PopeBenedict XVI last night called off a visit to Rome's main university in the face of hostility from some of its academics and students, who accused him of despising science and defending the Inquisition's condemnation of Galileo.The controversy was unparalleled in a country where criticism of the Roman Catholic church is normally muted. The Pope had been due to speak tomorrow during ceremonies marking the start of the academic year at Rome's largest and oldest university, La Sapienza. But the Vatican said last night it had been "considered opportune to postpone" his visit.The announcement followed a break-in and sit-in at the rector's office yesterday by about 50 students and a furious row over a letter signed by more than 60 of La Sapienza's teachers, asking that the invitation to the Pope be rescinded.The signatories of the letter said Benedict's presence would be "incongruous".
Rightwing opposition MPs were outraged. One suggested La Sapienza, which means "wisdom" or "learning" ought now to be renamed La Ignoranza...
· Galileo Galilei was the Inquisition's most high profile victim. But by recanting his view that the earth moved around the sun, he managed to pay for his defiance of Catholic teaching, not with his life, but his freedom.
Born in Pisa in 1564, Galileo was a polymathic genius - a physicist, astronomer and mathematician who improved both the refracting telescope and compound microscope
· After ridiculing the views of the then Pope Urban VIII in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo was ordered to stand trial for heresy in 1633. The judgment found that his view of the solar system was "absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures".
· He spent the rest of his life under house arrest on orders of the Inquisition and died in 1642. It was not until 1835 that his Dialogue was dropped from the Index of banned books.John Hopper