Pope Benedict XVI called off a visit to a prestigious university in Rome in the face of hostility from some of its academics and students, who accused him of despising science and defending the church's persecution of Galileo. The Pope had been scheduled to make a speech at La Sapienza University on January 17. The controversy was unparallelled in a country where criticism of the church is muted.
The cancellation of the lecture followed a break-in and sit-in at the rector's office by about 50 students and a furious row over a letter signed by more than 60 of La Sapienza's teachers, asking that the invitation to the Pope be rescinded. The signatories cited a speech he made at La Sapienza in 1990, while still a cardinal, in which he quoted the judgment of an Austrian philosopher of science who wrote that the church's trial of Galileo was "reasonable and fair". "These words offend and humiliate us," the letter said. Among the signatories was the physicist Luciano Maiani, who was recently appointed to head Italy's main scientific research body, the Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche.
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