A researcher who has found documentation that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was performing proxy posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims, celebrities and other non-Mormons said that relatives of Rep. Paul Ryan, the Roman Catholic running mate of the country's most prominent Mormon, Mitt Romney, were on a list of future baptisms or had the ritual performed on their behalf.
Helen Radkey told The Huffington Post that despite recent security measures, she found the names of Ryan's father, grandfather and great-grandfather in a genealogical database open only to Mormons.
Radkey, whose research is independent, said a search for first names and cross-referencing of dates and birthplaces with information available online revealed entries for:
- Paul Murray Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman's father. He died of a heart attack in 1986 when Ryan was 16.
- Stanley Martin Ryan, Ryan's paternal grandfather, who was born in Janesville in 1898 and died in 1957.
- Patrick William Ryan, the paternal great-grandfather, who founded the family construction company and passed away in 1917.
"Why are names of Paul Ryan's deceased family in the Mormon database of posthumous rites? This is a Catholic family ... with roots in Ireland on his dad's side," Radkey said.
Beyond Radkey's research, there is no confirmation that these people are members of Ryan's family. A request for comment to a Ryan representative was not returned, nor were requests for comment to Romney's campaign.
The proxy baptism ritual performed in the Mormon Church is meant for those who die without "the opportunity to be baptized by proper authority during life on earth." It is a ceremony performed by a living person acting on behalf of someone who is dead, according to the church's website.
"If a name is on these lists, that shows the intention to perform posthumous rites for that name," Radkey said of the records she found in New FamilySearch, the password-protected database restricted to church member-use and maintained by the church.
The Mormon Church earlier this year tightened access to the database, with the stated aim of "preventing the misguided practice of submitting the names of Holocaust victims and prominent individuals for proxy baptism," according to a church spokesman. Anyone who tries to access restricted names without proving a family relationship is automatically locked out of the system and his or her account is suspended. The security measures are seen by some as an effort to thwart Radkey's research.
Church members are allowed to "work only on their own family line" and must not submit the names of unrelated prominent people, according to the database rules.
Radkey is an excommunicated Mormon and is not authorized to look up names on the Mormons-only website. She said she did not click on the Ryan names to learn details of the rituals and whether they had actually been performed.
"I am not opening them, and running the risk of losing my log-in," Radkey wrote in an email to HuffPost. "All we can tell from these copies is the three Ryan names were submitted for proxy rites."
It is "besides the point," said Radkey, that she is not authorized to look up names on the website, which is separate from the church-run Family Search genealogical database open to anyone.
Radkey said that a disgruntled Mormon friend gave her the login, but that she will not delve further into the Ryan family trees online for fear of losing it. Radkey has lost two other access codes since finding documentation that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was Jewish, was baptized after he was beheaded by Pakistani militants in 2002, as well as later while she was researching Romney's ancestors.
The ritual has reportedly been performed in the name of Hollywood celebrities, Mahatma Gandhi, Anne Frank, and the still-living Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. When Wiesel learned his name was entered as "ready" for posthumous baptism, the famed Holocaust survivor told HuffPost that Romney "should speak to his own church and say they should stop" performing such rituals on Jews.
But church spokesman Lyman Kirkland said Wednesday in an email that the "ready" classification is misleading. "This characterization is inaccurate," he said. “'Ready' [next to a name in the database] in no way means a baptism is imminent; it only means that a name in the genealogical database has been determined to be an actual person. The term 'ready' as shown in the database is probably causing confusion and will likely be changed to something that describes the process more clearly."
Radkey disputed that claim, saying, "If a name is on New FamilySearch lists, this will not be for genealogical purposes only. It usually means posthumous rites."
The LDS church has issued apology after apology for members targeting Holocaust victims despite promising to put an end to the rituals. This week, a delegation from the American Jewish Committee met with senior church leaders in Salt Lake City to discuss "advances in mitigating Jewish concerns regarding the issue of posthumous baptism of Holocaust victims."
Romney has not responded to the proxy controversy in the past and has not spoken of the ritual -- or about other aspects of his faith -- during the presidential campaign. In 2007, he told Newsweek that he had performed proxy baptism "in my life, but I haven’t recently.”
Now, months after the headlines about Romney and proxy baptisms have faded, the documentation that Radkey said she has found could reignite the issue.
Romney's selection of Ryan is historic; some are calling it the first major party ticket with no Protestant Christian. But many Catholics are just as put off by proxy baptism, in part because popes going back a thousand years have been subjected to the ritual.