THIS newspaper has not reported over the past few months the case of the Finaly children, details of which have filled the world's Press. The reason for this was lack of space to do more than accept the largely incomprehensible and often misleading information from the news agencies. Looking back, now that the case is over, we are glad that we made that decision, but we owe it to readers to give a brief account of the case and the issues involved.
More than ten years ago during the German occupation of France, a Jewish Dr. Fin* and his wife, on being taken by the Nazis, entrusted their circumcised infant boys to the care of Catholics. They were mothered by a good woman, greatly experienced in the care of orphans, a Miss Brun.
While the parents were still legally presumed alive, their relations, also living outside France. took a number of steps to have the children withdrawn from this arrangement and taken overseas to Jewish care.
Very complex legal issues were raised by the clash between the Catholic foster-mother, to whom the children had naturally become deeply attached, and these relations. It would seem that Miss Brun in French law had a very strong case in that, at least until the presumed death of the parents (which was not legally effected until 1950), she was acting in loco parentis.
But before that legally presumed _death Miss Brun sent the children to a Catholic boarding school, and had them baptised. According to her testimony, she did not do this for any strong religious reasons, but for the same reason as many French families have their children baptised, namely, that it is done. Miss Brun thought that they would be happier as baptised Catholic children in a Catholic school. Their godparents would in some degree compensate for their orphaned status.
Later, the legal decision went definitely against Miss Brun, and various Catholics, among whom were nuns and priests, conspired to keep these now Catholic children from their Jewish relations, hiding them in France and later smuggling them over the border to Spain. It was at this stage that the case became a world celebrity, for the arrest of a reverend mother and some priests for "kidnapping" children is no common event. The whole case sounded very bad, and in France of all countries the issue of Catholics versus Jews brought to the surface old and bitter tensions.
BUT despite appearances the case was not altogether what it seemed. Legally, Miss Brun was in her rights until late in the case when she refused to accept the final decision against her.
The baptism was by no means a case of a narrow-minded Catholic being determined to save the children from a false religion, but an act of kindness to the children that they might be happier in this world after all that they had undergone.
Nevertheless, the bLptism was a bad mistake, for Miss Brun had no right from the Catholic point of view to have the children baptised at least until the death of their parents was legally presumed. It was an illicit baptism. but not, however, an invalid one. According to Catholic teaching, in a case like this it is right that the validly baptised children should be preserved from the danger of living in conditions that would imperil their faith—and this was the reason why the Catholic parties defied the law and tried to hide the children from their Jewish relations.
But French theologians, reflecting on the case, have now thrown doubts on the universal applicability of this discipline. They argue that in the conditions of today and in view of the change of feeling about such a solution it may well be that it would be better to allow validly but illicitly baptised children to return to their legal guardians, if only because the final preservation of their faith is no longer endangered by such a step—as it would have been in less tolerant days. Canon Law, it appears, is now silent on the subject.
ITT will be seen from this briefest of résumés that this was not a at all of any bitter, narrow and intolerant Catholic antiSemitism, but one of those complex problems arising from the tragic circumstances of war in which both parties believed themselves to be doing their best for the unfortunate children involved.
There can be no doubt that the Catholic parties in fact made grave mistakes. but they did this in good faith and solely for the sake of the children.
In the end a settlement was reached under the auspices of high Catholic and Jewish authorities by which the legal decision could be implemented while the faith of the children could, so far as possible, in the circumstances, be safeguarded.
One regrets, however, to read the latest news according to which the children, now in their teens, have been taken in such haste to . Israel and under such close Jewish guardianship and conditions that it was not found possible to allow them to see and say farewell to Miss Brun, about whose wholehearted devotion to them through those trying years there has never been any question on any side. The case has many morals. The first is the obvious one of the tragedy of the legacy of war and persecution. The second is that it is always dangerous to judge too hastily of disputes which at first seem very one-sided. The third is that the study of the practical application in changing circumstances of Catholic disciplines is one that must constantly be continued.