On Tuesday the pontiff canceled a speech scheduled for today at Sapienza University of Rome in the wake of a threat by students and 67 faculty members to disrupt his appearance. The scholars argued that it was inappropriate for a religious figure to speak at their university.
This pope’s specific sin was a speech he gave nearly 20 years ago in which, they claimed, he indicated support for the 17th-century heresy trial against Galileo. The censoring scholars apparently failed to appreciate the irony that, in preventing the pope from speaking, they were doing to him what the Church once did to Galileo, stifling free speech and intellectual inquiry.
One of Benedict’s favorite themes is that European civilization derives from the rapprochement between Greek philosophy and religious belief, between Athens and Jerusalem. In the speech he wasn’t allowed to give, the pope planned to talk about the role of popes and universities.
It is a pope’s task, he wrote, to “maintain high the sensibility for the truth, to always invite reason to put itself anew at the service of the search for the true, the good, for God.” La Sapienza — which means “wisdom” — was founded by one of the pope’s predecessors in 1303. Another unappreciated irony.
It is ironic also that the word ‘university’ literally means the search for unity in diversity. Apparently, to paraphrase Orwell, some kinds of diversity are more equal than others.