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Rome Reports

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Vatican's unresolved “kidnapping” case unraveled in new book

Many unresolved mysteries and legends remain about the Catholic Church, but what if one of these stories involves being kidnapped by the pope? It's a mystery so deep that even Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has started to make a movie in the footsteps of this book, “Kidnapped by the Vatican?”

“The Mortara Case” begins in 1858, when six-year-old Edgardo Mortara was taken from his family, after the discovery he was baptized Catholic in a near-death situation by his maid. The Pontifical State forbade baptized children from being raised in non-Catholic families, so Pope Pius IX took him and became his “substitute father.”

Contributor, “Kidnapped by the Vatican?”

“The child was a baptized Catholic, so Pope Pius IX saw it as his moral duty to ensure the spiritual welfare of this Catholic child, in this case, even at the expense of removing him from his very distraught parents. This is extremely distasteful to us, of course, but I think in all honesty we have to ask ourselves just where the difference between this and the contemporary cases of the state removing a child from his parents to protect his or her physical welfare lie.”

At the time, the Church preached that salvation was possible only for Catholics. This was the reasoning behind taking the baptized child from his Jewish parents to be raised with a Catholic education in the Vatican. 

Contributor, “Kidnapped by the Vatican?”

“One of the interesting things about this case to me is precisely the fact that the moral rights and wrongs of it look entirely different from within the acceptance of the Catholic faith versus without the acceptance of the Catholic faith.”

This book explores the case by revealing never-before-seen memoirs of Edgardo Mortara. They present how the child, who later became a Catholic priest, viewed his “kidnapping by the Vatican” and what the Jewish community, the media and politicians believed concerning the decision by the papal states and Pope Pius IX.