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Key Findings in Analysis of Memoir of a Jew Raised Catholic


Brown University professor David Kertzer sorts through documents on his computer, including a photo of Pope Pius IX, in his office on the Brown campus in Providence, April 17, 2018.

The case of Edgardo Mortara has roiled Catholic-Jewish relations ever since the 6-year-old Jewish boy was taken from his home in Bologna by papal police in 1858 and brought to Rome to be raised a Catholic. The move was ordered after church authorities learned he had been secretly baptized. Church law at the time required all Catholics to be raised as Catholics and educated in the faith.

Recently, the case has made headlines again after a U.S. historian, David Kertzer, found discrepancies between the Spanish text of Mortara's memoirs held in the archives of his religious order, and an Italian translation published in 2005 by Italian journalist Vittorio Messori.

The Associated Press this week located the Spanish text in the Historic Archives of St. Peter in Chains, a Rome church famous for its Michelangelo statue of a horned Moses, and compared it with the Italian translation. Here are the key findings of the AP analysis:

* The 89-page notebook-sized autobiography, El Nino Mortara y Pio Nono (The Mortara Child and Pope Pius) isn't actually Mortara's original, hand-written text, which Kertzer says was penned in 1888. Rather, it is a typed up, spiral-bound booklet prepared nearly a century later by the Rev. Juan Oleaga, a Spanish member of Mortara's religious order who also prepared a typed-up booklet of Mortara's correspondence in 1994.

* In a brief introduction to the autobiography, Oleaga wrote that he faithfully typed Mortara's text and that it was "fruit of a spirit that possesses the truth." He said Mortara died ever grateful to Pope Pius IX, who authorized his removal and took him under his wing, and remained close to his family "even though he never got to see them converted to Catholicism."

* Oleaga appears to have written a long footnote in the first few pages of the text in which he justifies the taking of Mortara from his parents and recounts a tearful reunion between Mortara and the Inquisition official responsible for it. That footnote — written in the same typeface as Orteaga's introduction and set off from the Spanish text with an asterisk — is seamlessly integrated into Messori's version as if Mortara himself had written it.

* Mortara's anti-Semitic comments contained in the original Spanish were removed in Messori's version, including reference to Mortara having "always professed an inexpressible horror" toward Jews. Mortara's original writings that the faith of his family was "false, contradictory, absurd, condemned by history and burdened by the 'ridiculous' which the majority of men condemn," was reduced in Messori's text to Judaism being merely "contradictory and surpassed by history."

* Messori's version removes references to the "neurosis" and psychological problems Mortara suffered later in life and omits a reference to his "violent" removal from his parents and how much he missed his mother. It also said he was "miraculously" cured from the illness that prompted his baptism. The Spanish text makes no reference to a miracle.

* Kertzer points out that even Mortara's original Spanish contains factual errors, including names and dates that were corrected in Messori's version. Mortara's account also includes an anecdote that Kertzer says has no basis in documentary evidence: that Pius, after learning of the baptism but before removing the child, had tried to persuade his parents to accept a compromise to send Edgardo to a Catholic boarding school in Bologna so they could visit him "whenever they wanted." Kertzer says that based on court testimony from the time, there is no evidence of any such negotiation and that when the police arrived to take Edgardo away, it came as a complete shock to the family.

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