Pope Pius IX life was deleted so that you can read about the story of a young Jewish boy taken from the home of his parents during the papacy of Pius IX to be raised as a Catholic. I added the Spielberg commentary since he’s doing a movie on this.
Steven Spielberg movie to examine notorious Catholic kidnapping of Jewish boy based on David Kertzer’s, “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara” published in 1997.
In recent years, no event more surprised Catholics than the story of a young Jewish boy taken from the home of his parents during the papacy of Pius IX to be raised as a Catholic. Though it caused an international furor in its time, the story had been generally forgotten until resurrected in David Kertzer’s, “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara” published in 1997.
Kertzer makes the argument that the Mortara affair was a sign of the roots of racial anti-Semitism that would emerge in Italian Fascism, and as such the Church played a role in establishing the framework for the Italian racial laws of 1938. This misunderstands the motivations involved in the Mortara affair at the time, and forgets that it was the Church that protested vehemently the 1938 laws and was the single greatest protector of Italian Jews during the war years.
In June 1858, Bologna was still part of the Papal States and the Mortara family had settled there. Edgardo, age six, was one of eight children of Marianna and Momolo Mortara. The Mortaras had employed a Christian servant to help in raising the children. It had come to the light of Church authorities in Bologna, specifically the Dominican head of the local Inquisition, that the servant girl had baptized young Edgardo as an infant when she thought he was in danger of dying. (This was one of the very clear reasons why Christians were not supposed to be employed in Jewish households. It was against the law for Jews to be baptized without consent and fear of just such cases was at the heart of the legislation.)
The law in the matter was clear: a baptized Christian could not be raised in a Jewish home. To do so at that time would be seen as being a party to apostasy, a denial of the validity of Baptism, and endanger the soul of the baptized. Edgardo was taken from his parent’s home and transported to Rome, where he would be raised a Catholic.
The difficulty for the Church, and Pius as he became aware of the affair, was that it was left with little choice at the time. It was simply considered impossible for a baptized child to remain in a home where he would not be raised Christian. Such experiences were commonplace even decades later in America. As late as the early 20th century, it was common for Irish Catholic children to be plucked off the streets of New York and transported to the West to be raised by solid Protestant families.
Edgardo would eventually study for the priesthood and be ordained. He remained a monk and died in 1940 at the age of 88 at a Belgian abbey where he lived and studied for many years.
The Mortara affair supplied the enemies of Pius IX with a strong propaganda weapon at a point when the Papal States were about to collapse. The extent of the vitriol aimed at Pius was enormous and worldwide. Adopting the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the Know Nothings, Jewish groups in the United States saw it as a Jesuit-inspired conspiracy of “soul-less lackeys,” compared Pius to the “Prince of Darkness” and reminded their Protestant audience of the “history of these incarnate fiends, written in the blood of millions of victims.”
Was Pius XI’s refusal to return Edgardo Mortara an act of pure anti-Semitism? In the context of the times, it clearly was not. This did not involve racial prejudice. The Church in Rome had a long history of defending Jewish converts to the faith and accepting them completely after such a conversion, as was done in the case of Edgardo Mortara. In his actions, Pius reflected both the generally accepted norms of the time concerning families of mixed religion.
During the long pontificate of Pius IX, the Church was transformed in every aspect of its life. Religious orders experienced a growth unimaginable a generation earlier. In 1815, the Church as an institution in continental Europe had nearly been destroyed. When Pius IX died on February 7, 1878, after a 32-year reign, the Church had been reborn.