Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Niente Sapienza

Much has been made in recent days of the likelihood of demonstrations greeting B16 on his planned Thursday visit to deliver a lecture at Rome's La Sapienza University.

After students alleging the pontiff's hostility to science staged a sit-in in the rector's office earlier today, the Vatican announced that the engagement was a no-go:
[M]ore than 60 professors signed a letter to the university rector opposing the pope's visit. Banners decrying the pope were strung from buildings and posters plastered on walls.

Protests against the pontiff, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, are not uncommon, but “it was considered opportune to skip the event,” the Vatican said in a brief statement Tuesday.

Instead, Benedict will send his speech to the university, the Vatican said. Rome's mayor and the government's minister for universities still are scheduled to speak at La Sapienza.

Such a cancellation of a scheduled papal event is extremely rare, and the few times it has happened in recent decades, the Vatican has cited security concerns. No specific reason was cited Tuesday.

Vatican Radio described the mobilization by students and professors at Europe's largest university as smacking of censorship.

The university rector, Renato Guarini, criticized the protests as “a fundamentalist attitude of great intellectual closure.”

He said 63 instructors – out of a total of 4,500 – had signed the letter. He had said students would have been allowed to gather in a designated area Thursday during the pope's visit.

PHOTO: Reuters/Dario Pignatelli