Was the Catholic Church Justified in Kidnapping a Jewish Child?

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.

Read more at LMS Chairman

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

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security