France turns on Mormons over 'baptism of dead'

The French state is growing increasingly anxious about the "baptism of ancestors" by the Mormon Church.

The French state is growing increasingly anxious about the "baptism of ancestors" by the Mormon Church.

According to an investigation in yesterday's Libération newspaper, Paris is having second thoughts about a 13-year-old agreement allowing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to microfilm all birth and death registers and parish records in France up to the beginning of the 20th century. Under the agreement, made in 1987, the Mormon church agreed that the records would not be resold and would be used only by its members.

According to their doctrine, Mormons must "baptise the dead", or attempt to baptise their ancestors as far back as they can be traced. In return for allowing Mormon researchers to film the records - anyone is entitled to write them down - the French government received two free copies of each microfilm for its own archives.

But the agreement failed to take account of the internet. The information gathered so far, covering 56 of the 100 French metropolitan and overseas départements, and containing the names of 400 million dead French people, is now available on the Mormon website, familysearch.org.

Similar efforts are under way to trace ancestorsin other countries, including Britain (where most parish records can be freely consulted). This drive - officially an effort to "bring together the human family" - has produced a vast archive of three billion names, which are stored in a "genealogical library" contained within cellars hollowed out of a hillside near Salt Lake City.

The information is an invaluable source for genealogists and individuals tracing their roots, whether they are Mormons or not. But the French government fears it is being used, subtly, by the Mormons as a recruitment tool. French civil liberties organisations fear it amounts to a creation of a "secret file" on the human race.

It also raises the odd possibility that many of us are post-facto descended from newly baptised Mormons, without knowing it.

Although not officially admitted, ex-Mormons have spoken of "mass baptisms" of the dead, using names gathered by researchers. In other words, the Mormons are gradually kidnapping all our ancestors.

Christian Euvrard, a spokesman for the Mormons, said it was impossible to know whether "the spirits of the dead" accepted the invitation to become Mormons. He said: "We are not hijacking them. The dead have their own independent referee. Between his death and his resurrection, Christ preached the gospel to the dead.

"Our belief is that men and women can be converted in the spirit world, after their death. For us, there is no one more alive than a dead person."

The posting of the French records on the internet - which implicitly breaks the 1987 agreement - was raised with the Mormon church by the director-general of the French archives, Philippe Belaval, in June. The French Ministry of Culture is to meet civil rights groups next month to hear their complaints.

The French national committee for information and liberty fears that the Mormon file could allow living people to be classified according to their race or religion or enable the health history of their ancestors to be investigated without their knowledge or agreement.

Mr Belaval acknowledged to Libération that there was a potential problem. "The existence of this website has led us to question the way the state and the [Mormons] agreed to use this information. Why is the church putting this information on the web? For what purpose and in what context?

"The 1987 agreement failed to foresee the coming of new technologies. We cannot remain with the status quo."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones