In a bid to prevent "posthumous rebaptism" by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy has directed bishops' conferences to stop allowing Mormon genealogists access to parish baptism records.
Catholic News Service reports that an April 5 letter from the Vatican Congregation for Clergy asks episcopal conferences to direct all bishops to keep the Latter-day Saints from microfilming and digitising information contained in those registers.
The order came in light of "grave reservations" expressed in a January 29 letter from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the clergy congregation's letter said.
Fr James Massa, executive director of the US bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the step was taken to prevent the Latter-day Saints from using records, such as baptismal documentation, to posthumously baptise by proxy the ancestors of church members.
Posthumous baptisms by proxy have been a common practice for the Mormons for more than a century, allowing the Church's faithful to have their ancestors baptised into their faith so they may be united in the afterlife, said Mike Otterson, a spokesman in the Church's Salt Lake City headquarters.
In a telephone interview with CNS, Otterson said he wanted a chance to review the contents of the letter before commenting on how it will affect the Mormons' relationship with the Catholic Church.
"This dicastery is bringing this matter to the attention of the various conferences of bishops," the letter reads. "The congregation requests that the conference notifies each diocesan bishop in order to ensure that such a detrimental practice is not permitted in his territory, due to the confidentiality of the faithful and so as not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Fr Massa said he could see how the policy stated in the letter could strain relations between the Catholic Church and the Latter-day Saints.
"It certainly has that potential," he said. "But I would also say that the purpose of interreligious dialogue is not to only identify agreements, but also to understand our differences. As Catholics, we have to make very clear to them their practice of so-called rebaptism is unacceptable from the standpoint of Catholic truth."
The Catholic Church will eventually open a dialogue with the Mormons about the rebaptism issue, Fr Massa said, "but we are at the beginning of the beginning of a new relationship with the LDS. The first step in any dialogue is to establish trust and to seek friendship."
The two faiths share intrinsic viewpoints on key issues the United States is facing, particularly the pro-life position on abortion and an opposition to same-sex marriage.
However, theological differences have cropped up between Mormons and Catholics previously.