Condemnation seen as error

VATICAN TO REDEEM GALILEO

October 31, 1992|By New York Times News Service

ROME -- More than 350 years after the Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo for teaching that the Earth moved around the sun, Pope John Paul II is poised to rectify one of the Inquisition's most infamous wrongs.

With a formal statement at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences today, Vatican officials said the pope will formally close a 13-year investigation into the church's condemnation of Galileo in 1633.

The condemnation, which forced the astronomer and physicist to recant his discoveries, led to Galileo's house arrest for eight years before his death in 1642 at the age of 77.

The dispute between the church and Galileo has long stood as one of history's great emblems of conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith. The Vatican's formal acknowledgment of an error, moreover, is a rarity in an institution built over centuries on the belief that the church is the final arbiter of matters of faith.

Galileo had won fame and the patronage of leading Italian powers like the Medicis and Barberinis for discoveries he had made with the astronomical telescope, which he had built.

But when his observations led him to proof of the Copernican theory of the solar system, in which the sun and not the Earth is the center, and which the church regarded as heresy, Galileo was summoned to Rome by the Inquisition.

By the end of his trial, Galileo was forced to recant his own scientific findings as "abjured, cursed and detested," a renunciation that caused him great personal anguish but which saved him from being burned at the stake.

Because of his advanced years, he was permitted house arrest HTC in Siena. Legend has it that as Galileo rose from kneeling before his inquisitors, he murmured, "e pur, si muove" -- "even so, it does move."

Since then, the church has taken various steps to reverse its opposition to Galileo's conclusions.

In 1757, Galileo's "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems" was removed from the Index, a former list of publications banned by the church. When the latest investigation, conducted by a panel of scientists, theologians and historians, made a preliminary report in 1984, it said that Galileo had been wrongfully condemned.

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