La Sapienza may re-invite Pope after disputed Galileo comment protests

By Ecumenical News International
January 22, 2008

The rector of Rome's La Sapienza university has said he plans to re-invite Pope Benedict XVI to address his institution after the pontiff cancelled a visit he was to have made following protests from some professors and students - writes Luigi Sandri.

"I will offer a new invitation to the Pope," said the university rector, Renato Guarini, adding that such a step would be in accordance with the desire of the majority of Sapienza's academic community, the Zenit news agency has reported.

The cardinal vicar of Rome, Bishop Camillo Ruini, had urged the people of Rome to gather in St Peter's Square on Sunday (20 January) to show their support for the Pope, following the protests of the academics.

More than 60 professors at the university, which was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII and whose name means "wisdom", had objected to the invitation for Pope Benedict to deliver a lecture on 17 January at the start of its academic year.

The protesting academics asserted that in 1990 the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict in 2005, had described as "rational and just" a 17th century church trial against Galileo Galilei for championing the view that the sun, and not the earth, is the centre of the universe.

But those in favour of the papal visit responded by saying that Cardinal Ratzinger had been quoting the Austrian-born philosopher Paul Feyerabend on Galileo, and that the cardinal had not been saying he agreed with the statement.

At the beginning of the week, some students hung a big banner in front of the university, now an Italian State institution. The banner, using a play on the Latin words announcing a new pope, stated, "'non' habemus papam" ("we do 'not' have a Pope"), mocking the words, "we have a Pope".

Many professors and students said they supported the papal visit and were looking forward to the speech, but in the end the Pope decided to cancel his visit.

The speech he would have made was read out by a professor instead. In the speech, which was greeted by applause, Pope Benedict said that faith cannot be imposed but can only be freely chosen.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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