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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at LMS Chairman

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

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at BESA Center

More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship