Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pope Benedict, Sapienza University and the Intolerance of Radical Secularism

La Sapienza University is the largest European university and the most ancient of Rome's three public universities. It was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII -- in 1870, it was secularized and became the university of the capital of Italy. [Source: Wikipedia]. This year, Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to speak to 1,000 hand-picked guests in the Aula Magna, the main lecture hall, at the inauguration of the academic year.

A student walks past a banner reading: Times have changed, however -- no longer a Christian institution, students and faculty, obstinate in their militant secularism, have voiced their resentment at the Holy Father's scheduled appearance; the faculty with a signed letter of protest signed by 67 lecturers and professors; students with four days of increasingly hostile demonstrations. The Times reports:

A hundred militant left wing students had occupied the office of Professor Renato Guarini, the university rector, to demand that the papal visit be cancelled because of Benedict's "obscurantist" stand on science in general and the Church's treatment of Galileo as a heretic in particular. Sixty-seven science professors and lecturers at La Sapienza signed a letter to Professor Guarini calling on him to scrap the visit. Professor Guarini said the Pope was "saddened" by the protests.

Students had said they would greet the Pope with a "sonic siege" of loud rock music - which he once defined as "the devil's work" - an "anti clerical" gay and lesbian parade and banners reading "No Pope" and "Knowledge needs neither fathers no priests". . . .

Sergio Doplicher, a mathematics lecturer, said "I have no objection to the Pope coming to give us his blessing but have serious reservations about him restating the supremacy of faith over science and of moral principles over the lay values protected by the Italian Constitution".

Behind the controversy over faith and science lies a broader row over what many see as the Vatican's interference in Italian affairs on issues such as stem cell research, abortion and same sex civil unions. The Pope was to speak on the death penalty and the wider theme of the Church's "defence of life".

The La Sapienza student website said Pope Benedict had "condemned centuries of scientific and cultural growth by affirming anachronistic dogmas such as Creationism while attacking scientific free thought and promoting mandatory heterosexuality".

A student walks by banners against Pope Benedict XVIAccording to Reuters:
. . . The first day on Monday revolved around an "anti-clerical" meal of bread, pork and wine and a banner reading: "Knowledge needs neither fathers nor priests".

Meanwhile, a poster bearing the message ''Knowledge is secular'' has appeared outside the university under the statue of Minerva which is its symbol.


In defense of Galileo?

"Fra Giordano [Bruno] was burned, Galileo recanted, We will resist the Papacy, 17 January - Anti-Clerical Day, 12 Noon, Aldo Moro Square.To do science is not a crime, Secular-Self determining Knowledge, Sexual Liberty, LGBT Rights, NO POPE" -- "That's what passes for intelligent discourse in some quarters, friends." Zadok The Roman
According to Richard Owen the Times, at the root of the faculty's dispute with the pope is remarks made by Cardinal Ratzinger some 17 years ago, concerning the Church's condemnation of Galileo in 1633:
In their letter the La Sapienza scientists, including Andrea Frova, author of a study of Galileo, and Carlo Maiani, the head of the Italian National Council for Research, said they felt "offended and humiliated" by a statement made in 1990 by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger suggesting the trial of Galileo for heresy because of his support for the Copernican system was justified in the context of the time.

Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church had erred in condemning Galileo in 1633 for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo was forced to recant and spent the remaining eight years of his life under house arrest.

John Paul said the Inquisition had "transposed into the realm of the doctrine of the faith" a matter which had to do with scientific investigation, but added it was working "within the knowledge available at the time" and had guarded the integrity of the Catholic Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger, as John Paul's head of doctrine, observed that "At the time of Galileo the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The process against Galileo was reasonable and just".

Unfortunately, the Times reporting (which is indicative of the understanding of the Sapienza faculty) is factually incorrect and reveals a gross misunderstanding of what Ratzinger actually said. From L'Osservatore Romano, Professor Giorgio Israel (translation by the Papa Ratzinger Forum):
They accuse him of having said - in a lecture he gave at La Sapienza on February 15, 1990 {cfr J. Ratzinger, Wendezeit für Europa? Diagnosen und Prognosen zur Lage von Kirche und Welt, Einsiedeln-Freiburg, Johannes Verlag, 1991, pp. 59 e 71) - a statement that was actually from the philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend: "In the time of Galileo, the Church was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial of Galileo was reasonable and just."

But none of them bothered to read the lecture in full and carefully. Its theme was the crisis of faith in itself that science has, and he cited as an example the changing of attitudes about the Galileo case.

If Galileo had become - in the 18th century, the century of the Enlightenment - emblematic of the Church's 'medieval obscurantism', the attitude changed in the 20th century when Ernst Bloch, for instance, pointed out that Galileo never showed convincing proof of a heliocentric cosmos, to the statement by Feyerabend - described by Ratzinger in the lecture as 'an agnostic-skeptic philosopher' - and by Carl von Weiszsacker who said there was a straight line from Galileo to the atom bomb.

These citations were not used by the cardinal to seek vindication or to make justifications: "It would be absurd," he said "to construct a hasty apologetics on the basis of these statements. Faith does not grow out of resentment or the rejection of reason."

The citations he made were clearly used as proof of how much "modernity's doubts about itself have now involved even science and technology."

In other words, the 1990 lecture could well be considered - by anyone who reads it with the minimum attention - a defense of Galilean rationality against the skepticism and relativism of post-modern culture.

As John Allen Jr. remarks:
In a nutshell, therefore, Benedict is being faulted by the physics professors for quoting somebody else's words, which his full text suggests he does not completely share. (Readers who remember Regensburg can be forgiven a sense of déjà-vu.)

Also by way of John Allen, Jr., the comments by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the Galileo case, excerpted from A Turning Point for Europe? The Church and Modernity in the Europe of Upheavals, Paoline Editions, 1992, pp. 76-79. [The excerpted passage also appears on pages 95-98 of the 1994 Ignatius Press edition].

Benedict cancels -- and turns the tables on Sapienza protestors

January 16, 2008

Responding to the protests of faculty members and students, Pope Benedict XVI cancels his appearance at Sapienza University. Notice of the pope's cancellation was conveyed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent to the rector of the Università La Sapienza, prof. Renato Guarini, together with the address Benedict XVI would have given:

Esteemed Rector,the Holy Father had gladly accepted your invitation to visit the Università degli Studi "La Sapienza", to offer in this way a sign of affection and of the high regard in which he holds this illustrious institution, which originated centuries ago at the behest of his venerated predecessor.

But since, at the initiative of a decidedly minority group of professors and students, the conditions for a dignified and peaceful welcome were lacking, it has been judged prudent to delay the scheduled visit in order to remove any pretext for demonstrations that would have been unpleasant for all. But in the awareness of the sincere desire on the part of the great majority of the professors and students for culturally significant words from which they can take encouragement for their personal journey in search of the truth, the Holy Father has arranged to send you the text he prepared personally for the occasion. I gladly act as the agent of his decision, attaching the written address with the hope that all may find within it ideas for enriching reflections and examinations.

I gladly take this opportunity to extend to you, with feelings of profound deference, my cordial regards,

Tarcisio Card. Bertone
Secretary of State

From AsiaNews.it, translation of the speech Benedict XVI planned to deliver Thursday at La Sapienza University in Rome..

According to Zenit News Service, Benedict's address was read by another professor during the inauguration, to much acclaim:

During the inauguration ceremony, a professor read the discourse the Holy Father had prepared for the occasion. A standing ovation and students' shouts of "Long live the Pope" followed the reading.

Fabio Mussi, the Italian minister of education, and Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, were present.

Meanwhile, Italian leaders voiced their dismay at the Pope's cancellation (Catholic World News):

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano released a statement condemning the "inadmissible intolerance" shown by the campus protestors, who had planned to greet the Pope with loud rock music, anti-clerical posters, and parades of militant homosexuals. Prime Minister Romano Prodi said that the protests had "provoke unacceptable tensions and created a climate that does not honor Italy's traditions of civility and tolerance."

Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni added his perspective that the Pope's appearance on campus would have been "another great opportunity for the city of Rome to show itself as the center of civil dialogue." While intellectual debates are welcome, he said, the "intolerant behavior" of a minority at La Sapienza was "bad for democracy and liberty." The former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, went further, saying that the incident was "humiliating" and a "shameful day" for Italy.

A group of university students of the Communion and Liberation movement greeted the Pope with chants of "Freedom! Freedom!" at the beginning of his general audience AsiaNews.it:

"So there are three places where the pope cannot go: Moscow, Beijing, and the university of Rome", commented one of the young people present at the audience. "If Benedict does not go to La Sapienza, La Sapienza comes to Benedict", read one of the banners that the young people raised.

Pope Benedict XVI is greeted by La Sapienza University students at the end of his weekly general audienceThe pope did not mention the affair, not even in the greeting that he addressed to the students. For the second week, Benedict XVI dedicated the discourse of his general audience to Saint Augustine, dwelling in particular on the last year of the life of the bishop of Hippo, who died during the Vandal assault on his city in 430. The pope emphasised in particular Augustine's call to the pastors to remain close to the faithful in moments of difficulty, as so many priests have done so often throughout history.


January 17, 2008

Calling the Sapienza protests a "painful blow to the entire city of Rome," Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, called on the faithful to gather in St. Peter's Square during the recitation of the Angelus to show their support for Pope Benedict XVI (Catholic News Agency). In contrast to the violent and hate-filled demonstrations at Sapienza, he emphasized the Angelus would be a sign of peace and spiritual solidarity:

"Next Sunday's event will be a moment of prayer, any other motivation in the people joining us at St. Peter's Square would be unwelcome and out of place," Cardinal Ruini told the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano.

The Cardinal explained that "because of its prayerful nature, the Angelus cannot be turned into a political demonstration."

"This will be a moment to show affection for the Holy Father and not a demonstration against the lack of receptivity from La Sapienza. It is an event that want to express the feelings of the majority of Romans, as well as the majority of the La Sapienza community," Cardinal Ruini added.

The gathering at St. Peter's square next Sunday, therefore, "must be in tune with the classic tone of the Angelus, which is a moment to listen to God's word and also a moment to listen to the Holy Father, to be with him, to greet him."

In an interview with 'Corriere della Sera, Ruini also remarked that "some signs of solidarity" with the Pope by attendees of Sappienza University had come too late.

January 18, 2008

Commentary

  • Dangers of anti-Catholic academic extremism, by Hugh McNichol. Catholic News Agency. January 16, 2008:
    The dissenting students and faculty are adamant about the perception that the Holy Father is "anti-science," in his papal ministry and his theological ponderings. There really cannot be anything further from the truth than branding the former Joseph Ratzinger, an esteemed theologian and scholar as someone that is an antithesis of scientific research and discovery. Perhaps the real matter at hand here is the inclusion of individuals that have a desire to eliminate any inclusion of theological related theories into the study and development of modern science. It appears to this author that what is going on here is sort of reverse Inquisition, which seeks to defame any pursuit and inclusion of religious beliefs into the empirical world of scientific observation and discovery. This protest by the students and faculty of Rome's Sapienza University is the precipice of a slippery slope that really threatens a global appreciation of Catholic theological development and its historical foundations. The protesters involved in this dispute seem mainly to be concerned with the fact that the Church in the past has at times dealt a rather heavy hand to the empirical sciences and at times was consistently opposed to certain paths of scientific study.

    How unfortunate that a university that has in the foundational root of its name and purpose the word, Sapienza…which means wisdom or knowledge is directly opposed to the free exchange and development of scientific ideas simply because they are speculated by the Bishop of Rome. Such animosity against a papal visit clearly indicates the university has excluded many aspects of free philosophical thought and its open expression for the extremely parochial view of secular science sans theological and historical appreciation for the pursuit of higher studies in the physical sciences. Could it be that there is a movement at play here that reeks of secular humanism and purely empirical science that is seeking to undermine the philosophical expressions of natural law and the expression of right reason?

  • Joaquin Navarro-Valls on the pope, science, and La Sapienza la Repubblica January 17, 2008:
    In truth, however, the invitation to Benedict XVI wasn't handled especially well, since it was issued by the Rector without being confirmed by the Academic Senate. In addition, the presence of the pope became caught up in a political struggle internal to the university itself, which would probably have erupted in some other way, but which was able to exploit this high-profile event that was ideally suited for obtaining its ends.

    Even though the internal context of the university is highly complex, one still has to understand the reasons that were adopted in support of the dissent from the visit of the pope, on the part not only of a group of 67 professors, a modest three percent of the faculty, but also a noisy, albeit small, group of students.

    In effect, it's from this point of view that the most original elements of what's happened can be found. . . .

  • Shunning a truth-seeker, by Fr. Raymond De Souza. National Post, (Canada) January 17, 2008:
    There is no doubt that La Sapienza turning its back on the pope is a historic moment. Certainly, it is a moment that has horrified Italy. And Italy should be horrified, for it means that La Sapienza has also turned its back on the search for truth, and on freedom in the search for that truth.
  • Silencing the Pope, by Father John Flynn. Zenit News. January 20, 2008 - on "cultural clashes and impoverished secularism."

  • Update Italian professors used Wikipedia to attack the Pope Catholic News Agency. February 6, 2008:
    The Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano is reporting that 67 professors from La Sapienza University in Rome who wrote a letter opposing a visit by Pope Benedict XVI based their opposition on a quote taken out of context from Wikipedia.org.

    The professors portrayed themselves as defenders "of freedom of research and of knowledge." "In the name of ‘freedom of research and of knowledge,' they have taken false information to be true, accepting an assertion without checking whether it is factual," the Vatican newspaper reported.

    L' Osservatore maintained that if any of the professors had checked the facts before signing the letter, "they would have realized that the author took the quote from a discourse by Ratzinger that is found under the title ‘Papa Benedetto XVI' at Wikipedia.org, the online encyclopedia that is edited by internet users and that no man of science would use as an exclusive source for his research, unless he checked the veracity of the content."

    "That Wikipedia in all likelihood is the source of the quote is evident by the fact that the letter from the 67 professors makes reference to a speech by Cardinal Ratzinger on March 15, 1990 in Parma. The speech was given, but it took place in Rome, at La Sapienza University on exactly that day," L' Osservatore continued. "The surprising thing is that whoever took the quote from Feyerabend could not have read the rest of the entry in Wikipedia, as he would have realized that the meaning of Ratzinger's statement is exactly the opposite of what the 67 claimed the Pope was saying."

  • Update Rector of La Sapienza visits with the Pope Catholic News Agency February 21, 2008:
    According to Vatican sources, Guarini brought the presents with him that he was supposed to give to the Pope on January 17, the date of his cancelled commencement speech at Italy’s largest university.

    According to the Vatican Press Office, the meeting between Pope Benedict and Guarini lasted 30 minutes, during which both spoke about "the role of the University in contemporary society," and its contribution to "building a new Humanism."

    There were also "some reflections" about the cancellation of the Pope's visit, but the possibility of a new invitation for the Pope to visit La Sapienza, was not discussed.

    Guarini gave the Pope two presents: a medal with the university's coat of arms and a facsimile copy of the 1303 Pope Boniface VIII's bull creating the 'Studium Urbis,' which would later become La Sapienza.


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