On June 23, 1858, in a Bologna area under the Pope’s authority, the police arrived at the home of a couple of Jews: Salomone (“Momolo”) and Marianna Padovani Mortara. The purpose of the authorities was to raise one of the eight children of the family, Edgardo, who was only six years old.
Then the police had to transport the little girl to Rome to be raised by the state. Police officers acted on Pope Pius IX’s order. The reason? By the time he was a baby, the little boy had been clandestinely baptized in Catholic religion.
Edgardo Mortara, baptized clandestinely
While he was very young, Edgardo Mortara fell ill and was baptized urgently without the family’s consent. The one who baptized him was his bona, who thought the little one was in danger of death.
However, Edgardo survived, but five years later the inquisitor in Bologna found out about baptism.
In Catholic doctrine, “emergency” baptism can be done by anyone, male or female, Christian or not, to any person who is in danger of dying.
According to the Catholic Church, such baptisms were as valid as they were done according to Catholic norms.
Originally meant to alleviate the suffering of families affected by infant mortality, this measure was not designed to be used on Jewish families. And yet, little Edgardo was baptized in secret by the family bona fide.
The church said kidnapping was justified
A painting depicting the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
Thus, according to canon law, Edgardo was a Catholic Christian. According to the same law, Christian children could not be raised in a non-Christian family, even though there was a blood link between them.
That’s why the little Edgardo was kidnapped from the family and transported to Rome.There, he was accommodated at a shelter for converted Christians, where he was hosted at state expense.
Parents were forbidden to visit him for several weeks. Then they were allowed to see their child, but only under surveillance.
Pope Pius IX was personally interested in Edgardo’s fate and seems to have been involved in his growth. Church authorities have informed the boy’s family that they can only recover their child if they convert to Catholicism.
But they refused, seeking their righteousness before the Pope. Despite the family’s efforts to return the child, Pope Pius IX constantly refused to allow family reunification.
Later, Edgardo became a Catholic priest and expressed his gratitude for the events that helped him “to reveal Christ.”
The case of Mortara raises controversy
Edgardo Mortara (left) in adulthood, his mother and a priest of the Augustinian Order
The case of Edgardo Mortara, which happened 160 years ago, divides the Catholic Church now.
In his book, “The Rapture of Edgardo Mortara,” David Kertzer questions the existence of baptism, especially in the absence of witnesses to the event.
Kertzer investigates the story and says that Bona revealed the alleged baptism because he wanted to receive money from the Church. Moreover, it seems that the woman named Morisi was known as a thief.
On the other hand, a Catholic priest and professor of theology, Romanus Cessario, considers the Church’s decision to be justified.
Although it was painful for Edgardo’s family, Cessario says in a controversial book review , the removal of the boy’s family was a victory for the idea that baptism is irrevocable.
According to Cessario, those baptized, with or without their consent, must be raised according to Catholic religion . For many Jews, however, the Mortar case is an example of conflicting relations between Catholics and Jews.
Moreover, the Jews claim that Mortara’s abduction is yet another example of the fact that the Catholic Church treats the Jews as second-class citizens.