Opposition to Pope Benedict’s now postponed appearance at La Sapienza University, has led Professor Giorgio Israel to write that the resistance of his colleagues is a sign of fear about a dialogue between faith and reason taking place.
In an article published by L'Osservatore Romano, Israel, who is also a professor of mathematics at La Sapienza, argues that the protest against the Pope's scheduled speech "is particularly surprising since Italian universities are supposed to be places open to any kind of position, and it makes no sense that only the Pope is denied access."
According to Israel, the reason why the liberal "openness" has been put aside in the case of the Holy Father "has been explained by Marcello Cini –one of the intellectuals opposing the Pope's visit— in his letter to the University's Dean."
"What Cini regards as 'dangerous,' is the fact that the Pope may try to open a dialogue between faith and reason, to reestablish a connection between the Judeo-Christian and the Greek tradition, and that science and faith may not be separated by an impenetrable wall."
"The opposition to the Pope's visit,” Israel writes, is therefore “not motivated by an abstract principle of secularism. The opposition is of an ideological nature and has Benedict XVI as its specific target for speaking on science and about the relationship between science and faith, instead of limiting himself to speak only about faith."
Israel says that the letter of a group of scientists criticizing the Pope for his alleged justification of the Church's stand towards Galileo in the past "is just an expression of a feeling against the person of the Pope himself."
The group of scientists, in fact, criticized the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for quoting the philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend during a conference delivered at La Sapienza on February 15 1990. Cardinal Ratzinger quoted from Feyerabend when he claimed that during Galileo's age, "the Church remained more faithful to reason than Galileo himself."
In his article, Israel says that the scientists criticizing the Pope have not read the conference in its entirety. According to mathematician, the quote from an Agnostic scientist and others were not used by then Cardinal Ratzinger to defend the Church, but "to make the point of how modernity has become doubtful of itself and of today's science and technology."
In other words, the Pope's remarks at that time "were a clear defense of Galilean rationality against the skepticism and relativism of our postmodern culture”, wrote Israel.
Prof. Israel says that such "inattentive, superficial and careless reading" of the Pope's 1990 conference should be regarded "as a shame and a professional failure."
"But I am afraid that here intellectual rigor has very little to do [with their motivations] and that the intention is to build a barrier at any cost," especially when considering that some of the signers of the letter against the Pope "have never expressed a word of criticism against Islamic fundamentalism or against those denying the Shoah."
"This is just a part of the secularist culture that has no argument, so it demonizes, it does not argue as a real secular culture, but creates monsters."
"This is why the threat against the Pope is a tragedy from a cultural and civic perspective," Israel concludes.