Friday, January 26, 2018

Italy: Why Some Catholics Defend the Kidnapping of a Jewish Boy

Via Atlantic:
One summer evening in 1858, the police showed up at the home of a Jewish family in Bologna, Italy, and took their six-year-old child. Authorities had discovered that the child, Edgardo Mortara, had been secretly baptized when he was a baby. Edgardo had fallen gravely ill and his Catholic nanny baptized him for fear that he would die a Jew and be locked out of heaven. But Edgardo survived—and, in the eyes of the Church, he was now a Catholic. Papal law mandated that all Catholic children must receive a Catholic education, and so he was separated from his Jewish family, with Pope Pius IX personally overseeing his religious education.

The “Mortara case” spurred a wave of protests, with activists and intellectuals from Europe and the U.S. petitioning Pius IX to return the child to his parents. The pope refused. Edgardo eventually became a priest, and in 1940 he died in a Belgian monastery. The Vatican never apologized for his kidnapping specifically. But in 2000, John Paul II issued an apology for the persecution of Jews. Today, the dominant Catholic attitude toward the Mortara case is one of regret: “It’s not one of the episodes that the Church is very proud of,” Massimo Faggioli, a Church historian at Villanova University, told me.

Now, however, conservative voices are defending Pius IX’s decision to abduct a Jewish boy. In the latest issue of First Things, a right-leaning Catholic magazine, the Dominican priest and theologian Romanus Cessario wrote a review of Kidnapped by the Vatican? The Unpublished Memoirs of Edgardo Mortara, which recently appeared in English translation. In the book, author Vittorio Messori, an Italian Church historian, goes through Mortara’s personal archive and defends the abduction. Likewise, Cessario calls the law upon which Pius IX acted “not unreasonable” and casts Edgardo’s kidnapping in a positive light: “Divine Providence kindly arranged for his being introduced into a regular Christian life.”

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