Simon Wiesenthal Center Condemns Justification of Kidnapping of Jewish Child That is the Subject of a Steven Spielberg Film

The Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed its outrage over an article written by Fr. Romanus Cessario of St. John’s Seminary in Massachusettes which defended the actions of Pope Pius IX in the kidnapping of a Jewish boy in 1858 from his parents because he had been secretly baptized by a servant. According to Cessario, Pius had no choice if he wished to act consistently with Church teachings. “The kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara and the refusal of Pope Pius IX to return the child were scandalous back then. A century and a half later, the moral revulsion that attaches to that incident has only increased,” wrote Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Center’s director of interfaith affairs.

Fr. Cessario’s essay, likely linked to an upcoming Steven Spielberg film, “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, was published in First Things. It has drawn criticism from Christian figures like Robert George at Princeton, and commentators Sean Michael Winters and Rod Dreher.

“Defending the indefensible through theological contortions dishonors the Church…By Fr. Cessario’s thinking, the gift of baptism is so great, that it would have been a tragedy if young Edgardo had not been kidnapped...” Wiesenthal Center officials added.

They also expressed dismay that Fr. Cessario’s article made no mention of all the positive changes in Church attitudes towards Jews that have taken place since Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, and the remarkable friendship of Pope St John Paul II. (The latter, as a young prelated, refused to allow Catholic couples to baptize Jewish children who had been left with them during the Holocaust in an effort to spare them.)

Rabbi Cooper added, “At a time of skyrocketing anti-Semitism around the world, Cessario’s apology for the savaging of Jewish integrity sends an unintentional but dangerous message to readers: that Jews are less entitled than others to enjoy the rights of family and conscience…”