Monday, April 04, 2005

Mea Culpa

The world is saturated with coverage of the life and death of the Pope today, but I haven't seen any comment on one of the most important themes of John Paul II's pontificate, repentance for the sins of the Church.

A few years ago an Italian journalist wrote a book in which he calculated that John Paul II had publicly admitted Church culpability 94 times, on topics ranging from the inquisition to the treatment of women.

This does seem to be in profound contrast to the authoritarian Papal image with which we are so often presented.

I remember being amazed and impressed myself when, in 1992, 359 years after the Galileo trial, John Paul II issued an apology, lifting the edict of Inquisition against Galileo, which said:

"Galileo sensed in his scientific research the presence of the Creator who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions."

After the release of this report, the Pope said further that "... Galileo, a sincere believer, showed himself to be more perceptive in this regard [the relation of scientific and Biblical truths] than the theologians who opposed him".

How's that for the Long Now?

(The Long Now Foundation is a fascinating organisation set up to promote "slower/better" thinking. I must write something about them and their marvelous clock one of these days.)

The Galileo affair also appears to have provided the Pope with material for jokes. In 1994, after fracturing his thigh in a bathtub fall, he hobbled slowly to his presiding chair in a roomful of bishops in the Vatican, lowered himself with great difficulty into his seat and muttered to the assembly: Eppur, si muove � "And yet, it moves," Galileo's defiant declaration to his Inquisition judges in 1633 after they had sentenced him to life imprisonment for declaring Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around as implied in Scripture.

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