This was a 19th century Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. His main accomplishment of note was the kidnapping of a Jewish boy. The boy had been dying of a life-threatening disease, and his Christian nanny baptized him because she feared he would go to hell. He turned out fine, but when Pope Pius IX heard of this occurance, he decided that since the boy was baptized, he must be raised Catholic. The Pope had the boy abducted and raised in the Vatican, where he later became a priest. The parents were devastated. They fought long and hard for the return of their son, but because of certain political situations, he not only was kept at the Vatican, but his parents were also not even allowed to see him. The most despicable part of this whole escapade is that Pope Pius IX was just recently beatified by Pope John Paul II, which puts him on the road to sainthood (Ignore the softlink below, he's not a saint yet, fortunately).

Yesterday night the Catholic Church canonised a pope who is considered anti-semitic and a cruel fighter against Freedom, Democracy and Progress.

Pius IX, born as Giovanni Maria Mestai, was the last pope that held the position of a king. He gained his position in 1846, in the age of 54, and presided over the church for nearly 32 years.

Pius IX is considered one of the greatest dictators of the church, and used to behead all those who tried to undermine his position, or the position of the Chruch in the cities of Rome and Bologna. He referred to the Jews in one of his speeches "faithless, barking dogs". He reestablished the Jewish Ghetto of Rome and restricted the Jews of the city to it, forced them to baptise their children and limited their rights to work and acquire education.

The most famous incident in this regard was the case of the child Edgardo Mortara: the six-year-old Jewish boy was torn from his mother's arms by the Vatican Army, in the claim that he was baptized at the age of two, and therefore Jews have no right to raise him. Mortara was lead from Bologna to a monastery in Rome where he became a loyal priest.

In 1864 he issued a series of regulations, according to which all those who supported the Democratic reforms in various European countries, or the unification of Italy, were to be condemned to excommunication from the Church. In 1870 he gathered the leadership of the Church and issued an edict that stated that the pope is infallible and that his rightness is eternal regardless of his actions.

1870 was also the year Pius IX lost most of his power, as Giuseppe Garibaldi unified Italy and conquered Rome. The pope had to restrict himself to the Vatican and renounce his kingship.

The Catholic Church says that he is canonised not for all the above things, but rather for his "noble adherence to the Catholic Religion".

I would like to remind you all that this is not the first anti-semitic saint the Church has proclaimed (even recently), and there are still also quite a few children-saints that were canonised after they were supposedly murdered by Jews who needed their blood to make matzos.

Is this the face the Vatican wants to show the world these days?

Note: Pius IX has not been canonized; he is not a saint yet. He has been beatified (named as one of the blessed), which is a step in the process to canonization (naming as a saint) but not all people who are beatified are later named as saints. (Note: this correction does not mean I think he deserved to be beatified.)

According to my professor of church history, the two biggest questions the Catholic Church has had to answer over and over were:

  • How to select a new Pope;
  • How to get rid of the old one.

The most common solution for the second question has been by electing old men to papacy, thus enforcing natural term limits, so to speak. History has shown that Popes who rule for too long cause problems. Pius IX was the longest ruling Pope so far (32 years).

He called and presided over the First Vatican Council, which was held at St. Peter's Basilica between December 8, 1869 and September 1, 1870. By then Pius IX had been in absolute power for 24 years.

It was the First Vatican Council that, on July 18, 1870, accepted the document Pastor Aeternus (Eternal Shepherd), according to which the Pope, under very specific circumstances, is infallible in the matters of faith and morals.

The dogma of papal infallibility has been a source of constant embarassment to Catholic theologians, and the Church itself ever since.

The first one to object was prominent church historian Ignaz von Döllinger. He was promptly excommunicated. This showed clearly that Pius IX was not going to take any prisoners.

Nevertheless, some opposition continued in Central Europe and resulted in the formation of the Old Catholic Church.

Most theologians, however, got the message, and kept their mouths shut.

Indeed, opposition existed even at the Council itself, and for good reasons.

Historically, the idea of papal infallibility was unthinkable. The role of the Pope was first among equals. Starting with St. Peter, the Apostle, the bishop of Rome was an arbiter among other bishops. He could only decide when there was a conflict among bishops. When the bishops agreed, it was unthinkable for the Pope to go against them.

An example of this can be found in the New Testament. People were arguing that Pagans who converted to Christianity should be circumcised. St. Peter agreed. St. Paul opposed. After a heated debate St. Peter, the Pope, was outvoted, and the matter was settled once and for all. The first Pope lost to the first Council and did not even dream to go against it.

As recently as 15th Century, the Council of Constance (1414 - 1418) declared that the decisions of the Council are binding on the Pope. However, Popes can, and did, get around that decision because the Council of Constance was called by an antipope (John XXIII). Though the Council was later approved by the Pope Martin V, his approval excepted the idea of the authority of the Council over the Pope. Of course, that means it was the Pope who denied the Council's authority over himself. In other words, the Popes say: I have the authority to say I have the authority, therefore, if I say I have the authority, I have the authority. Oh, well.

Anyway, back to Pius IX and the First Vatican Council. Many of the bishops convened in Council were opposed to the idea of papal infallibility. Some, because they did not think making it a dogma was a good move at the time, others, because they outright thought it wrong.

But Pius IX was determined to get his absolute power ratified by the Council. As Anacreon mentions above, he was not above beheading his opposition. He invited the opposing bishops, individually, to a private audience. He had them prostrate on the floor. He then stepped on each bishop's head, and said: If you vote against, I shall crush your head. How's that for a threat from a dictator who had killed before?

Two bishops still voted against, some abstained, but the majority voted for the new dogma.

As I mentioned, the dogma has been a constant embarassment ever since. Some years ago, while I was still a Catholic priest, I attended a Good Friday ecumenical breakfast. I sat next to an Episcopalian priest, and we engaged in a very friendly theological discussion. Since it was an ecumenical breakfast, the topic of ecumenism came up. The Episcopalian priest said the dogma of papal infallibility was a major obstacle to any dialogue between our respective churches. He said: "We can always say we blew it, but you cannot."

To that, I replied: "We blew it with infallibility."

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