Pope Cancels University Visit After Protests

Some at Sapienza Claim He's Opposed to Science, But Others Differ

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI canceled his visit to Rome's Sapienza University amid protests from professors and students regarding the Church's role in science.

The visit was planned for Thursday, but a group of professors and students signed a letter protesting the visit by a Pope whom they claimed is "hostile to science."

Today, the protesters occupied the rector's offices in protest.

The Vatican press office reported today that "it has been considered opportune to postpone the event," which had been planned "by invitation of the major rector."

The Holy Father will nevertheless send the discourse he had prepared, the Vatican statement added.

The protesters' letter mentioned a 1990 speech at Sapienza University that then Cardinal Ratzinger gave about the Church's 17th-century condemnation of Galileo. The signatories of the protest letter mentioned that the future Pope quoted an Austrian philosopher who said the trial was "rational and just." The protesters did not mention that Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say that he was not in agreement with the philosopher.

Renato Guarini, rector of the university, said he had awaited Benedict XVI, a theologian and professor and "messenger of peace," to live "a moment of high culture" and an "interchange of ideas that would be fruitful for the entire university community."

Giorgio Israel, a Jewish mathematician and professor at the university, noted in L'Osservatore Romano that the 1990 speech actually defended Galileo.

Cardinal Ratzinger said at that time, "Faith does not grow from a resentment and refusal of rationalism, but from its basic affirmation."

Israel lamented the contradiction of those who have opposed Benedict XVI's visit, who are purportedly defending the secularism of science, but are also negating the freedom of speech. The article in L'Osservatore Romano was published before the Vatican announced today that the Pontiff would postpone the visit.

"It is surprising," the mathematician said, "that those who have chosen as a motto Voltaire's famous phrase, 'I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' oppose themselves to the Pope pronouncing a discourse at the university of Rome."