I have had many discussions with readers of First Things, some of whom are good friends and many of whom I rely upon for counsel and guidance. These conversations have convinced me that I made a mistake in publishing “Non Possumus,” a review of Kidnapped by the Vatican? The review raises perplexing, technical theological questions and brings the vexed matter of religious and secular authority into sharp focus. But featuring it in our pages could not help but give the impression that I intend to lead First Things in a new direction that undermines our commitment to the vital conversation between Christians and Jews. That is not the case. I regret that my decision to publish the review brought unnecessary anguish to my friends and to readers who care so deeply about our common project.
— Rusty Reno. I very much appreciate this from Rusty, but it needs a clarification. The thrust of Romanus Cessario’s review was not that the Pope has the moral right and ecclesial responsibility to take baptized children away from Jewish parents only, but that the Pope has that right and that responsibility in relation to any non-Catholic children baptized in the name of the Triune God who come within his legal jurisdiction. For Cessario such removal is not merely an option, but rather one of the “imperatives of faith” — thus Pio Nono’s “non possumus“: he could not do otherwise. (I discuss these matters in a bit more detail here.)
In running that review, then, Rusty — as the editor of a putatively interreligious journal of religion and public life — was opening the question of whether, if I and my family had become residents of Vatican City in 1995 or thereabouts, my son Wesley should have been forcibly taken away from his parents and raised as a Catholic. After all, he had been baptized, but in an Episcopalian parish, and we had no intention of raising him as a Catholic. In respect to the imperatives of faith Cessario identifies and defends, Wesley was in precisely the same situation as Edgardo Mortara had been a century-and-a-half earlier. Cessario is quite explicit about the ecclesial principles involved: “These articles of faith bound Pius to give Mortara a Catholic upbringing that his parents could not.” So Cessario’s position has implications not only for the relations between Christians and Jews, but for the relations between Roman Catholics and all other Christians.
And (far less significantly, of course!) this kerfuffle raises questions about whether the editorial staff of First Things (Catholics all, as far as I know) are willing and able to make their journal genuinely interreligious, or whether, conversely, they should just redesignate themselves as a Catholic journal and be done with it. I am grateful for Rusty’s straightforward apology, but these are issues about the magazine’s identity that still remain to be resolved.