On June 23rd 1858, the papal police arrived at the Mortara residence to take into custody a child named, Edgardo Mortara. Why? Because five years prior, he had been secretly baptized by a Christian nanny, named Anni Morisi. So, they took him. And the Pope Piux IX himself treated Edgardo as his child.
The child was catholic and his parents were Jewish. For Roman Catholics, this was insufferable because the child was catholic because of his baptism; of course, Edgardo nor his parents had any idea that he was Roman Catholic. Romanus Cessario explains, “Except for the solicitude of Blessed Pope Pius IX, the Mortara child may never have learned of his baptism.” One wonders if Roman Catholics have missed something in their doctrine of baptism!
Reactions And a Modern Defence
Reactions were rather negative as one might expect. The child was ripped away from his parents because of a secret baptism years prior. According to Romanus Cessario, “Pope Pius IX, who had been elected in 1846, was not deterred by the negative reactions. In fact, he repeatedly replied to those who, in the face of the public brouhaha, urged him to return the Mortara child, ‘Non possumus‘—that is, ‘We cannot.'”
Cessario surprisingly supports Pius IX’s actions. Under Piux IX, Cessario writes, “The sacramental character that Edgardo Mortara received when he was baptized by Anna Morisi flourished.”
The problem is that pope Pius IX sanctioned the (legal) kidnapping of Edgardo and deprived his parents of him. Despite local law allowing for this, it is not good. And it also shows a deficient view of Christian baptism and a devious application of what baptism means.
Baptism does not save you; it does not make you a Christian. Peter, whom Roman Catholics claim is the first pope, agrees when he writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:21).
Note: “Baptism … now saves you” but not water baptism, the “removal of dirt from the body.” Rather, “an appeal to God” … “through the resurrection” saves us. In short, appealing to God saves you through Christ’s resurrection, which is likened to passing through the waters of Judgment like Noah did in the past (1 Pet 3:20).
Baptism is the evidence that you are a Christian or at least it’s the sign of the promise of the Gospel.
The pope get it wrong. He kidnapped a child because of a fallacious view of baptism.
And I think we can agree that this is simply wrong.
And the tale shows, at the very least, that our positions on theology matter. Had Pius IX believed differently, Edgardo would have grown up with his birth parents.