The Atlantic

Why Some Catholics Defend the Kidnapping of a Jewish Boy

It’s not about the Church’s relationship with Jews. It’s about the culture war inside the Church.

One summer evening in 1858, the police showed up at the home of a Jewish family in Bologna, Italy, and took their six-year-old child. Authorities had discovered that the child, Edgardo Mortara, had been secretly baptized when he was a baby. Edgardo had fallen gravely ill and his Catholic nanny baptized him for fear that he would die a Jew and be locked out of heaven. But Edgardo survived—and, in the eyes of the Church, he was now a Catholic. Papal law mandated that all Catholic children must receive a Catholic education, and so he was separated from his Jewish family, with Pope Pius IX personally overseeing his religious education.

The “Mortara case” spurred a wave of protests, with activists and intellectuals from Europe and the U.S. petitioning Pius IX to return the child to his parents. The pope refused. Edgardo eventually became a priest, and in 1940 he died

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