Normally, today, Benedict XV should have gone along to the Sapienza University of Rome as a guest of the rector. But he decided, two days ago, to stay at home, since a group of 67 teachers and researchers of the physics department had made it known that the pope was a persona non grata in their ivory tower of science. Why didn't the academics wish to welcome the head of the Catholic church? A spokesman explained: "Ever since the condemnation of Galileo by the Inquisition in 1633, physicists are particularly touchy about the Catholic church meddling in scientific matters." For staff members of La Sapienza, Galileo's trial is looked upon as a relatively recent happening, since their prestigious university was founded (by a pope) in 1303.
Now, scientists have had ample opportunities to express their opposition to religion in general, and Christianity in particular. So, why today's sudden surge of aggressiveness, in the Italian capital, concerning the latest pope? It gets back to Galileo. Delving into the declarations of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger long before he became pope, the physicists of La Sapienza have unearthed an oration in which he attempts to justify the trial of Galileo by a fuzzy reference to some kind of "greater rationality" than that of science.
Let us hope that the decision of Benedict XV to refrain from visiting La Sapienza will set a precedent. Popes, cardinals and tutti quanti would do well, from now on, to remain on their time-honored terrain: that of the Church, with all its wishy-washy thinking and bloody history. Today, in the citadels of science, there is no longer any room for those who persist in believing in antiquated falsehoods and childish magic.