David Kertzer concludes by observing that Edgardo Mortara’s story has fallen through the cracks of history thanks to its embarrassing features for both Roman Catholics and Jews. The difficulty Mortara presents to Rome is relatively easy to see, but one website captures the change in Vatican policy well:
One of the reasons the Church ordinarily restricts the administration of baptism to priests and deacons (while allowing for laity and others to do so when someone is at the point of death and a priest or deacon is unavailable) is to prevent precisely the kind of confusion your mother-in-law has created by taking it upon herself to baptize her granddaughter without the parents’ permission.
1. There is such a thing as conditional baptism, but it is a baptism given when the validity of the original baptism is in question or when there is doubt as to whether a baptism occurred. In this case, the baptism your mother-in-law performed — assuming she did it correctly — would be the original baptism. Should her granddaughter’s parents choose to return to their Catholic faith and raise their daughter as a Catholic, a priest or deacon would perform a conditional baptism both to make sure it is done correctly and to start a sacramental record.
2. Since her granddaughter presumably was not at the point of death when your mother-in-law baptized her, the baptism she performed is presumably valid but illicit. That means that your mother-in-law should go to confession to confess having performed an illicit baptism.
3. I can only recommend that your mother-in-law admit to the child’s parents what she has done. They need to know so that they will know that the child needs conditional baptism, not unconditional baptism, should they decide to raise her Catholic or should the child eventually decide to become Catholic herself. Even were the child baptized when she was in extremis, the parents would still need to know about the baptism once it was clear she would survive. The only difference is that your mother-in-law should apologize for an illicit baptism. If the child was baptized while in extremis, an apology is not necessary. If such an admission is not made, and the parents or the child decide eventually for baptism, then the child may receive an unconditional baptism — which would be objective sacrilege since baptism cannot be unconditionally repeated.
4. No, the child does not now need to be raised Catholic either by her parents or her grandmother, particularly if her parents continue to remain opposed to it. The Church now recognizes that it is not necessary to impose a Catholic education on a baptized child who was baptized without the permission of the parents and whose parents are opposed to their child being a Catholic. The Church learned the hard way from the case of Edgardo Mortara that such attempts to do so only cause bitter resentment by the families and by future generations and thereby deepen estrangement from the Church.
The embarrassment to Jews is less obvious until we remember how Edgardo turned out. He became a faithful Roman Catholic, entered the priesthood, and ministered out of a monastery in Belgium for much of his life. As a boy, Edgardo adopted Pius IX as his second father as much as the Pope adopted him as spiritual (and temporal?) son:
At Christmastime each year, Edgardo was called to the Vatican for a visit with the Pope. On these occasions, as Edgardo himself later fondly recalled them, Pius IX “always lavished the most paternal demonstrations of affection on me, gave me wise and useful training and, tenderly blessing me, often repeated that I had cost him much pain and many tears.” When he was still little, he recalled the Pontiff, “like a good father, had fun with me, hiding me under hi grand red cloak, asking jokingly, “Where’s the boy?’ and then, opening the cloak, showing me to the onlookers. . . . The Pope beamed with pride, as, at his prompting, the little convert translated Latin passages for him, to the delight of his visitors. (David I. Kertzer, Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, 255)
Edgardo did have meetings with family members later in life. One came when his brother, Riccardo, was part of Italian freedom-fighter forces to liberate Rome from the Vatican’s rule:
When, however, Riccardo appeared in the doorway of Edgardo’s convent room, wearing the uniform of the Italian light infantry, he was in for a rude welcome. His 19-year-old brother, dressed in an initiate’s robes, placed one hand over his eyes to shield them from the sacrilegious sight and raised the other in front of him, signaling Riccardo to stop where he was. “Get back, Satan!” Edgardo shouted. But, the crestfallen Riccardo replied, “I am your brother.” To this Edgardo responded, “Before you get any closer to me, take off that assassin’s uniform.” (263)
Edgardo also met his mother once he had been ordained:
In 1878, Mariana Mortara, now widowed and with all of her nine children grown, heard that Edgardo was preachign in Perpignan, in southwestern France. Accompanied by a family friend, she went to see him. It had been twenty years since she had last laid eyes on her son. It was a poignant reunion, for Edgardo felt great affection for his mother. But try as he might to turn her onto the path of eternal blessing and happiness, he could not gt her to agree to enter the Catechumens and convert.
From that moment Edgardo, remained in touch with his family and, as he aged, sought out family members when he found himself in Italy. But while his mother made peace with him, not all of his siblings were so kindly disposed. (298)
That is why Edgardo Mortara never became a cause celebre for Jews:
For Italy’s Jews, it is not the pain of the Mortara memories that has made its discussion uncomfortable, but the embarrassment. The battle between the Jews and the Church was played out in a struggle over a 6-year-old boy. For the Jews, the Church’s claim that Edgardo could not remain with his Jewish parents because he had been supernaturally transformed by baptism was doubly insulting. Not only did it demonstrate their vulnerability to the Church’s political power, but it also asserted a Catholic claim to possession of the true religion, to a privilege relationship with the Almighty, and to the dismissal of Judaism as error, if not worse. When the Church began to publicize reports that Edgardo was showing signs of his supernatural transformation, the discovery of what, in fact, the little boy actually believed, and whether he truly preferred to stay in the Church rather than to return home to the Judaism of his ancestors, became a kind of public test of the relative merits of the two religions. It was a test the Jews lost.
Of course, Italian Jews were well aware of the psychological pressures exerted on the small boy and had no trouble coming up with a secular explanation of his ultimate decision to abandon his family and Judaism and embrace the Church, but this did not make his transformation any more palatable. That he followed the long – and, for the Jews, vile – tradition of such converts and dedicated himself to trying to convert his own family, and indeed Jews everywhere, meant that Edgardo came to be viewed with horror: he was a changeling. The child who had once been portrayed in the most glowing terms, the object of Jewish compassion, became a man who was disdained, whose character had to be discredited. He could not be happy he could not even be fully saine, for were he happy and sane, it wold reflect poorly on the religion of the Jews. It was best not to talk of him at all. (302)
All the more reason we need Javier Bardem to play Edgardo’s father, maybe Franka Potenta as his mother.