In a letter sent to all of the Episcopal conferences of the world, the Congregation for the Clergy has reiterated the desire of the Holy See that Catholic parishes refrain from opening their archives to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, who often request information through the Genealogical Society of Utah.
The letter signed by the prefect for the Congregation, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, indicates that “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, through a letter dated January 29 of this year, has responded to a question—raised by some bishops—about the possibility of allowing the Genealogical Society of Utah (Mormons) to microfilm and digitalize the information contained in parish registries.”
“In complete agreement with the grave reservations expressed by that Congregation,” the letter continues, “this dicastery desires to notify your episcopal conference, so that each Diocesan Ordinary be instructed not to consent, in his respective territory, to the above-mentioned practice which violates the privacy of individuals and, in addition, would involve cooperation in the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”
The “erroneous practices” referred to in the letter from Cardinal Hummes is the LDS belief that one’s ancestors can be saved through “posthumous baptism.”
The Genealogical Society of Utah uses the ancestral lines reconstructed from parish archives in order to determine which ancestors can be “saved” through “proxy baptism.”
According to a source with the Congregation for the Clergy consulted by CNA, the letter from Cardinal Hummes “reiterates what the same Congregation stated on April 29, 2005, in protocol letter N. 20050757 signed by then-prefect Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos.”
Since the Diocese of Salt Lake City contains a large concentration of Mormons and the headquarters of the LDS Church, CNA contacted Colleen Gudreau, the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Salt Lake City to find out how this letter impacts the diocese.
Ms. Gudreau explained in an email to CNA that, “the Diocese of Salt Lake City has never released parish registers and has always had policy not to” therefore, “there is no need for any additional action.”
Although the letter from the Congregation for the Clergy mentions bishops who reported requests being made for baptismal records, Gudreau said that she is “not aware of any such requests” being made in the Diocese of Salt Lake City.
Rather than negatively impacting the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Mormon Church, Ms. Gudreau said she believes the letter will bring about a greater mutual understanding.
“The Diocese of Salt Lake City and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect and cooperation. Although we have a lot in common, there are also differences. The letter underscores one of the differences and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dialogue requires truth. It helps us achieve a greater level of understanding,” she said.