BYU: Vatican Closes Records: Safety or Fear? Mormons react

Here is an amusing story from the newsie site for BYU:

Good, accurate historical records are hard to come by; especially those with names. Thanks to linguistic evolutions, military conflicts and numerous other factors, some periods of history have full, rich accounts while others have splotchy accounts at best. But even in the best of times, finding the names of the king and family is easy. Finding several generations of tenants or farmers can be near impossible.

Fortunately for historians and researchers, the Catholic Church has kept detailed membership registries for over 1,000 years, giving us the names, parents and birthplaces of every church member in society: princes, priests and peasants. In fact, these records have endured as one of the hallmarks of the Catholic clergy. These records have been a valuable asset to scholars, historians and even individuals doing personal research. These documents were of particular interest to Latter-day Saints trying to chart their own genealogy.  [Genealogy!  Okay!  So that’s what they’re doing!]

But not anymore. As of Monday, the Vatican has ordered all Catholic dioceses worldwide to cease showing membership records and registries to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Catholic officials say the order was an effort to prevent Mormons from baptizing by proxy their Catholic ancestors.

Catholic Church members and officials have spit out lots of good reasons and support for this decree. Catholic author Hugh McNichol said that giving out such records could be exposing embarrassing circumstances like a child born out of wedlock or of an unknown father.  [Well… yah!  People have a right to privacy, after all.] McNichol went on to say that this is private information, and "should be considered privileged information by all members of the [Catholic] Church."

If it’s private information, then why would it be issued to arbitrary scholars [What’s an "arbitrary scholar"?   Is this someone who just studies any old thing?  Someone who draws conclusions for no particular reason?] or historians over direct family descendants, if those descendants happen to be LDS? The idea of protecting family secrets is a fair one, but family secrets stay in the family, not the Church. They’re to be preserved only to immediate family lines, not released to Church selected and approved audiences.

Those wishing to access the documents must now prove a "legitimate reason to view these sensitive snippets of a person’s theological history," McNichol wrote. [That sounds reasonable.  Any research library or archive would ask the same.] What more legitimate reason can you get than keeping a continuing documentation of "a person’s theological history"? [A person’s "theological" history…] Or perhaps a better reason is needed before a private institution will release information about an individual to members of their own family.

McNichol even goes as far as to say Mormons taking these names to do baptisms for the dead is "comparable with piracy of a person’s free will and soul as well."

If they really are trying to protect the dead from "piracy of the soul," indulgences might be a better place to start than baptisms.
  [Hardly the same issue, really.]
But the heart of the issue of the Catholic Church’s belief that LDS baptisms for the dead are a "detrimental" practice. Therefore the record keepers are "not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."  [Sounds about right to me.]

Smells like fear. 
[Try sound common sense.]

If the Mormon Church is true, then part of LDS Church doctrine says that no one who has proxy baptisms done in their behalf is forced to accept the Mormon faith.  [Ehem… so what?] In a 2005 interview with the Associated Press, President Gordon B. Hinckley said that the baptismal rite is only offered to individuals in the afterlife, not required. "So, there’s no injury done to anybody," he said. So what’s the point of preventing baptisms by withholding names if the proxy baptisms don’t harm the individuals? 

And if the Mormon Church isn’t true – as the Catholics assert – and the practice of baptisms for the dead is false doctrine, then why hide the names? Wouldn’t that be like stopping a child from talking to an imaginary friend? Humor the kid; he and his friend aren’t hurting you. And he might have an imaginary army to back him up.  [Because Catholics would believe that to participate in such a thing, to cooperate materially in such a process, would be to cooperate in a rite of a false religion.]

This editorial represents the opinion of The Daily Universe editorial board. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Volpius says:

    Here is the Bishop of Utah’s thoughts

  2. Kradcliffe says:

    I know Jewish groups have been annoyed with this practice, as well. To some degree, I figure, you know… who cares? But, I do understand that the Catholic Church can’t participate in it. That’s a no-brainer. And, yeah, they really don’t understand indulgences at all.

  3. Steve Skojec says:

    Is it just me, or is this reminiscent of the issue with the Good Friday Prayer for the conversion of the Jews?

    I know I’ve made the argument that Jews shouldn’t be offended by our prayers for their conversion if they don’t believe that we are practicing the true religion. If we aren’t, our prayers will not be efficacious, and they have nothing to worry about – we are merely demonstrating an act of love according to our own religious understanding.

    The difference, of course, is that the Mormons want our participation in their actions. They can’t pray for the conversion/baptism of the dead without knowing their names. We have to provide them. This is a bit of a different story.

    In the end, I don’t believe any Mormon baptism of my dead relatives (or myself, when the time comes) will make a bit of difference, because I know they have an erroneous understanding of the supernatural order and, subsequently, an incorrect theology. That does not mean, however, that as an act of prudence the Church shouldn;’t refuse to cooperate with them. There’s a difference between letting them be and helping them to do something false.

  4. Ron says:

    I’m more interested in what an “arbitrary scholar” is and what “theological” ancestry means…I’d like to read an article explains those in-depth.

    It sounds fun, arbitrary scholarship…you could wake up each day, pick a new subject to investigate…wherever the wind blows…


    Pax Christi tecum.

  5. Jason in San Antonio says:

    Okay, so last night was trivia night at the pub. There’s a multiple choice component, where you see the possible answers on your answer sheet, but you don’t hear the question until it’s asked. So my friends and I take great delight in coming up with possible ‘questions’ to which the answers might be appropriate beforehand.

    Last night, the multiple choice options to one question were:
    A. Baptist
    B. Church of Christ, Scientist
    C. Jehovah’s Witnesses
    D. Mormons
    E. Quakers
    F. Presbyterians

    We came up with some pretty funny questions, especially about the Mormons and J-Dubs (e.g., ‘What is the most insidious heresy to have been invented in America?’ or ‘Which of the following groups are theologically most similar to Bogomils?’). (Drinking with other twenty-something Catholics is probably the greatest invention ever.)

    The real question? “Which of these Christian denominations”–at which I shouted across the bar “That doesn’t apply to all of these groups, sir!”–“meets in buildings known as Kingdom Halls?” Too easy.

  6. Jason in San Antonio says:

    Ron, isn’t that just what a blogger does? :)

  7. Brian C. says:

    Spot on. I’m sure that most faithful LDS members are trying to be kind in attempting baptism of the dead; it’s actually a very generous and praiseworthy thing for them to attempt (i.e. trying to “save” as many people as possible, by all [apparently] licit means), given their starting assumptions, and I give them full marks for their intentions. But even given their [incorrect] starting assumptions, Catholics should be no more obligated to turn over “deceased members” (by name) for “baptism of the dead” than non-Christian parents should be legally obligated to have their children baptized in the Catholic Church. “Compulsory baptism” isn’t baptism at all…

    In Christ,

  8. Maria S. says:

    I enjoyed your commentary. I can’t fathom why they’d be so upset that the Church would want to keep its records private? I mean, seriously, what right do they have to our records? These are private matters and I certainly wouldn’t want my records showing up in their files. Did that many dioceses share their records with the LDS anyway? If so, that’s disappointing and I’m glad that the Vatican has put a stop to it. I know they have a great genealogy site, but don’t they limit access to who can use it anyway? I’ve never tried to use it, as the few times I’ve tried to do family research, it’s been fairly easy because of the Catholic Church records and the fact that my family has been in New Mexico for hundreds of years, so it’s all pretty much here, with exceptions of course and that’s where I’ve stopped.

    As far as posthumous baptism, quite frankly it is offensive and insulting. I understood why the Jews were just as upset. The fact that they’ve allegedly posthumously baptized Pope John Paul II is just way too insulting to our faith and the Church. I respect people of different faiths and don’t chastise them for not being Catholic, but in return, I like my beliefs and faith respected as well.

  9. peretti says:

    Decision is against Brian C. Next case.

  10. Prof. Basto says:


  11. How about they show us the Moronic (after all, the so-called “angel’s” name was Moroni) tablets supposedly translated by Joseph Smith?
    Oh, wait! He lost them right?
    How convenient!

    All the bishop needs to say is “For our part, your baptize means nothing and doesn’t affect us. But, one, we will not cooperate in your sacrilege against God in your false religion. Two, you need to repent and come to the true Church of Jesus Christ.”

  12. LdG says:

    As an LDS person who is a regular reader of this (and other Catholic) blog(s), I have to say that I can see both sides of the issue. To be fair, most of the complaints I have read online (with some notable exceptions) tend to misunderstand the LDS doctrine of vicarious ordinances by suggesting that the practice tries to rob the dead of their free will, etc. Such is not the case.

    On the other hand, I understand why the Catholic church would want to keep its record private. They do, after all, belong to the church. Bishop Wester of SLC has said that this is primarily to preserve records. However, as many of you are aware, the LDS church has become the one of the largest preservers of genealogical records in the world, and they make their records open to the public. Actually there is a series of vaults drilled into a mountainside near SLC where these microfiche are stored. Literally billions of names are on file there, and only a small fraction of those have ever had temple ordinances performed in their names.

    It is, I understand, a very personal issue. But in my case I tend to feel some sense of ownership or connection with my ancestors. (I do not think this uncommon.) Any efforts to prevent me from finding out more about them feels like someone is holding them hostage. They are, after all, MY ancestors.

    In any case, I am interested to find out more about what constitutes a legitimate reason for getting those records. Would I be permitted to research my heritage only if I were not a Mormon?

    Most importantly, I hope that this does not strain official relations between the two churches. So many good things have been done in joint effort to try to alleviate suffering around the world. It would be unfortunate if our attitudes about records of the dead inhibited our ability to bring aid to the living.

  13. Ron says:

    Jason, good point! All bloggers are just arbitrary scholars. It makes blogging seem so much more academic…in a sort of arbitrary way :)

    Pax Christi tecum.

  14. Paricipation in a sacrilegous act is a huge no no, great job Fr. Z

  15. Fr. A says:

    LdG, you do not, of course, own your ancestors. I know what you’re trying to say; however, the issue is a serious one for the Church. Although I gave up genealogy a few years ago, before that, I had been doing it for about 25 years. I think genealogists (speaking as one myself) think they have a special right to these records; they don’t. I’m very happy that the Vatican has spoken up on this issue.

  16. Jackie says:

    Prof. Bastro–It came from BYU, Brigham Young University, which is THE Mormon Univerity so the fact that the article come from that particular .edu site does not suprise me

  17. Michael says:

    “Any efforts to prevent me from finding out more about them feels like someone is holding them hostage. They are, after all, MY ancestors.”

    According to the Bishop, researching the genealogy of your ancestors would seem to fall under the “legitimate reason” exception. He says, in part:

    “If an individual wants to approach a parish and say, ‘My grandfather, my great-grandfather was baptized here and I’d like to have a record,’ then the priest or deacon or the staff person will happily look it up and fill out a copy of a form, the baptismal record, and give it to them”

  18. Geoffrey says:

    I have been researcing my genealogy for years. The LDS opens their records to non-Mormons, which is very helpful for me. This ruling might be too late, however, as many parish records have already been recorded by the LDS. I have used their records to trace my Portuguese ancestry to the late 1700s so far. Of course, I have no intention of becoming a Mormon or “baptizing” any of my ancestors!

  19. LdG says:

    Thanks, Michael, for the clarification.

  20. Brian C. says:

    peretti wrote:

    Decision is against Brian C. Next case.

    Um… come again?

    In Christ,

  21. Richard says:

    So what this article is saying is that the Mormom Church should have the right to access Catholic diocesan records, but the Catholic Church should not have the right to block there access. They are thinking and acting like spoiled children.

  22. Richard says:

    So what this article is saying is that the Mormom Church should have the right to access Catholic diocesan records, but the Catholic Church should not have the right to block their access. They are thinking and acting like spoiled children.

  23. Bill says:

    It is amusing, of course. Since the info belongs to the Catholic Church, and not to the LDS, all their speculation is irrelevant. These are not public records at the courthouse. And the Church is entirely right to clamp down on the wholesale release of records in bulk.

  24. Jeffrey S Wilson says:

    Another good discussion of this topic over at Chronicles ( the article is by
    another outstanding Catholic thinker/writer, Scott Richert, and is entitled “The Dictatorship of Relativism”

  25. Ray from MN says:

    I have been researching my family history for over thirty years. There are two issues here.

    The Catholic News Agency article on this subject dated May 7 says the following:

    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.”

    It specifically refers to cooperation by parishes with officials of the LDS church who want permission to microfilm Church records.

    It makes no reference to requests by individual LDS church members for access to or information from Catholic Church records.

    This second practice would account for the preponderance of requests today. I doubt that the LDS church is spending a great deal of time in microfilming individual parish records any more. It is a huge expense and logistically complicated contacting many thousands of parishes and getting permission.

    Their major effort is turning towards the digitizing of the billions of records they have already filmed.

    Most European church records have already been filmed. The reason for this is that there are few civil records for average citizens from before 1850 or so. So the barn door is already open for a very large percentage of Catholic Church records.

    And before 1850, or so, it was illegal for priests to keep records (some did it anyway) in some countries, and in others many churches had been destroyed during the Napoleonic wars and their records were lost. Family history research is not easy if your ancestors were poor.

    So the question remains if parishes are to demand identification from people requesting genealogical information to ensure that the requester is not an LDS member or a member of some other group the uses invalid baptismal liturgies.

  26. Maureen says:

    The Mormons don’t just baptize their “ancestors”.
    They baptized my dead grandmother.
    When I found out about it, I was mad enough to spit.
    She would have given her life for The Faith.
    I found the Mormon presumption extraordinarily offensive.
    By the same token, I wouldn’t have been at all offended
    if they had tried to evangelize her during her lifetime.

  27. RBrown says:

    Anyone ever read the first Sherlock Holmes mystery, A Study in Scarlet?

    Those who have will understand.

  28. o.h. says:

    I don’t really see the problem with giving access to the records. Whatever one thinks of the theological motivations, the LDS have performed a public service by their genealogical researches. Thanks to some LDS cousins, I know who my once-mysterious Irish ancestors were. And I don’t see an ethical problem in enabling someone to engage in religious behavior you strongly disagree with; I’ve babysat for friends so they could attend religious services to which I have strenuous theological objections. Opening the archives, which will provide a secondary benefit for non-LDS through the Mormons’ research and database, just doesn’t seem so problematic to me.

    On the other hand, that was the most counterproductive editorial I’ve ever read. It was puerile and offensive, and when I got to the ill-informed and ill-judged crack about indulgences, I was ready to say it would be a cold day in Purgatory before *I’d* open the archives, were the decision mine.

  29. Jordanes says:

    o.h. said: And I don’t see an ethical problem in enabling someone to engage in religious behavior you strongly disagree with; I’ve babysat for friends so they could attend religious services to which I have strenuous theological objections.

    Babysitting your friends’ kids is not comparable to helping Mormons microfilm sacramental records for the purpose of proxy baptism. If you didn’t babysit, they might be able to find another babysitter. But Mormons can’t pretend to baptise dead Catholics unless we give them our private sacramental records (or unless they personally visit our cemeteries and write down names and dates — in which case we aren’t directly helping them).

    Personally, I’m not offended that Mormons pretend to invite dead people to join the Mormon religion. It’s not like Mormon proxy baptism does anything in reality — as St. Paul said, pagan idols and the false rites that are used to worship them aren’t real and efficacious, and neither is the Mormon rite of proxy baptism. If some Mormon wants to imagine that he has invited my deceased ancestors to accept their religion, let him.

    But that doesn’t mean the Church has any obligation to help. On the contrary, since we know Mormonism isn’t true, there is an obligation not to help.

    Now, there are also some other things to remember. For one thing, as others have mentioned, Catholic sacramental records are not public records — no, not even in those countries where Catholicism was the established religion and church tithes were collected and distributed to the clergy with the help of the State. The Church maintains these records only because they are necessary for the practice of the Catholic faith, not because we want to help people trace their genealogies. But even public vital records are not to be handed out to just anyone. In most states there are restrictions on who can get a copy of someone’s birth certificate — as a rule, unless you can prove you’re a close relative, or unless the person is dead or was born more than 75 years ago, you won’t be allowed to look at someone’s birth certificate. I believe dioceses have analogous rules: not just anybody can see sacramental records.

    Now, I can personally attest that the Mormons have definitely been immensely helpful to non-Mormons tracing their genealogies. Nevertheless, from the perspective of the Catholic Church, there are more important things at stake here than whether or not a genealogist is going to be inconvenienced.

  30. Tzard says:

    A couple of thoughts. Some keep saying that since Mormon baptism in ineffective, it has no meaning and can safely be ignored. I disagree – While it may not be bapstism, or have any affect on the soul of the dead, it is nonetheless offensive and we should not participate in it. It’s a simulation of a sacrament – by calling it by the same name (probably from their protestant roots). If there is a chance that our ancetors will be re-baptised with the help of our information, we should resist this strongly.

    Second point – during RCIA there comes a point where the new catchumens sign their names in a book. At that time, it’s sometimes emphaized that there was a time when signing such a book would be a death sentence. Even more recently that was also the case (c.f. the Soviet Union, or even modern day Saudi Arabia). That time may come again for any of us. Why are we giving up this informtion freely to non-christians (and even if you don’t agree with the standing of the Mormons, they do in turn make it freely available to anyone – even the Federal Governament, even the Government of Saudi Arabia, the KKK, anyone!….

  31. Mark says:

    To get a better feel for how rank and file mormons feel about this issue go and check out the story and comments in the Deseret News – one of two Salt Lake City based newspapers.

    This story is the most commented story by far in the newspaper: Over 750 comments.

    Very few as you might immagine are defending the Church’s stand. Perhaps some of you could present the Church’s view more clearly.,5150,695276377,00.html

  32. jon says:

    Mark, the comments being moderated on that website, do you seriously think The Desert News is going to allow the Church’s members to come to Her defense? Since when do heretics play fair?

  33. jon says:

    Mark, the comments being moderated on that website, do you seriously think The Desert News is going to allow the Church’s members to come to Her defense? Since when do heretics play fair?

  34. John says:

    What are the chances of the LDS allowing anyone to view lists of who has temple recommends or allowing everyone to know what rituals take place in their temples. I think the percentage of the chance that either of those things will happen is a nice round number. 0

  35. LdG says:

    John, I don’t think that you are comparing equivalent things in your comment. Mormons are seeking neither records of living Catholics, nor are they seeking information regarding Catholic ritual (secret or otherwise). On the other hand, Mormons already have made available the records of deceased Mormons (and anyone else for that matter) through FamilySearch. Your argument is, therefore, a false analogy.

    I can see sensible reasons for which the Catholic Church does not want to release he records (while I still may disagree). Reciprocity is not one of them.

  36. LdG says:

    John, you are not comparing equivalent things in your comment. Mormons do not want records of living Catholics, nor do they seek information about Catholic ritual (secret or otherwise). Your argument, therefore, is a false analogy.

    There are some sensible reasons for which the Catholic church does not want to release her records. Reciprocity is not one of them.

  37. LdG says:

    Sorry about the double post. I guess my internet is wonky tonight.

  38. EDG says:

    Jordanes – Since this “baptism of the dead” has no effect – and in fact, Mormon baptism even of the living is not considered valid baptism by the Catholic Church – it really doesn’t matter, in some senses. But I do think it’s a little over the line for them to expect to delve into Catholic records. However, I have a silly and pragmatic question: do Mormons thereafter count these “baptized” dead as having been Mormons? The Mormons love to inflate their statistics and also, even like more orthodox Protestants, spend much time trying to give themselves historical legitimacy and a past that goes beyond the 19th century. So I would suspect the “baptism of the dead” is connected with that effort. Mormons also regard themselves as the “true church” that was somehow bubbling along underground for 1500 years – well, make that 1800 years, in their case – and was then restored by a “reformer” or “prophet,” so they are eager to build historical roots for themselves. As if they could!

  39. peretti says:

    Catholics, check your state criminal statutes. If Mormons, or anyone else goes to a gravesite and “Baptizes” the interred, it may be that in some states, the person could be charged with grave desecration. Here in Colorado, things appear to be heating up between Mormons and Catholics. After the desecration of a Catholic parish church by Mormon missionaries a few months back, many Catholics are taking a rather dim view of Mormons. This latest episode won’t help any.

  40. I am occasionally caught at the door by LDS missionaries. I don’t know if they’re as persistent with everybody, or if they figure that a dumpy middle-aged mom is likely to be an easy sell for a couple of nice young men in ties, but they try really hard. They never get anywhere but a headache, but they do try. I don’t especially object to that, but if any misguided descendant of mine tries to Mormonize me retroactively, he’ll be sorry.

  41. Coletta says:

    Thank you again. God bless you.
    I laughed out loud at your speculation on who might be defined as an arbitrary scholar.

    I learn so much from your posts,and often laugh more than any other time during my day.
    p.s. love the bubble wrap

  42. Jordanes says:

    EDG asked: do Mormons thereafter count these “baptized” dead as having been Mormons? The Mormons love to inflate their statistics and also, even like more orthodox Protestants, spend much time trying to give themselves historical legitimacy and a past that goes beyond the 19th century.

    As I understand it, no, those who are proxy baptized are not counted as Mormons, since, according to their belief, they can’t be sure that the deceased person accepted the baptism – and anyway, whether or not their membership statistics are accurate, they do not count dead people as living members of their religion. Salt Lake City is not Chicago, where the dead have a right to vote.

    Mormons also regard themselves as the “true church” that was somehow bubbling along underground for 1500 years – well, make that 1800 years, in their case – and was then restored by a “reformer” or “prophet,” so they are eager to build historical roots for themselves. As if they could!

    Actually Mormons don’t believe that there was an underground church of true believers — that’s a Protestant belief. Mormons believe the church had completely vanished from the earth, that the gates of hell had prevailed, and had to be refounded, not just restored or reformed, by Joseph Smith.

    Peretti said: Catholics, check your state criminal statutes. If Mormons, or anyone else goes to a gravesite and “Baptizes” the interred, it may be that in some states, the person could be charged with grave desecration. Here in Colorado, things appear to be heating up between Mormons and Catholics. After the desecration of a Catholic parish church by Mormon missionaries a few months back, many Catholics are taking a rather dim view of Mormons. This latest episode won’t help any.

    Peretti, your comment is very puzzling. Mormon proxy baptism only happens in Mormon temples, not in cemeteries. It is called “proxy” baptism because a living Mormon, a proxy, undergoes the rite on behalf of the dead person. Neither water nor anything else ever touches a dead body or his grave. Mormons don’t go around baptizing graves or corpses, but they certainly visit cemeteries while doing their genealogical research for the purposes of gathering names for their proxy baptism rite. And I don’t know what the alleged desecration of a Catholic parish church would have to do with the spurious Mormon practice of baptism for the dead. Mormons don’t have to do anything to a parish church in order to perform their erroneous rites.

  43. Mark says:


    Are you sure about that – that the comments are moderated to such an extent that respectful comments would be purged?

    I don’t agree with you – sorry. Why don’t you post and come back and report to us whether this is the case.

  44. LdG says:


    Your comment was, in the main, quite accurate. I take exception to one comment however.

    Actually Mormons don’t believe that there was an underground church of true believers––that’s a Protestant belief. Mormons believe the church had completely vanished from the earth…


    …that the gates of hell had prevailed, and [the Church] had to be refounded, not just restored or reformed, by Joseph Smith.

    No, not exactly. Mormons do believe that the church was restored by Christ, through Joseph Smith as prophet, but that it was founded during the mortal ministry of the Messiah. This might seem like a mere quibble over word choice, but the theological implications are actually quite profound. Simply put, Mormons do feel that their faith is tied to, and, indeed, identical to the faith of the early Christians; they believe that they are built as much on the foundation of the 12 Apostles of old as on the prophetic efforts of Joseph Smith. (This is expressed in a very literal way in the Doctrine and Covenants, which forms part of the Mormon canon.)

    As far as hell (or death, in some translations) prevailing, not so much. In fact, I have spoken with some who insist that death/hell no more prevailed against the Church than it did against Christ himself: yes, both died, but both were resurrected, so to speak. To the extent that the Church is the mystical body of Christ, this is a fascinating correspondence.

  45. LCB says:


    Can you recommend any books that provide a solid introduction to Mormonism (is that the proper term? If it is, it should be changed to “Laterdarians”, because that word sounds much cooler). I know precious little on the topic

    I understand some of the basic theology, but from the Catholic side the apologetics seems pretty cut and dry. Total lack of historical evidence dating from the Apostolic and Patristic era, serious issues with Smith, etc. I’ve always presumed I’m missing something, since the historical problems faced by Mormonism are so glaring (at least, from my perspective).

    I hope that helps you recommend a good book.

    Slightly off topic, but why does a Mormon regularly read a Catholic blog?

  46. LdG says:

    LCB, you are right about Latterdarians. That would be awesome. Mostly, “Mormon” is accepted for convenience, and “LDS person/member” works just as well. “LDS-ism” is occasionally used, often in a more derogatory context, but I think the term itself is valid. (Of course, the official name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is frightfully unwieldy.)

    As far as books, I would be happy to recommend a few. (However, I ought to try to make it clear that trying to figure out Mormon doctrine can be like nailing jelly to a wall. There is no systematic theology as such; apart from a few basic doctrines, there can be surprisingly large variations in belief from member to member.) A good, basic introduction is “Our Search for Happiness” by M. Russell Ballard. It is very basic though.

    The Mormon writer of most importance in recent years is Hugh Nibley. He has an enormous corpus of work that can be intimidating even to Mormons who are familiar with the background. Krister Stendahl (Dean of Harvard Divinity) once commented after a Nibley lecture that “It is obscene for any man to know that much,” so, you’ve been warned! :)

    There is a list of his works here if any of them sound interesting. (His work on the LDS Temple rites would not be helpful to anyone who is not already conversant with the rituals themselves, as he tends to mention some practice from antiquity and then says, essentially, “wink, wink,” and expects the reader to make the connection on their own. So it’s great for Mormons, but, I imagine, pretty frustrating for anyone else):

    I would most recommend the biography “Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Bushman. He is a well-respected historian in his own right, and gives a rigorous yet faithful examination of the life of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Church. I really loved the book.

    Another fairly comprehensive book would be an LDS manual called “Gospel Principles,” available online here:
    Bear in mind that though this is published by the church, it is not necessarily official, nor is it always agreed with. (I take exception to some bits.) It is a good basic resource though.

    You can also download portions of a book called “Preach My Gospel”. It is the manual that missionaries actually use to learn what and how to teach. I recommend chapter 3 to start with. You can find it here:,4945,8057-1-4424-1,00.html

    Finally, for specific questions, there is an LDS apologetics site,, which I think could be very helpful. There are a lot of good articles on the Mormon view of various issues.

    That was probably WAY more info than you needed. Sorry. ;)

    As to your last question… theology has always been an interest of mine, so I am an avid reader of both Mormon and Catholic blogs. On my mission, I was befriended by a Catholic Priest and we had (and have) lots of great discussions. Liturgy, particularly, fascinates me––I often chant the Divine Office when I have time, and, whenever I have the rare pleasure of visiting my priest, I enjoy watching him celebrate the Mass, or visiting a local monastery. You could almost say that Catholicism is my secondary religion. (Meanwhile, I have a brother whose hobby is Eastern Orthodoxy. We go at it hammer and tongs sometimes, and you will be glad to know that I always put up a staunch defense for the primacy of the Pope and the rightful place of the “filioque.”) :) In any case, learning about Catholicism has given me a wonderful lens through which to see my own faith; it is interesting that a Catholic priest has been instrumental in teaching me a great deal about being a Mormon! In turn, whenever the two religions intersect, I like to add my two (fairly ecumenical) cents.

    If you have any other questions/comments feel free to drop me a line:
    nicholasjordansherwood at gmail dot com.

  47. Jordanes says:

    LdG, I don’t think we are really in disagreement on what Mormons believe about the restoration of the Church versus what Protestants might believe. If you agree with the statement, “Mormons believe the church had completely vanished from the earth,” then you must concede that is quite different from what Protestants believe about the existence of the Church on earth. And while a Latter-day Saint would not see the role of Joseph Smith exactly as a “refounding,” from the perspective of orthodox Christians that’s what his role would be.

    As for the Church dying as Christ did, but being resurrected, the problem with that analogy is that Christ having once died dies no more. Death has no more power over His flesh, nor has it any power over His mystical Body the Church. We live in the Era of the Resurrection — the Church cannot die and vanish from the earth. That’s not to say the Church can’t have some serious problems that need to be addressed, due to the weakness of her members, but the Church herself remains alive and immaculate.

  48. LdG says:

    Fair enough, Jordanes. I just wanted to point out that the word carries different connotations depending on the person talking. (This is one of the difficulties for Mormons in speaking about their beliefs with others: we all tend to use the same words but mean different things by them.)

    As far as the latter analogy, I would have been very surprised if you had agreed! :) However, I do think it’s important to point out that Mormons do not feel they are inconsistent with that scripture. Obviously, we have different understandings about what it means, but you would be surprised at how often I have had the verse in question quoted at me, as if I must not have been previously aware of it, and that now I had heard it, the only possible step was to renounce Mormonism immediately. Alas, that is the danger of proof-texting. I suppose that Catholics often get the same thing from protestants quoting St Paul about faith and works, as if those verses cleared up all differences as opposed to being part of what caused them. (At times, I have been so amused by this phenomenon that I have been tempted just to say, “Oh. Well then, I guess that settles that. What do I need to do to join your church?) :)

  49. Jordanes says:

    LdG, I would have been very surprised if you didn’t think Mormon restorationism is consistent with the promise that the gates of hell would not prevail. Still, even if the Church really did vanish and had to be restored by Joseph Smith, to an impartial observer such a thing would look no different than someone coming along, proclaiming himself a prophet and making up a brand new religion that he claimed was the long-lost reliigion of Jesus. That’s the problem with “conspiracy theory” approaches to church history. They really can’t be checked against historical evidence, and it is historical evidence that has always been Mormonism’s Achilles’ Heel.

  50. Miki Tracy says:

    My Response:

    On the 7th of this month, y’all published an op-ed piece, Vatican Closes Records: Safety or Fear? The short answer is neither.
    As the family historian for my regional clan branch since 1986, a die-hard, Traditionalist Roman Catholic revert and a self-dissassociated former member of the LDS sect who discovered the objective truth of Joseph smith Jr’s claims through long, hard and painful study, I’m here to tell you that Catholics “fear” nothing from Mormons but the misappropriation of prized personal family records by strangers.

    The Catholic Church had declared all ordinances of the LDS sect and all it’s offshoots as illigitimate, lacking in form, authority and validity and, ergo, of no real account. Therefore, you’d be mistaken to believe that any Catholic on the face of GOD’s Blue Jewel fears an ordinance or ceremony that is not valid–that’s just laughable. The problem is this: we Catholics do know our heritage (something that was pretty well stolen from me when I made the mistake of joining the LDS sect when I was 18) and we respect our elders, living and dead. But when some knucklehead comes along and usurps private the family records of others so that they can run on down to the local Temple and submit names for proxy ordinances, the LDS Church History Office goes off in turn, after said “ordinances” are performed and writes up nice little certificates as if they were fact, stating that the people whose names are on the record are now members of the “Restored Church.” From there, these “ordinances” become part of the published geneaological record in the public domain.

    Not so fast, people! In your zeal to try and make all the corporeally dead fall in rank with your ilk, you’ve violated the sacrosanct privacies of other peoples’ families and made quite a number of mistakes along the way. For instance, the LDS Church History Office informed me, when I was in my early twenties, that my parents and grandparents had all been added to the rolls of the LDS Church via proxy ordinances–and a nice little old lady made me photocopies of these records to prove it–copies that I still have. But there was a hitch. This was some seriously startling news to my family members named in the records…who were all very much alive at the time.

    Now whilst this explained why visiting teachers from Relief Society would make periodic visits to my mother, insisting that ours was an LDS home even when she was dangerously brandishing a rake in their direction assuring them that she was a life-long Catholic, and whilst it explained why my own Bapitimal Ordinance certificate read the way it did, it also caused some serious problems between me and my family elders–and some life-long hostilities that never quite healed. Although I was able to prove that these ordinances had been performed whilst I was still a little girl, the fact remained that my grandparents blamed me for aligning them with a religious “cult” that they viscerally hated. It fell on me to go back to Salt Lake and prove that my own relatives were still alive and have all of these records removed. It also fell to me, even though I was not the cause of this mess, to try and mend the fences that had been torn asunder by this violation of private information rightfully belong to others.

    The Mormon mindset is that the LDS Church must be “true”, therefore, y’all never even question the validity of Temple works by proxy. The problem is that when you make this assumption, with no critical thought as to the possible consequences to others, and take other people’s private vital data to use for your own pleasure in Temple work, the other people effected by your choice to violate the privacy of thers won’t and don’t necessarily take it so kindly.

    People researching their own family history find records through or other search engines; they reseach microfiche records in local genealogical libraries and, lo and behold, more times than not, Aunt Mildred discovers through cousin Sophie in Boise that Grandma Grace had her name and baptismal records from St Augustine’s Catholic Church in England submitted for Temple work by some brazen yahoo that no one in the family has ever even heard of all the way over in Nebraska. Then Aunt Mildred calls Aunt Rachel who gets Uncle Bud on the phone and the outraged trio calls Msgr. O’Dyer in Bristol to find out who the hell has been stealling the family histories right out from under our bloody noses….And then these three turn around and each one calls three more relatives, who call three more, and so on and so on….Get it?

    Now, in the long run, this is actually great news for me, personally. This is the same thing as Mormons who steal the water off of Catholic ranchers land in Idaho for their own cattle (don’t tell me it doesn’t happen–I’ve watched it with my own eyes) because they believe GOD entitled them to just because they think all Catholics are “lost”. It’s okay to screw other people, so long as they aren’t members of “our” Church–so goes the thinking almost every single Mormon I’ve ever known in my life. What Mormons seem to forget, however, is that when your missionaries show up at the doors of people who’ve had these experiences, you no longer have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a convert out of that contact. And if you do get lucky enough to make a golden investigator out of the deal, then I get to come in at the behest of the family, root around for these experiences and remind the investigator about these kinds of bad faith behaviour by members of the LDS Church (which, I have to tell them, doesn’t stop once you’re a member, it only gets worse) and wham!!! There goes Elder Wet-Behind-the-Ears’ newest convert. Ah, sorry, Elder–I know you really wanted to tell that story at your Homecoming….

    So, I guess what I’m saying is go ahead–keep on stealing other people’s family information and using it for Temple work. In the reality of eternity, it truly means nothing at all because LDS ordinances have no efficacy outside the weird imaginations of the LDS faithful, so Catholics have absolutely nothing to be a-“fear”-ed of. If y’all want to piss people off so that they’re not only screaming bloody murder at poor Father O’Shaunessey about the Parish Record that he let those two nice ladies photocopy in the recory office, but they’re also screaming just as loud at every poor, unwitting LDS Missionary who hits their doorstep then please, by all means, go for it. It certainly makes my job a whole heck of a lot easier. Just don’t be expecting the whole Catholic Church to stand idly by while you misuse her own records for religious rites that have no basis in reality–we’re not going to help you promote the myth.

    But thanks for the amusing article–really wild suppositions always make me smile!

    In His Grace,

    Miki Tracy

    +Omnia ad majorem Dei gloriam!

    Wine is strong, kings are stronger; women are stronger than these, Truth is strongest of all! Founding member Rantings from the Pitbull of Catholicism–or so I’m told

  51. Miki Tracy says:

    My apologies for not proofreadings–its late, and I honestly don’t care that much as long as I got the point accross.

    In His Grace, miki

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