Helen Radkey, the whistle-blowing former Mormon whose discoveries of posthumous proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims, Mahatma Gandhi and slain Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl prompted the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make a technological change that has effectively blocked her access to its database, is accusing a former church official of making a veiled threat this past Sunday.
The Salt Lake City researcher said a former LDS bishop, Larry Shaw, called her Sunday night "to silence me as a dissenter." She also said that he invited her "back to the Mormon church. I declined the offer, giving Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon a pass."
Shaw told HuffPost that he called Radkey "as a friend" to express the love the church offers. He denied threatening her in any way.
According to Radkey, Shaw "told me, years ago, as a Mormon bishop in Salt Lake City, that God would kill me if I laid a hand on the Mormon church. The first question he asked me tonight was how is my health?"
She said that Shaw asked her three separate times about her health in an hour-long phone call and that she interpreted that as "insidious personal harassment." She also said Shaw, now a coordinator at a church school in Atlanta, "implied that I might soon be going to the other side because of my age."
Shaw denied threatening Radkey this week or, as she claims, in the 1980s when he was a bishop in Utah. He also said he supported the church's position that Holocaust victims who are not related to a member of the church should not be subjected to posthumous baptism.
Asked why he decided to call Radkey out of the blue after more than two decades -- on the Sunday a letter from LDS Church leaders telling members not to attempt to posthumously baptize anyone besides their own relatives was read from the pulpit -- Shaw said he did it because he knew from media reports that she was upset.
Shaw said he called Radkey "[t]o invite her, if she is feeling disaffected from the church, to invite her to come, as Jesus said. ... There is no feeling of animosity that I have. ... I wanted her to know if she ever chose to, there's a feeling of love. That's why I called her, to express that love."
But Radkey described Shaw's call as "harassment." Because of her work to uncover instances of the unwanted rituals being performed on non-Mormons, "I've been threatened," she said. "I won't put up with it anymore," she added, in explaining why she went public about the call.
The latest twist in what has proved an embarrassing episode for the LDS Church comes the same week the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the church, in an apparent effort to address repeated violations of agreements with the Jewish community that date back to 1995, tweaked its database to prevent any more such violations.
In a statement, church spokesman Michael Purdy said:
"The church is committed to preventing the misguided practice of submitting the names of Holocaust victims and prominent individuals for proxy baptism. In addition to reiterating its policy to members, the church has implemented a new technological barrier to prevent abuse of the New FamilySearch system. Anyone trying to access names that have been restricted will have their account suspended and be required to contact FamilySearch to establish their family relationship in order to have their access reinstated. Abuse of the system will result in the permanent loss of database access."
The multiple posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victim Anne Frank and of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl -- as well as preparations to posthumously baptize the still-living Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and his call to the country's most famous Mormon, Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, to speak out against the practice -- had prompted demands for stricter safeguards in the church's database.
But Radkey and others argue that the church's technological change appears to be aimed more at her than at the eager baptizers.
Jewish genealogist Gary Mokotoff said the change made by the church was designed to deny Radkey and other researchers the ability to uncover efforts by overzealous Mormons to posthumously baptize people outside their families. "It is not an effective way to block Holocaust victims but could seriously prevent Helen from searching for victims," he said.
"Mormons are so desperate to block investigative access to their huge uncontrolled file of baptized names, they are tracking those who access this data, and locking out those, like myself, who find controversial names, names they would conceal," Radkey contended via email.
As previously reported by HuffPost:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints explains it carries out the practice of proxy baptisms "because all who have lived on the earth have not had the opportunity to be baptized by proper authority during life on earth. Baptisms may be performed by proxy, meaning a living person may be baptized on behalf of a deceased person. Baptisms for the dead are performed by Church members in temples throughout the world."
"The person acting as a proxy uses only the name of the deceased," according to the church, leaving the "mortal remains of the deceased" undisturbed. "To prevent duplication the Church keeps a record of the deceased persons who have been baptized."
Just because a name of an individual is submitted for a proxy baptism doesn't mean that the ritual takes place.
"Such baptisms can only be performed in special fonts in Mormon Temples," the BBC has reported. "Women act as proxies for women and men for men. There are witnesses present and a proper record is kept, although the ceremony does not make the person for whom the baptism is performed a Mormon."