Friday Open Comments

Edgardo Mortara with his mother and brother

The story begins here in the Roman Catholic journal, First Things, with Romanus Cessario and his article, “Non Possumus.”

At nightfall on Wednesday, June 23, 1858, a knock came on the door of Salomone and Marianna Mortara, Jewish residents of Bologna. Only the wife was at home with the children. It was the papal police force. “Your son Edgardo has been baptized,” announced Marshal Lucidi, “and I have been ordered to take him with me.”

A few years earlier, the Mortaras had left the duchy of Modena, then under the rule of the House of Austria-Este, and moved to Bologna, the second-largest city of the Papal States. There they joined a community of some two hundred Jewish people, mostly merchants, who had carved out a comfortable living for their families in that fat, erudite, and reddish city. Though the walls of the Jewish ghettos had come down by that time, certain regulations still separated Christians and Jews. One of these forbade Christians from being employed in Jewish households, precisely in order to prevent situations like the one in which the family now found itself. The Mortaras had ignored this regulation. When their infant son, Edgardo, fell ill and was judged to be beyond recovery by both doctors and parents, he was secretly baptized by his Catholic nanny, Anna Morisi.

A few days later, the Jewish journal, Tablet, notes the dustup.

The most addictively fascinating controversy now percolating through the American Catholic Internet has to do with the fate of a Jewish-born child seized from his family nearly 150 years ago. Last week, First Things published a book review essay by the Dominican priest Romanus Cessario, arguing that Pope Pius IX had acted correctly in forcibly separating the Jewish-born six-year-old Edgardo Mortara away from his parents in 1858. A Catholic caretaker secretly baptized the infant Mortara when he was dying and thought to be beyond recovery. Mortara survived his illness, and five years later, Pius IX, who was the head of state in the Mortara family’s Bologna, ordered that the boy be taken from his parents and made the pope’s personal ward in order to ensure that the now-Catholic child could be brought up in accordance with his religion. Mortara eventually became a Catholic priest, and died in 1940.

I’m so weary of politics I welcome something, anything of substance to argue about and discuss.  The hysterics at the reliably regressive Forward newspaper gave us this gem of a  headline Catholic Magazine Justifies Kidnapping, Converting Jewish Baby.  Although…

A lot of the opposition to Cessario, however, came from tradition-minded Christians. Joseph Shaw, a Catholic scholar and chairman of the Latin Mass Society, calls the Mortara case “one of the most indefensible actions by any Pope of modern times,” wryly observing that “the whole point of being Traditional Catholics is that we are not slaves of the daily thoughts and doings of Popes.” Cessario’s article also put a Catholic priest on record as defending the state-sanctioned separation of a halachically Jewish child from his own family, which was a source of queasiness for the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher, a non-Catholic who is nevertheless the author of traditionalist manifesto The Benedict Option. “This is monstrous,” Dreher wrote. “They stole a child from his mother and father! And here, in the 21st century, a priest defends it, saying it was for the child’s own good.”

The heat is on and so the editor of First Things, R.R. Reno, must respond.

Needless to say, therefore, I did not publish Romanus Cessario’s review of Edgardo Mortara’s memoir in order to rehabilitate Pius IX. Nor did I want to encourage Catholics to kidnap Jewish children who had been baptized in secret. Were such a result remotely likely in 2018, I would have killed the review with prejudice. My purpose in bringing this episode forward was to confront us with the daunting force of God’s irrevocable decrees.

That force is not always happy, at least as we count happiness in our finite, mortal frame. It drove Pius to his ill-considered decision. But even when we avoid his errors, we must face the implacable truth that God’s covenant with us establishes realities that we cannot redirect or reshape as we wish.

and these,

This does not mean indifference to the concerns of the other. Had I told the story of Mortara, I would have emphasized the fatal role secular power can play when put into the hands of ecclesiastical authorities. As John Paul II put it, the Church proposes; she never imposes. And I hope I would have given proper regard to the anguish of memory that weighs upon my Jewish friends.

Cessario proceeded otherwise. He emphasized the powerful logic of a Catholic belief in sacramental efficacy. He makes suspect moves. His defense of the theological cogency of Pius IX’s actions relies on the assumption that baptism creates a duty for the Church to educate a child, a duty that overrides the rights of parents. (Given this premise, one wonders why Pius did not remove children from nominally Catholic parents who failed to catechize their children. Was Edgardo targeted because he was Jewish, not simply because he was baptized?)

There is nothing like a good theological food fight.


Thursday Open Comments

BREAKING NEWS—Amid claims that the ungodly, disgusting substance could not have possibly been conceived of by a benevolent creator, the great adversary, Satan, published a video claiming he alone was responsible for the violent attack upon humanity known as “kale.”

 Authorities had long surmised that whoever invented the bitter, repulsive leaf cabbage did so with malevolent intent, and the dark lord’s statement confirms that kale was in fact designed to be an act of terrorism against mankind.

“Yes, you fools! It was me all along,” Satan said on the video posted to social media Tuesday. “Who else do you think could have deceived people into paying tons of money for horrible, overpriced organic kale chips and salads?”

“Only I, the Father of Lies, could possibly have convinced people they actually like the nauseating taste of kale!” he added before breaking into ominous, booming laughter.

At publishing time, the Devil had also claimed total and complete responsibility for kombucha and quinoa.

Wednesday Open Comments

Carlos Dominguez

Carlos Dominguez was waiting at a traffic light in the northern Mexico border city of Nuevo Laredo with his son, his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren when men armed with knives flung open the car door.

Dominguez, a 77-year-old opinion columnist who had worked as a journalist for nearly four decades, was stabbed 21 times, according to Mexican authorities. They said he was attacked by at least three men who remain unidentified and at large.


Eleven journalists were slain across Mexico in 2017, with no culprits arrested in most of those cases. Dozens of reporters have fled the country or gone into hiding.

In the Gulf Coast state of Tamaulipas, where Nuevo Laredo is located, 15 journalists have been killed since 2000, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. The commission, an independent government watchdog, has sent investigators to Nuevo Laredo to look into Saturday’s attack.

The whining little brats impersonating real journalists in Washington, DC don’t know what a real war on the press is and would be hiding under their beds if such a thing happened in America.

Somebody let me know when Sarah Huckabee-Sanders whips out her Glock and starts blasting holes in Jim Acosta.

Weekend Open Comments

Seismograph Hand, Tomball, Texas, 1945

By Esther Bubley

Esther Bubley was born February 16, 1921 in Phillips, Wisconsin, the fourth of five children of Russian Jewish immigrants Louis and Ida Bubley. In 1936, while Esther was a senior at Central High School in Superior, Wisconsin, the photo magazine Life first hit the newsstands. Inspired by the magazine, and particularly by the pictures of the Great Depression produced by the Farm Security Administration, she developed a passion for photojournalism and documentary photography.

as well as,

At SONJ, Stryker continued the photographic documentation of American life that he had begun for the federal government. Interpreting his mission broadly, he dispatched his photographers all over the country to show that “there is a drop of oil in everything.” Bubley is best known today for two early SONJ projects: a 1945 portrayal of the oil town of Tomball, Texas, and the 1947 “Bus Story,” which spotlighted the role of long-distance bus travel in American life. She traveled far and wide — from Minnesota iron mines to Massachusetts onion fields to North Carolina paper mills — producing monumental depictions of industrial and agricultural labor. After Stryker departed Standard Oil in 1950, leaving 55,000 photographs in its archive, Bubley continued to work for the company. She traveled to Europe, Asia, Australia, and Central and South America, often combining SONJ work with assignments for other corporations. Her 1952 SONJ photo-essay on Matera, an Italian town transformed by the construction of a hydro-electric dam, and her 1954 photo-essay for UNICEF on treatment of the eye disease trachoma among the desert inhabitants of Morocco, are considered her crowning achievements outside the United States.