Was the Catholic Church Justified in Kidnapping a Jewish Child?

Jan. 12 2018

In 1858, in the city of Bologna—then part of the Papal States—a Catholic servant secretly baptized six-year-old Edgardo Mortara, the ailing son of the Jewish family that employed her, believing that the ritual could cure him of his illness. When the authorities found out that a child whom they deemed a Christian was now being raised by a Jewish family, they kidnapped him. Pope Pius IX, despite the pleas of Edgardo’s family and the subsequent international outcry, personally intervened to ensure that the kidnapped child would be kept from his parents. In a recent essay, a Dominican priest has defended Pius IX’s decision. Joseph Shaw, the chairman of the Latin Mass Society, takes issue with this defense:

States routinely intervene in family life where the good of members demands it. This interference is sometimes absolutely necessary, but it remains extremely important that it is kept within strict limits. The integrity of the family in general, and the rights of parents over children in particular, do not exist at the pleasure of the state: as the Catholic Church has consistently taught, they predate the state and their prerogatives cannot be overridden by the state. In this case, the justification for overriding the rights of parents over a young child was that the child had been baptized. . . .

The duty of baptized parents or godparents to raise a baptized child in the [Christian] faith was not being violated by [Mortara’s] parents: they had no such obligation. It was to fulfill the child’s right to a Catholic upbringing that he was removed from his family. No one claimed that the parents had done anything wrong.

The right to a Catholic upbringing is violated, however, by every nominal Catholic family . . . that fails to educate its children [according to Catholic teachings]. . . . While the Church would have greater justification for demanding state intervention in cases where the parents are baptized, it would appear that in such cases there is actually far more reluctance to intervene. Only in the most extreme cases would children be taken from their baptized parents: no one in the Papal States was demanding small children from parents who had, for example, simply lapsed. Something strange is going on here.

I’m afraid the strange thing going on is the attitude toward the Jews. I don’t want to engage in any kind of self-flagellation, but it is a historical fact that the treatment of the Jews in Catholics countries has not always been just, and since we do not think popes are impeccable there is no a-priori reason to think the shadow of such injustice should not have fallen on the Papal States. The civil law and policy applied to the Mortara family placed Jews in an especially disadvantageous position, compared to other families who might be failing to bring up their baptized children correctly, and I do not see the moral or theological justification for this special treatment.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Catholic Church, church and state, Edgaro Mortara, History & Ideas, Italian Jewry, Jewish-Catholic relations

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank