The Vatican plans to erect a statue of the 16th century scientist Galileo in the Vatican gardens, the Times reports.
The statue will stand near the apartment in which the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was incarcerated while awaiting trial in 1633. He was charged with advocating heliocentrism, the theory of Copernicus that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Though he was not tortured or executed, as some believe, he was forced to recant by the Roman Inquisition.
Nicola Cabibbo, a nuclear physicist who heads the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, explained the motive for the statue. “The Church wants to close the Galileo affair and reach a definitive understanding not only of his great legacy but also of the relationship between science and faith,” he said.
Professor Cabibbo said that the statue was appropriate because Galileo had been one of the founders of the Lincei Academy, a forerunner of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in 1603.
The statue installation, which is being privately funded, precedes a series of celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s invention of the telescope. Events include a Vatican conference on Galileo to be attended by 40 international scientists and a re-examination of the Galileo trial at a Florence institute run by the Society of Jesus, some of whose members were on the tribunal that declared Galileo suspect of heresy.
In January of this year, Pope Benedict XVI canceled a visit to La Sapienza University in Rome after faculty and students accused him of defending the condemnation of Galileo. They cited a speech he made at La Sapienza in 1990, where as a cardinal he discussed how modernity had begun to doubt itself. The then-Cardinal Ratzinger cited as evidence of this self-doubt the philosopher Paul Feyerabend, who called Galileo’s prosecution for heresy “rational and just.”
The Vatican insisted the protesters had misquoted the Pope, and later research suggested the protesters used an erroneous article posted on the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia as their source. The protesters were widely condemned across Italy, with 200,000 people rallying behind the Pope on the Sunday following the canceled speech.