LOS ANGELES • 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 was baptized “by proxy” last summer in the Twin Falls temple — much to the surprise of his parents, who learned of the event this week.
Twin Falls temple officials were looking into the matter Wednesday evening and could not confirm or deny Pearl’s baptism.
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. According to the paper, the researcher is Helen Radkey, an excommunicated Mormon who combs through church archives.
“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, generally referred to as the Mormon Church. 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.
Names are supposed to be submitted with the permission of family members, said Del Traveller, area spokesman for the church. If Pearl’s name ended up at the Twin Falls temple, it could have been because the submission was made elsewhere, processed in Salt Lake City and then sent to Twin Falls to disperse the volume.
The practice has long stirred controversy, leading to a 1995 agreement between Jewish faith leaders and the Mormon Church that was supposed to prevent the baptisms of Holocaust victims.
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 Mormon 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.”
Times-News writer Andrew Weeks contributed to this report.