MORTARA CASE


MORTARA CASE
MORTARA CASE, case of the abduction of a Jewish child by Catholic conversionists. On the night of June 23–24, 1858, Edgardo Mortara, aged six years and ten months, son of a Jewish family in Bologna, Italy, was abducted by the papal police and conveyed to Rome where he was taken to the house of catechumens . The boy had been secretly baptized five years before in an irregular fashion by a Christian domestic servant, who thought, as she said later, that he was about to die. The parents vainly attempted to get their child back. This flagrant abduction of a minor had many precedents in Italy. The church, moreover, had always maintained that the extemporized baptism of a child who was in danger of death was valid even if it had been carried out against the parents' will. The case caused a universal outcry. Napoleon III was among those who protested against the infringement of religious freedom and parental rights. sir moses montefiore went to Rome in 1859, in the hope of obtaining the child's release. The founding of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1860, in order to "defend the civil rights and religious freedom of the Jews," was due partly to this case. Pope pius ix , however, rejected all petitions submitted to him. In 1860, after the annexation of Bologna to the Italian kingdom, the boy's parents took new steps, again in vain, for the return of the child. With the ending of the pope's secular power in 1870, Edgardo Mortara who had taken the name Pius and in the meantime was a novice in an Augustinian order – was free to return to his family and religion. However, he refused to do so. Mortara, who preached eloquently in six languages, was such an ardent conversionist that he received the title of "apostolic missionary" from Leo XIII. He became canon in Rome and professor of theology. He died at the Abbey of Bouhay near Liège in Belgium in 1940. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Volli, Il caso Mortara nel primo centenario (1960); idem, in: Bolletino del Museo del Risorgimento, 5 (1960), 1087–1152; idem, in: Scritti… Federico Luzzatto (1962), 309–20; idem, in: RMI, 26 (1960), with illustrations; A.F. Day, The Mortara Mystery (1930); Meisl, in: MGWJ, 77 (1933), 321–8; B.W. Korn, American Reaction to the Mortara Case: 1858–1859 (1957); J.L. Altholz, in: JSOS, 23 (1961), 111–8. (Giorgio Romano)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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