How the Vatican’s Kidnapping of a Jewish Child in 1858 Started a Controversy in 2018

Jan. 19 2018

In 1858, in the city of Bologna—then ruled directly by the Vatican—a six-year-old Jewish boy was surreptitiously baptized by a domestic servant and then forcibly removed from his parents so that he could be raised as a Catholic. Despite the ensuing international outcry, Pope Pius IX personally ruled that the boy, Edgardo Mortara, not be returned to his family. Last week, Romanus Cessario revived the controversy with an essay justifying the kidnapping, sparking many condemnations and some defenses. To Matthew Franck, even Catholics of a conservative disposition ought to condemn Pius IX’s actions:

Did the Cessario piece jeopardize Catholic relations with Jews? It shouldn’t. . . . But Jewish concerns are perfectly understandable: the Mortara case is better and more painfully remembered in the Jewish community, while many Catholics had never heard of it until now. And, rather shockingly, Cessario’s [essay] made essentially no concessions to the sensibilities of Jews or of anyone else who believes the legal abduction of Edgardo Mortara “offends against the dignity of the family as a natural institution,” in the words of [one Catholic commentator].

[One reason for the controversy] is that inside the Catholic intellectual world another debate is raging today, between the adherents of, respectively, “integralism” and “liberalism,” over the relationship of the church to political power. The terms of this debate are still sorting themselves out, but . . . the integralists are sure about what they’re against: liberalism, a word they use as an epithet to describe not only today’s progressive left but the whole edifice of the modern free society, with its emphasis on individual rights, limited government, and free markets. . . .

But in truth we can discuss the Mortara case, and condemn the pope’s actions in it, without folding the discussion into the integralist-liberal debate at all. Pius IX . . . was wrong in the Mortara case—grievously so—for venerable Catholic reasons he should have understood even in his own day. . . . Even further back than Thomas Aquinas, the church has taught that it is wrong to baptize Jewish children against their parents’ wishes, much less to take them from their parents. . . .

Edgardo’s parents were alive, capable, and non-abusive. Nonetheless Cessario endorses the simple progression from a valid baptism, to the church’s duty to a young Christian, to Pius’s forcible seizure of Edgardo. [His argument] rests on an erroneous view of the legitimate reach of state power. Pius wore two hats, the spiritual and the temporal, and, led astray by his sense of spiritual obligation to a baptized Christian, he wrongly used his temporal authority to snatch Edgardo from his family (and then compounded the injustice by raising the boy himself, without benefit of a married mother and father, as would be normal in a Catholic adoption).

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Catholic Church, Freedom of Religion, History & Ideas, Jewish-Catholic relations, Liberalism

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela