Storm over Rome: Physicists against Pope Ratzinger January 14, 2008Posted by dorigo in news, physics, politics, religion, science.
In four days, Pope Ratzinger is expected to give a speech at the Rome University “La Sapienza” at the end of the ceremony for the start of the academic year. He was invited to do so by the University, but a physics professor emeritus, Marcello Cini, took exception, and manifested his dissent in a public letter to the rector of La Sapienza, Renato Guarini. Here is the letter, in italian. Professor Cini declared to be outraged by the decision of the rector, explaining the reactionary views of pope Ratzinger and the 705-years-old laic and autonomous tradition of the La Sapienza University.
67(*) more professors have since joined the protest, with this additional letter:
Magnificus Rector, with these few lines we wish to let you know that we totally support the criticism that the colleague Marcello Cini addressed to you on press regarding the bewildering initiative which foresaw the intervention of pope Benedict XVI to the opening of the academic year at La Sapienza. Nothing to add to Cini’s letter, except a detail. On March 15th, 1990, still a cardinal, in a speech in the city of Parma, Joseph Ratzinger took a sentence by Feyerabend: “In the age of Galileo the Church showed to be more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial against Galileo was reasonable and just“. These are words which, as scientists faithful to reason and as professors who dedicate their lives to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, offend us and humiliate us. In the name of the laicity of science and culture and in respect of our institute open to professors and students from every religion and ideology, we hope that the incongrous event can still be cancelled”. (original version here).
Among the signers many notable physicists and other scientists: Carlo Bernardini, Luciano Maiani, Giorgio Parisi, Andrea Frova.
In the last few days Radio Vatican counterattacked, claiming the letter to be a censorship attempt. Professors and students are now announcing sit-ins against Benedict XVI, and other expressions of protest. Catholic students prepare themselves to the event with a vigil of prayer.
I stay an observer of the upcoming storm, but I still hope pope Ratzinger realizes Universities are no place for him and declines the invitation. If I read him, though, I know he will not decline: what a lovely occasion for a reactionary to show his balls and show up where he is the least wanted. Nonetheless, his place is his own sinking ship, the Vatican, more and more detached from real life as years go by.
(*) UPDATE: As the physicist and signer of the letter Andrea Frova explains, the subscribing faculty members are ten times more than those who actually signed the letter quoted above, which was meant to be a private document (unlike the original public letter by Cini). Also worth noting today is the starting anti-clerical week at La Sapienza, organized by students of Physics. If you are around, join in for a delicious panino con porchetta and red wine.
UPDATE: several politicians and men of letters chose to comment one way or another the initiative by the physicists of La Sapienza. Some (Garavaglia, vice-mayor of Rome) speak of “paradoxical behavior” and should go back to reading a few books on the history of science. Others (Gasparri, a politician from AN not particularly reknowned for brilliance) claim that a legal action should be initiated against the 67 professors, and is well advised to read a few books of law. I expect many further reactions, as the news is spreading and it keeps making headlines.
UPDATE: this morning (1/15), about 100 students have occupied the meeting room of the academic senate at La Sapienza. They manifest against the decision of enforcing a police presidium around the rectorate next Thursday, to avoid a sit-in during the visit of Ratzinger. In the meantime, the Vatican confirms for the umpteenth time that the pope will visit La Sapienza on Thursday.
UPDATE: the students have bargained with the rector a place for their manifestation of Thursday, and in exchange they have left the rectorate.
UPDATE: the pope is not going. The Vatican now says the pope, saddened by the events, has decided to cancel his visit. He will send a document containing his planned speech. I think it is a wise decision, and I am happy for it. No need for a confrontation. Renato Guarini, the rector, must now feel like a fool… And maybe he is one. This whole story is his responsibility.