A planned papal visit to the prestigious La Sapienza University in Rome was canceled after protesting faculty, staff and students accused the Pope of holding an offensive position on the scientist Galileo Galilei, the BBC reports.
"After the well-noted controversy of recent days... it was considered appropriate to postpone the event," a Vatican statement said. Instead of a personal appearance, Pope Benedict’s address will be sent to the university.
Writing in a letter to the university’s rector, 67 lecturers and professors said it would be “incongruous” for the Pope to open the academic year at the university on January 17. They called for the visit to be canceled.
The letter highlighted a remark from Pope Benedict from when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In a 1990 book he quoted the judgment of philosopher Paul Feyerabend. Feyerabend called Galileo’s prosecution for heresy “rational and just.” Taken in context, the remarks were made by Ratzinger to point out how modernity has become doubtful of itself and of today's science and technology.
The university faculty said this quotation indicated that the Pope condoned the 17th century trial of the scientist, who was charged with heresy for his theory of geocentrism, namely the later-proved theory that the earth revolved around the sun. The faculty wrote that the Pope’s comments “offend and humiliate us."
"In the name of the secular nature of science we hope this incongruous event can be cancelled," said the letter addressed to the university's rector.
Students also organized a protest, holding a lunch beneath a banner reading “Knowledge needs neither fathers nor priests.”
Vatican Radio said the protests had “a censorious tone.”