Old Kidnapping, New Dispute

Old Kidnapping, New Dispute

The fight over Edgardo Mortara is heating up again 144 years after Vatican police abducted the 6-year-old Jewish boy from his family’s home in Bologna. At that time, the dispute was about who should raise the child, his parents or the Catholic Church. Today, it’s a legal battle over who should tell the story.

David Kertzer, author of "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" (Knopf, 1997), says he has taken "legal action" against those behind the film "Edgardo Mortara." The movie reportedly is set to start shooting this fall in Italy, with Anthony Hopkins as Pope Pius IX. Rob Eshman, the editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, wrote the screenplay.

Eshman declined to talk about the film project or legal matter. But he did tell The Jewish Week that he first read about Edgardo Mortara in a 1994 Jerusalem Post article and conducted his own research into the case. Kertzer would not discuss the details of the legal action, but said, "Part of my interest is just having more people read the book." He has agreed to let Pulitzer Prize winner Alfred Uhry write "Edgardo Mine," a stage play that opens at the Hartford Stage in October with Brian Murray as the Pope.

Kertzer claims that little was accurately known about the case before his exhaustive research produced the book, a nonfiction finalist for the 1997 National Book Award. "I was the first to get into all the papal archives and state archives in the various parts of Italy and to give a full-scale treatment of the story," said Kertzer, a professor of anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University.

The story is about a Jewish couple, Momolo and Marianna Mortara, whose child was taken by the Vatican in 1858 on the grounds that he had been secretly baptized. The case drew international attention, ultimately crippling papal rule and hastening the birth of a unified Italy. At the center of the controversy stood Pius IX, whose beatification in 2000 set off a firestorm of criticism among Jewish leaders here.

That year, Eshman wrote an editorial in the Jewish Journal commenting on the beatification controversy. At the bottom of the Web page bearing the editorial is an advertisement for Kertzer’s book.

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