased Jews were Mormons, a position they would have rejected in life.&quot;

    &quot;A commentator on this topic said that anti-Semites who desecrate Jewish cemeteries want to destroy even the memory of Jews by breaking their tombstones and other symbols whereby we honor and remember them. He concluded that baptism of the Jewish dead is just a more sophisticated form of breaking tombstones.&quot;

    &quot;The Mormon church discovered in 1990 that names entered from German, Dutch, French and Israeli rosters of Holocaust victims had been baptized by mistake and ordered that such baptisms cease, except for people who had living descendants in the church.&quot;

    September 1994: &quot;’The First Presidency of the Church has asked members, as far as possible, to honor and protect individual privacy. In 1972 they wrote: ‘Persons submitting names for other than direct ancestors [should] have obtained direct approval from the closest living relative of the deceased before submitting records pertaining to persons born in the past ninety-five years.’ Reminders of this policy appear each time Church computer programs and our other resources are used.’
    /s/ A. Gregory Brown
    Manager, Communications
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints&quot;

    April 28, 1995: &quot;In a statement issue today, the Church agreed, among other actions to be taken, to remove from the next issue of its International Genealogical Index the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims who are not ancestors of living members of the Church.&quot;

    May 1995: &quot;The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors have reached an agreement over the issue of the posthumous baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.&quot;

    December 2002: &quot;’Jewish and Mormon officials met to discuss new allegations that church members are still posthumously baptizing many deceased Jews, including thousands of Holocaust victims. Seven years after the church signed a legal agreement to do all it could to stop the practice, new evidence emerged that the church&#180;s vast International Genealogical Index lists as many as 20,000 Jewish Holocaust victims, and perhaps many more, all evidently baptized by proxy after their deaths.’&quot;

    2004: &quot;Despite a directive from Mormon leaders to stop the practice, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have continued posthumously baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims into the Mormon faith, adding more concentration camp victims to its roster of those offered conversion in the afterlife.&quot;

    2005: &quot;A committee with members of both religions will study how names get into the massive International Genealogical Index which has an estimated 4 million entries, what processes are followed, and how greater order can be brought to the unwieldy listing.&quot;

    December 2005: &quot;During the negotiations between the Mormon and Jewish communities regarding practice of posthumous baptism, the Church disclosed that in the late 1940s they issued a directive to members of their faith that it was proper for them to baptize their relatives as well as their ancestors. Specifically, once a Mormon has gone back in time as far as possible, it was expected that s/he would then come forward and baptize all the deceased descendants of that most distant ancestor.&quot;

    February 2006:&quot;Jewish Holocaust victims, described by the Church as having been removed from the IGI database, are reappearing in the lists of the posthumously baptized, name after name, family after family. Some of these Holocaust victims, murdered as young teenagers, have no direct descendants, yet the Mormon faithful submit their names anyway, falsely claiming descendancy.&quot;

    In 2003, the Armenian Church and the Russian Orthodox Church also stated their opposition to having their adherents posthumously baptized by LDS.

  23. I can only see this as a selfish act of the Catholic Church. I f these records are more than 70 years old as our government does it should be made available to the public. In some cases these are the only records available to genealogist. As far as the Jewish issue goes. No one should posthumously baptize an individual. That is the individuals decision not their descendants. Just because my 6th great grandmother was Jewish doesn’t give me the right to baptize her. I know they are not alive and have no voice, but their voices spoke strong and loudly when they were alive. They were proud to be Jewish and their memory should be honored.


    Mormans have and can continue to provide information to loved ones which the Catholic Church has not given sufficient concern to.
    Since Catholics believe their baptism is inviolate and dead are personally judged after death, Mormon belief of baptism of dead should not be a concern to Catholic heirarchy!

  25. I have seen on the LDS web site that my Scots-Irish Presbyterian great great great great grandfather has been posthmously &quot;baptized&quot; by the Catholic Church. It amuses me to think of him walking around in Heaven and having someone come up and tap him on the soulder and say, &quot;Do you know that you are now a Mormon?&quot; His first reaction was probably, &quot;What the **** is a Mormon?&quot; As a protestant, my view of baptism is that it is something that the individual involved must consent to either at the time of baptism or by confirmation at a later date, if that person was baptized as an infant. No one except the individual (or the parents in the case of an infant) has the right to presume to make that decision–not even desendants.

  26. I have tried to use the LDS information and found it to be quite inaccurate as far as my family is concerned. Yet I am certain that the copies of the baptismal records I received from a family church and a cemetery in Norfolk (ALL AT NO CHARGE), are very accurate (even if I did have to dig into old Latin to understand some of the baptismal data.

    As for the LDS records, not only do they have my birthday wrong, they also continue to claim that I died 23 years ago!

    I sent both the LDS researcher (Arthur Hill) and the church itself complete copies of relevant birth certificates to identify myself. I also included copies of pages from a published history of one branch of my family that clearly showed where Mr. Hill had been careless and screwed up.

    Mr. Hill, in his arrogance couldn’t admit his mistake and didn’t respond. For a long time, his name was deleted from the submitters page.

    The LDS merely responded that it could take a year for the actual records to be updated in their database. That was about EIGHT YEARS ago!

    Notwithstanding the fact that no other faith accepts these posthumous baptisms, what good could even they think they are if they are based on incorrect data?