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Dangers of anti-Catholic academic extremism....

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By Hugh McNichol

Observers throughout the world have observed the recent decision of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to cancel his visit to Sapienza Universita di Roma this week after student dissidents objected to a speech he made years ago as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Unfortunately, the disgruntled faculty and student body that cite this previous text have not quite read the entire proclamation regarding the Church's treatment of Galileo and the former Cardinal's exoneration of Galileo's teachings at the conclusion of the speech.

The dissenting students and faculty are adamant about the perception that the Holy Father is "anti-science," in his papal ministry and his theological ponderings. There really cannot be anything further from the truth than branding the former Joseph Ratzinger, an esteemed theologian and scholar as someone that is an antithesis of scientific research and discovery. Perhaps the real matter at hand here is the inclusion of individuals that have a desire to eliminate any inclusion of theological related theories into the study and development of modern science. It appears to this author that what is going on here is sort of reverse Inquisition, which seeks to defame any pursuit and inclusion of religious beliefs into the empirical world of scientific observation and discovery. This protest by the students and faculty of Rome's Sapienza University is the precipice of a slippery slope that really threatens a global appreciation of Catholic theological development and its historical foundations. The protesters involved in this dispute seem mainly to be concerned with the fact that the Church in the past has at times dealt a rather heavy hand to the empirical sciences and at times was consistently opposed to certain paths of scientific study.

How unfortunate that a university that has in the foundational root of its name and purpose the word, Sapienza...which means wisdom or knowledge is directly opposed to the free exchange and development of scientific ideas simply because they are speculated by the Bishop of Rome. Such animosity against a papal visit clearly indicates the university has excluded many aspects of free philosophical thought and its open expression for the extremely parochial view of secular science sans theological and historical appreciation for the pursuit of higher studies in the physical sciences. Could it be that there is a movement at play here that reeks of secular humanism and purely empirical science that is seeking to undermine the philosophical expressions of natural law and the expression of right reason?

The stage is dangerously set when an educational institution, which was founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303, permits an overzealous and perhaps fundamentally misinformed group of students and faculty to disrupt and subsequently cancel a papal speech at this ancient educational facility. Regardless of the message the Holy Father proclaims, he has the right and obligation to impart Catholic teaching and Catholic perspective into an educational forum, which rightly should uphold and foster freedom of religious and scientific expression...regardless of which enclave to which the protesters belong.

Seriously, the papal decision not to attend this engagement at the university is indicative of the fact that there seems to exist in the secular scientific community an anti-Catholic sentiment that is being fostered by the secular educational process and opponents of religious freedom of thought and expression. Isn't this the same global epidemic we are always afraid of encountering when we speak of the aggressive spread of Islam and religious extremism that is rampant throughout the Middle East. The Catholic Church has every right to express its opinion on matters of scientific experimentation and developments, not because the issue is based on opinion alone. It is because the issue includes a consistent and fundamental respect for the intrinsic dignity of all human beings to freely exist and prosper in whatever cognitive expression they choose. The imminent danger expressed by dissident students and faculty at Sapienza University indicates perhaps a new age of the same old demon...extremism on the part of empirical scientists.

Benedict XVI's media machine has announced that it might be, "imprudent," for a papal visit to the university at this time. Unfortunately that sense of, "imprudence," might well be rooted in the sentiments of academic and institutional aspects of public disobedience that might cause harm or injury to either the Pontiff or the assembled group. I applaud the Holy Father's decision not to attend a public symposium that might invoke or instigate public protests or even violence. However, the Holy Father's speech will still find a proper vehicle of expression and publication through the global communications opportunities available to the See of Peter.

Our 21st century society seems set upon imposing restrictions upon the free expression of beliefs and ideas that include religious understanding of the development of all mankind. This trend is unfortunate, because it increases the risk of secular and scientific isolation from the mystery of God's plan of creation. Furthermore, such academic polarities enhance the already wide schism of cooperation between global communities of religious, scientific and secular communities, where the enhancement of human life and dignity should be the universal goal.

Hugh J.McNichol is a freelance Catholic author that frequently writes on matter that effect the Catholic Church. His writings are positive apologetical musings that proclaim the Catholic Church's vital role and message in our modern world. His daily blog: is a forum for his Catholic thoughts. The author can be contacted at


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