Pope's visit to university canceled
By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press WriterTue Jan 15, 6:37 PM ET
Pope Benedict XVI has canceled his visit to a Rome university following protests by secular professors and students, the Vatican said Tuesday.
Such a cancellation of a scheduled papal event is extremely rare, and the few times it has happened in recent decades, the Vatican cited security concerns. No specific reason was given in a brief Vatican announcement and Vatican spokesmen could not be reached for comment.
"It was considered opportune to skip the event," the Vatican said of Benedict's planned visit and speech Thursday at La Sapienza, a public university. Instead, the pope will send his speech to the university.
When news of the cancellation reached the campus, students in a political sciences hall broke into applause.
About 60 of the 4,500 professors at the university had signed a letter to the university rector, opposing the visit. Banners reading "Science is secular" and "No pope" have been strung from university buildings and posters plastered on walls objected to the visit. Students had announced several days of demonstrations this week. The university has 145,000 students.
On Monday, Vatican Radio had described the mobilization by students and professors at Europe's largest university as smacking of censorship.
Benedict was scheduled to deliver the speech as part of a ceremony to inaugurate the academic year at the university, which was founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303.
The theme for the school ceremony is efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide, a cause close to the Vatican's interests. The topic of the pope's speech was not revealed.
University rector Renato Guarini expressed "regret" but said he respected the pope's decision.
Italian Premier Romano Prodi urged the pontiff to change his mind. "No voice must go silent in our country, let alone that of the pope," Prodi said in a statement.
The politically influential Italian bishops conference said Benedict was the object of "antidemocratic intolerance."
Interior Minister Giuliano Amato ruled out security concerns as the reason for cancellation.
This, in my opinion, is infuriating. Sixty signatures out of 4500 professors. How could such a squeek become such a roar?? The speech, seemingly, wasn't even going to be on the topic of any science. I can only wonder what really pushed this to occur. I don't think a protest would have led Holy Father to cancel. He's dealt with harsher stuff than student protests.