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Galileo protest halts pope's visit

  • Story Highlights
  • Pope cancels visit to Italian university after protest over his views on Galileo
  • Benedict XVI due to give speech at La Sapienza university in Rome Thursday
  • Academics said pope condones 1633 trial and conviction of Galileo for heresy
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI has canceled a planned visit to a prestigious Italian university after a protest by academics and students attacked his views on Galileo, the Vatican confirmed Tuesday.

The pope had been due to give a speech at La Sapienza university in Rome Thursday to open its academic year.

However, the visit drew criticism from academics at the university who signed a letter demanding that the trip be called off. Separately, students protested outside the university, carrying banners insisting the university is a lay institution and the pope is not welcome.

"Given the events of the past days regarding the visit of the Holy Father to La Sapienza university upon the rector's invitation, which was scheduled to take place Thursday, January 17, it was decided to postpone the event," the Vatican said in a short written statement.

Father Ciro Benedettini, a spokesman for the Vatican, confirmed to CNN the academic protests had prompted the cancellation.

In the letter, academics -- pointing to a speech the pope gave at the same university as a cardinal in 1990 -- claimed he condones the 1633 trial and conviction of the scientist Galileo for heresy.

The astronomer had argued that the Earth revolved around the Sun, in contradiction to church teachings at the time, and he was forced to renounce his findings publicly.

In comments made 15 years ago when he was still a cardinal, Pope Benedict is reported to have called the trial "reasonable and just."

During his speech, the pope -- then Cardinal Ratzinger -- quoted an Austrian philosopher Paul Feyerabend, saying, "At the time of Galileo, the church remained more loyal (or faithful) to reason than Galileo himself.

Andreas Srova, a physics professor at the university, said it would have been inappropriate for the pope to appear for the inauguration.

Srova, who signed the protest letter and is the author of a book detailing the 1633 trial, said he is "very satisfied" that the Vatican decided to cancel the trip.

"We have no objections to the pope visiting at any other time when there can be exchanges of opinion, but not at the inauguration," he said. "It was a mistake to ask him to come at this time."

CNN's Rome bureau chief Alessio Vinci said it was quite extraordinary for the pope to cancel the visit just because of the objections of the students and professors. It Is especially surprising, he said, given that this is the same pope that made a controversial visit to Turkey last year.

Pope Benedict went to the predominantly Muslim country despite strained relations between the Vatican and the Islamic world following a lecture the pope gave at a German university in which he made unflattering comments about the Islamic faith. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Hada Messia also contributed to this report.

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