"Another grand gesture, especially important for us, was the rehabilitation of Galileo, which the pope had anticipated as early as in 1979 during a solemn remembrance of Albert Einstein on the centennial of his birth," they wrote.
"This rehabilitation, carried out at the request of John Paul II by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 13 years later, was a symbolic recognition of the autonomy and importance of scientific research."
The professors' appeal follows an intervention earlier this week by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops' conference. In a Dec. 7 statement, Gądecki deplored what he called "unprecedented attacks" on St. John Paul II. He insisted that the pope's "highest priority" was combating clerical abuse and protecting young people.
Last month, the rector's college of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin also said that the criticism had no factual basis, lamenting the "fallacious accusations, calumnies, and slander directed recently against our patron saint."
The rector and vice-chancellors of the university in eastern Poland commented: "The subjective theses expressed by some circles are by no means substantiated by facts and objective findings -- for example, presented in the report of the Holy See's Secretariat of State on Theodore McCarrick."
In their appeal, the 1,700 professors argued that, if the denigration of John Paul II went unchallenged, a "fundamentally false" picture of Polish history would be established in the minds of young Poles.
They said that the most serious consequence of this would be "the belief of the next generation that there is no reason why a community with such a past should be sustained."
The initiative's organizers described the appeal as "an unprecedented event, one which has brought together academic communities and exceeded our wildest expectations."