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Mormon church posthumously baptized slain journalist Daniel Pearl

First Published Feb 29 2012 03:51 pm • Last Updated Mar 02 2012 07:31 am

In yet another public relations embarrassment for the Mormon church, a Utah researcher has discovered that slain Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl was posthumously baptized last year in a serious breach of church protocol.

According to records, Pearl, who is Jewish, was baptized "by proxy" last summer in a Twin Falls, Idaho, temple — much to the surprise of his parents, who learned of the event this week.

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Reached by phone, Pearl’s mother, Ruth, said she and her husband were dismayed when informed of the ceremony by a reporter from the Boston Globe, which first reported the news. 

"We realize that the Mormon ministers who baptized our son posthumously meant to offer him salvation in the most honorable way they know how," she said in statement. "To them we say: We appreciate your good intentions but rest assured that Danny’s soul was redeemed through the life that he lived and the values that he upheld.  He lived as a proud Jew, died as a proud Jew and is currently facing his creator as a Jew — blessed, accepted and redeemed."

Pearl, who was raised in Los Angeles, was working as a Wall Street Journal reporter when he was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002.

In a video that his captors forced him to record just before his execution, he professed his faith, saying: "My father’s Jewish. My mother’s Jewish. I’m Jewish."

His parents later released a book titled "I Am Jewish," which contains a collection of essays by Pearl.

Posthumous baptisms are common in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The purpose of the sacrament is to ensure that ancestors can join church members in the afterlife.

Individual Mormons submit to the church the names of persons they wish to have baptized. Then a baptism is performed "by proxy," meaning another person stands in for the dead.

The practice has long stirred controversy, leading to a 1995 agreement between Jewish faith leaders and the LDS Church that was supposed to prevent the baptisms of Holocaust victims.

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Church rules stipulate that only direct descendants of the dead can submit their names for the sacrament.

But incidents have cropped up over the years.

In 2009, the church acknowledged that it had baptized President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, after her death. And just this month, officials were forced to apologize after they learned that the parents of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal had been posthumously baptized. They also admitted that three dead relatives of Holocaust survivor Elie Wisesel were almost baptized, as well.

Messages left with a church spokesman were not immediately returned.

In an earlier statement, the LDS Church said the incidents involving Holocaust victims were serious breaches of protocol by overzealous members of the church.

"It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place," a spokesman wrote in a statement. "It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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