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

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat