Soul-searching in Italy after Pope scraps speech
Thursday, 17 January, 2008, 02:05 AM Doha Time
VATICAN CITY: University students poured yesterday into Vatican City to show support for Pope Benedict after protests over his views on science forced him to cancel a speech at Rome’s top public college.
The German Pontiff decided late on Tuesday not to deliver an address today at La Sapienza university following protests by a small but vociferous group of students and faculty members. Some had occupied part of the campus to demand he stay away.
Italians condemned the protests, saying they smacked of censorship. Politicians and pundits used words like “shame” and “humiliation” to describe national sentiment.
The Pope, with a smile, welcomed university students who showed up at his general audience. As he entered the audience hall, they shouted: “Freedom!”, in a reference to his right to free speech.
“If the Pope won’t come to La Sapienza, La Sapienza will come to the Pope,” read one banner held by students.
The vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, invited Romans to show their support for the Pope by coming to St. Peter’s Square on Sunday for his weekly prayer.
He said the “sad episodes” that forced the Pope to cancel his speech “delivered a very painful blow to the whole city”.
Since being elected in 2005, the conservative Pontiff has fought what he sees as efforts to restrict the voice of the Church in the public sphere - particularly in Europe.
But his public posturing on issues ranging from abortion and gay marriage to euthanasia has led critics in Italy to accuse him of meddling in politics.
The protesters said if the Pope wanted to speak, he could do so from the Vatican. They criticised his views on science, saying a speech he gave in 1990 showed he would have favoured the Church’s 17th century heresy trial against Galileo.
Student leader Francesco Raparelli called the protests “a tremendous victory”.
But hostility toward his appearance at La Sapienza, which was founded by a Pope more than 700 years ago, outraged free speech advocates. Leading newspaper Corriere della Sera ran a front-page editorial headlined “A Defeat for the Country” and left-leaning La Repubblica called the protests against the Pope “sick”.
Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano wrote to the Pope condemning “demonstrations of intolerance”.
The episode drew out allies of all stripes who condemned the students’ actions, ranging from Rome’s chief rabbi to outspoken Church critic Dario Fo, a Nobel Prize winning writer.
“Being secular does not mean closing your ears when someone who is religiously inspired speaks,” said Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, who has invited the Pope to speak at his synagogue. – Reuters
Sapienza Rector to Re-invite Pope
Papal Discourse Read by Professor Gets Standing Ovation
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The rector of Rome's Sapienza University announced that he will re-invite Benedict XVI to visit the institution.Renato Guarini affirmed this after the inauguration ceremony today that was supposed to have included a lecture given by the Pope. The Vatican announced Tuesday that the visit would be postponed, due to what the Pope's secretary of state called a lack of the "prerequisites for a dignified and tranquil welcome."
A small protest that eventually reached the point of several students occupying the rector's offices motivated the Holy See to cancel the visit. The protestors called the Pope "hostile" to science and took issue with a 1990 speech by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the Galileo case. The 1990 speech in its entirety showed the protestors to have taken Cardinal Ratzinger's words out of context.
Guarini said, "I will offer a new invitation to the Pope, Benedict XVI." He said the invitation would "be in accord with the desire of the majority of Sapienza's academic community."
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.
Protests around the university continued, since the issue has ballooned into a national debate about the roles of science and religion. Auxiliary Bishop Enzo Dieci of Rome was blocked from entering the university, thus impeding him from celebrating Mass in its chapel.