Many of Messori’s deletions involve omitting observations by Edgardo that fit uneasily with a pro-Church narrative. Edgardo, for example, notes in his original account that the servant who baptized him was only 16 years old. This is an important point, since his parents had used the fact that she was both illiterate and young to try to discredit her account of the baptism. But Messori’s version does not include this detail.
Similarly, in the original memoir, Edgardo writes of the pope’s decision to send the police to seize him: “Given that they [the Mortara parents] did not consent, Pius IX had to proceed, as Pope and as King, to the order of violent kidnapping.” Messori’s version does not include the terms “violent” or “kidnapping,” so that the pope’s “order of violent kidnapping” becomes simply an “order of sequestration.”
Defenders of the pope’s action in taking Edgardo have argued that the events had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, yet the way Church authorities treated Jews was deeply rooted in demonization. It is telling that some of the alterations Messori’s version makes to Edgardo’s actual words come at those points of his memoir where Edgardo reveals the anti-Semitic attitudes his Church mentors had drummed into him. Edgardo recalls his embarrassment as a child when, together with his fellow seminary students in Rome, he “walked through the ghetto, or Jewish district.” Messori’s version of the memoir ends the sentence there, but Edgardo’s original continues that he had “always professed an inexpressible horror” toward the Jews. Similarly, later in his account, in referring to his parents, Edgardo writes, “The Mortaras hold to the Jewish religion, which is false, contradictory, absurd, condemned by history, and condemned to be labeled ‘ridiculous,’ as it is by most men.” Messori’s version does not include the “false,” the “absurd,” the “ridiculous,” and the condemnation—a softening of language that lessens the impression that Church mentors may have filled a Jewish child’s mind with anti-Semitic ideas.
But the problems with the accuracy of the memoir are not limited to distortions in Messori’s translation. The man who wrote this account had been separated from his family at age six, suffered from numerous psychological ills later in life, and was constantly bombarded with the official Church narrative of the divine grace he had received. By the time he wrote his recollections, he had incorporated that Church narrative into sermons he was delivering throughout Europe, praising Pius IX for having him taken from his parents. In this way, he was able to justify his own choice to become a priest while inspiring his listeners to embrace Jesus and the Church.
The part of the memoir that the conservative Catholic media is most loudly trumpeting today is Edgardo’s description of how, after learning of the baptism but before Edgardo was taken away, Pius IX repeatedly tried to arrange some kind of compromise with his parents. In Edgardo’s original account, the pope proposed sending him to a Catholic boarding school in Bologna, for, “That way, his parents would be able to visit him whenever they wanted.” The Inquisitor, Edgardo writes, repeatedly went to the Mortara home to convince his parents to accept the pope’s thoughtful plan. Ignatius Press, publisher of the English-language memoir, highlights this episode in its brief catalogue blurb for the book, and in his introduction Messori calls this the book’s greatest “revelation.”