In recent days students and faculty activists has kicked up a lot of dust at the venerable Sapienzia University in Rome which was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII. Benedict had been invited to give an address to the university. The protestors, well, protested. Stated reason: accusations that Benedict is “anti-science.” Real source: the ongoing cultural conflict in the West. The pope decided to cancel his visit, though he is sending his already written speech.
The accusation is based on a 1990 speech by Benedict in which the Pope quoted well known (and quirky) philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend’s defense of the reasonableness of the Church’s prosecution of Galileo. Here is what Feyerabend wrote: “The church at the time was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just.” As with controversial quote about Islam in the 2006 Regensburg speech, Ratzinger/Benedict did not explicitly endorse Feyerabend’s assessment. Instead, he used the quote as part of a larger arguement against the contemporary tendency to simplistically (and erroneously) set faith and reason in opposition.
You don’t really need to revisit the 1990 speech or research the details of the Galileo trial to know that “anti-science” is just a pretext. The real issue at Sapienzia in Rome is pretty much the same issue at Harvard or UCLA. The Catholic Church is the single most articulate voice for a culture of truth that I know this will shock readers includes moral and spiritual truths. This threatens postmodern secularism, so much so that the Catholic voice is pushed to the margins, if not altogether silenced.