CHAPTER 13 - A MATTER OF SPIRITUAL CUSTODY
For a full five hours after I learned of the baptism I remained in a rage, refusing to comfort my son. At home I even broke Bobby’s toy Israeli F- 16. The plane had been his favorite toy, for it had his Hebrew name, Moshe, stenciled on it. Bobby’s most precious possession had been his Jewish identity. Now it lay shattered with the F-16 on the floor of his room.
At last I knew what I had to do. I felt terrible about the way I had behaved. No one, not even the Pope himself, could destroy the love that I had for my son. I walked into Bobby’s room, gave him a big hug, and asked him to forgive me for acting that way. Then I promised to sue the Church right up to the Pope himself.
“What about my F-16?” Bobby wanted to know.
“I’ll build you another. But first, you’re gonna have to earn it. The men who fly that plane all lay their lives on the line for our people. When I know that you’re of the same mind, you’ll have it. Not before,” I promised.
The following day I called the Archdiocese of Miami to inform them that I would sue for six million dollars unless they annulled the baptism. I also called the Jewish Federation and the Miami Herald to give them the news. On the same day I received Schmidt’s counter-petitions. They were 39 pages long.
Most of Schmidt’s assertions were pure hogwash, easy for me to counter in my Answers to the Counter-petitions. Much of what I had alleged in my original Petitions could be backed with documentation. Schmidt had made the mistake of denying almost everything, and now it was my turn to prove the attorney wrong.
Schmidt had alleged that I intended to run off to Israel, but I produced a copy of my Coast Guard Reserve enlistment contract that still had another five years remaining. I had even drilled at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. This indicated I had no intention of permanently leaving.
The attorney denied the religious nature of the circumcision. I submitted a copy of the brith milah certificate to prove otherwise.
Schmidt only admitted to two of my assertions: Bobby had been circumcised and he saw himself as being a Yid. Much of Schmidt’s work was inconsistent. He argued that Bobby enjoyed catechism class but then claimed Bobby refused to go because I brainwashed him. He said Bobby loved his mother, but that I had alienated the kid's affection for her.
I took about two weeks to complete my response. The complaint in such an action would normally be against the mother alone, but I went on to argue that the Catholic Church itself was not an appropriate institution for anyone with Jewish blood to follow. I then began to document the Vatican’s anti-Semitic history, a dangerous tact to take, I knew, but a necessary one. My case was to be a matter of spiritual custody, based around my belief that the Church’s hands were too bloody to merit gaining the soul of even a half Jew, as Bobby was.
What was it that the Catholic judge would now be forced to read? The attack on Rome started with an account of Vatican-sponsored persecution of the Jews right back to Pope Urban II, who raised the first Crusader army which had slaughtered about 10,000 Jews in the year 1096. I wrote of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, and of Pope Pius V who (in 1569) expelled the Jews from all States of the Church, except Rome and Ancona for commercial reasons. I listed the failure of the Church to come to the aid of Jews killed during the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648 in which more than 100,000 Jews died, and the fact that in Rome Pope Pius X maintained the Jewish Ghetto until 1870. Then, and only then, did I begin to document the Vatican’s role in the Nazi-led Holocaust.
I had managed to travel back in time to 1933 with the help of the microfilm library at Florida International University. There, in copies of the New York Times, was all the evidence needed to prove my point.
I argued that the Vatican entered into a Concordat with the Hitler government on July 20, 1933, after speeches had already been made in the U.S. Senate quoting Hitler’s suggestion that 12,000 to 15,000 Jews be held under poison gas. The first Times article about the Senate speech was on pages 1 and 25 of the June 11,1933, issue.
When the New York Times covered the signing of the Vatican-Nazi pact on page 5 of its July 21st, 1933 issue, the story was only three columns to the left of an article called World Jews Push Boycott Of Reich For Inhuman Acts. The article said back on page 1 that “the Hitler government had expressed its determination to persist in its policy of persecution and to drive the Jews of Germany from every branch of activity in public and private life, to annihilate them economically, to deprive them of their citizenship, to reduce them to a state of pariahs and eventually to exterminate them.” It listed, on its page 5 continuance, the fact that “hundreds of thousands of unoffending Jews have been imprisoned, tortured and lodged in hells on earth, called detention camps.” Thus, I argued, it was common knowledge that the concentration camps existed and that Hitler wanted to kill all the Jews when the Vatican signed the agreement. The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich (page 324) by William L. Shirer was also quoted. He said that “the Concordat, . . . signed by Papal Secretary of State, Monsignor Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII,” “came . . . at a moment when the first excesses of the new regime in Germany had provoked worldwide revulsion” and that “the Concordat undoubtedly lent the Hitler government much badly needed prestige.”
An article in section II on page 4 of the New York Times September 10, 1933, issue showed that the Pope was aware of the plight of the Jews. It read: “The report that ratification of the Vatican-German concordat has been delayed by the Pope’s dissatisfaction with Chancellor Hitler’s policies, especially sterilization and anti-Judaism is denied by both the Vatican and by German sources.” Two days later, in the September 12th issue, the Times reported on page 10 that the Concordat had been ratified. This article stated, “Nazi newspapers view the ratification as new proof of the stability of political conditions in Germany since Adolf Hitler took over the government and as a rebuke to foreign meddling. Less than twenty-four hours ago, the Nazis assert those meddlers proclaimed that the pact would be doomed by Papal veto.”
The most damning piece of evidence introduced on the topic, however, was a photocopy of page 10 from the December 16, 1933, issue of the Times:
PARLEYS ON JEWS DENIED BY VATICAN
Report of Negotiations With Reich on
Status of Those Who Are Catholics Is
ROME, Dec.15. - The Vatican denies that any negotiations are in process with the German Government concerning the status and treatment of Catholics of Jewish blood.
It is pointed out that The Vatican could intervene on behalf of this class of German citizens only if they were being subjected to unfair treatment as a consequence of being Catholics. Since this is not the case, the whole matter is regarded as being purely an internal German affair.
The only other case, it is stated, in which The Vatican might consider itself called on to intervene would be if Catholic priests were being prevented from carrying out their duties because of Jewish descent. Only two such cases have been brought to the notice of the ecclesiastical authorities, but the Vatican did not consider it advisable to join issue with the German Government on the strength of only two such cases, and let the matter drop.
I pointed out that any Church that could imply its approval to kill or persecute its own members so long as it was because of their Jewish ancestry and not because of their present faith had no right to lay its hands on my half-Jewish son. It was stressed that the Vatican had proven that it would not even stand up for its own priests if they had Jewish parents or grandparents (under Nazi law anyone with one Jewish grandparent was classified as a Jew for extermination purposes).
Having done my homework, I invited Fred Strasser, reporter for the Miami Herald, over for dinner. I was not the only one who believed in doing a thorough job. By the time he had arrived, Fred had been down to the courthouse to read the entire case file and even a good part of The Great Christ Debate, which was sitting there as evidence from the previous trial.
Fred’s first question was about the book. He wanted to know if I still stood by my earlier positive views of Jesus as a legitimate prophet. “No,” I told him. “There were too many unfulfilled prophecies.”
I had two main interests in giving the Herald the story. I didn’t want to get railroaded again, and I wanted to warn other Jews and Christians as to the dangers that existed in interfaith marriages. Seventy percent of all marriages between Jews and Christians end in divorce. I wanted others to know about the kind of heartache that awaited many who chose to repeat my mistake.
The hardest thing for me to talk about was the fact that Maria had tricked our son into the baptism. Fred wanted to ask Bobby about that himself. The boy was there that night, and Bobby gave him the full run down. Fred asked him why he didn’t want to be Christian or go to church with his mother. Bobby told him, “I don’t want to go to church because Jesus was a false prophet.”
Fred asked him why he thought that was so. The lad responded, almost parrot-like that, there were three reasons for his belief.
“First,” the boy said, “The Messiah is supposed to bring peace, and Jesus said he came to bring war. Second, everything a true prophet predicts must come true, and some of Jesus’ predictions like a quick return didn’t come true. And third . . . third . . . I can’t remember the third reason, but it’s a good one,” he told Strasser.
The reporter laughed and congratulated me on the excellent conditioning job.
“I know,” I admitted, “that it appears Bobby's been brainwashed, but the truth is that he’s been raised one way from birth . . . Jewish. That was what his mother agreed to and I have the documentation I need to prove it in a court of law.”
Fred grilled me on a number of other issues, including the charges that Maria had made in her pleadings during the past and present court cases. I was particularly concerned about Maria’s allegations of financial irresponsibility. I began to feel as if I were on the witness stand as Fred did his very best to ensure a fair and impartial story. He asked for Maria’s phone number, too, but Maria refused to talk to him when he called. She remembered Schmidt’s warning about my desire for publicity, and she wanted to take no part in aiding me. Fred told me that he would probably print the story in about a week or two, thanked me for the dinner, and left after spending about two hours taking notes.
The following day Rabbi Schiff from the Jewish Federation called to say that he had arranged a meeting with Archbishop McCarthy to discuss a possible settlement. I was elated. Now we were getting somewhere.
The conference was set for a Friday afternoon. I had just put the finishing touches on all my Answers to Schmidt’s Counter-Petitions, so I decided to file them at the courthouse on the way to the meeting at the Federation. I knew that the Archdiocese would have a high-powered legal firm working for it, and hoped that the Church’s attorney would find the Holocaust materials in the court file. It would be better for them to discover the exhibits on their own than for me to tell them about it.
It wasn’t an easy day to drive around town. There was a civil disturbance in Liberty City, not far from the Federation Building, and many of the roads were cordoned off by the police. This caused me to be late for the meeting by about fifteen minutes. When I arrived at the office with my wife, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t really thought much about how to behave. After all, how often does a Jew tell an archbishop that he’s ready to sue the Vatican for six million bucks unless Rome goes into the business of annulling baptisms?
I soon learned I hadn’t been keeping an archbishop waiting at all, for it was not McCarthy that was with the rabbi, but Monsignor Walsh, the man in charge of community relations for the Archdiocese of Miami. I shook the rabbi’s hand and then Walsh’s. There was a long moment of silence as each of us looked at the other and waited for him to start. As I sat there waiting, visions of the Inquisition and Holocaust ran through my mind. The man before me, I felt, was the enemy - a man who stood for much of what was wrong with the world. I decided to rip into him.
“I want to know where the hell your priest gets off baptizing my son Catholic?” With that, I got out of my seat, walked towards Walsh and started to lay papers down on the man’s lap.
“This,” I proclaimed, “Is Bobby’s circumcision certificate which states in Hebrew Lishane Gerute (for conversion purposes) proving that his mother consented to raise him as a Jew. And this, my dear friend, is a copy of her attorney’s Answer to my Petition to Enforce the Original Religious Agreement regarding the Minor Child. Filed only four days before your priest baptized my son, it admits to the Court that Bobby sees himself as being Jewish!”
“How could the Father have known about this?” Walsh asked.
“‘He could have known about Bobby’s beliefs by simply taking five minutes in private to talk to the boy. My son, like me, has a tongue, too.”
“Calm down,” the rabbi urged after letting me make my most important points. “The Monsignor is not your enemy. He’s here to obtain the facts. The man knows almost nothing about the case. Please be polite!”
“Excuse me,” I said, “I’m more than a bit upset by the whole thing. Do you see this book?” I asked, holding up a copy of The Great Christ Debate. “I spent nearly three years of my life writing it for my son’s spiritual enlightenment.” Opening the book, I continued, “That’s Bobby’s name on the dedication page. You’ll notice that I even made certain that his Hebrew name was printed under his English one. If you can’t read Hebrew, it says Moshe Ben Itamar HaLevi; which means Robert, son of Itamar the Levite. You can’t expect me to be exactly overjoyed to learn that the Catholic Church has ignored the joint custody that I had fought hard in court to obtain. Against my will and the boy’s, your Church has violated the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of religion for my son. You know, I’ve spent years researching your Church, and I’d just love to start a crusade against it and all it stands for!”
“I think crusade is, historically, more a word that belongs to the Monsignor than to us,” Schiff chuckled.
“You’re certainly right about that, rabbi,” I agreed.
“You know, Monsignor, your Church burned Jews at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition because we refused to be baptized. This isn’t Spain and I’m not gonna march quietly to the stake either.”
The Monsignor denied the Inquisition was the fault of the Church in Spain. “That was a government action,” he said.
“You’d like us to think that, wouldn’t you? I haven’t been able to find any record of Vatican opposition to it. If there’s one thing that sickens me about the history of the Jews, it’s how many times we stood there and let your Church walk over us. Well, I’m not gonna be herded like one of those kosher sheep to the slaughter. We won’t tolerate that brand of Judaism again, Mister. My price is six million dollars in memory of the six million which your Vatican Concordat with Hitler helped kill . . . unless you give me something more important than money, the baptismal annulment and with it the return of the honor of my people. Somebody, somewhere, sometime has got to stand up to your organization and say no. I never did believe in a Let George Do It philosophy, so that somebody has got to be me, the place is here, and the time is now.”
The Monsignor looked like someone had just slugged him with a two-by-four. He had been holding his head as though he was in some kind of pain. Finally, he answered.
“From what you’ve shown me,” he sighed, “I believe a serious mistake has occurred. I don’t think that the priest would have conducted the baptism had he known of all this. Do you mind if I take copies of your legal pleadings? I’m especially interested in the mother’s admission about Bobby’s Jewish identity. Please believe me, we don’t wish to harm the child psychologically. Our greatest fear is that this fight might so disturb the boy as to cause him to abandon all faith.”
I handed the Monsignor copies of all the evidence while the rabbi reinforced Walsh’s plea and pointed out that the Church had expressed a sincere desire to resolve the matter before the meeting had started.
“Can you annul it?” I asked.
“We’ll do all in our power to accommodate you. We want to maintain good relations with the Jewish community. It will, however, take some time to give you a definitive answer. Remember, it takes six months to annul a marriage, and we do that all the time. From all I’ve been able to determine by searching the literature, we’ve never annulled a baptism in the nearly two thousand years that our Church has existed. There are some heavy doctrinal questions to be resolved before rendering a decision like that.”
I told the clergymen that Fred Strasser of the Miami Herald had promised to print the story soon. Walsh was upset about that and asked me to please try to delay publication. Schiff, too, argued that the story would not be good for community relations that were already strained by the rioting that day.
“The rabbi,” I said, “Is being diplomatic. That’s his job, not mine. I’ll do what I can with the Herald but you must understand the decision to print is now in their hands, not mine. As for giving your Church time to make a proper determination, I don’t have the luxury of waiting forever. My suit will be filed against Rome when the status of the custody battle dictates that kind of action. The baptism must be annulled before a judge renders a decision on custody. If I see that you can’t get me the letter I want by then, I will file. That’s a promise.” The meeting then broke up.