Backlash over papal speech protest

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about protests by Italian scientists and students against a planned speech by the pope at La Sapienza University in Rome. The protest succeeded when the Bishop of Rome decided that it would be best if he kept a low profile, and delay visiting the university until the fuss had died down.

Well, it appears that the row is continuing, and may be escalating. New Scientist reports that many Italians believe the pope’s freedom of speech has been suppressed, and Dr Ratzinger commented that the La Sapienza protest had a “censorious tone”. Pots and kettles spring to mind, but the old inquisitor does have a point of sorts.

Opinion in the Italian scientific community is divided over the issue, and physicist Cristiano Germani from the International School of Advanced Studies in Trieste (SISSA) has said:

“The university was wrong to invite the pope, but once done, the students were wrong to protest against his right to speak, and that’s making Italians crazy.”

Crazy enough to turn up in larger numbers than usual to the pope’s weekly sermon.

As if this own goal were not enough, physicists who signed the original protest letter are now in the firing line, and there are moves by parliamentarians to block the appointment of former CERN chief Luciano Maiani as head of the National Research Council.

The rector of La Sapienza is meanwhile planning to reissue the invitation.