By John Connolly

ROME, February 7, 2008 ( – The Italian professors and students who attracted worldwide attention in January for engineering break-ins and sit-ins that ultimately derailed a papal visit to La Sapienza University, likely based their protest letter on an inaccurate Wikipedia article, according to L’Osservatore Romano’s February 6 report.

67 professors from La Sapienza wrote a letter of protest against Benedict XVI’s visit to the school on the grounds that the Pope was hostile to science. The letter based its claim on an interpretation of a March 15, 1990 speech given by then-Cardinal Ratzinger on Galileo.

“On March 15, 1990,” says the letter, “During a speech in the city of Parma when he was still a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger quoted a statement by Feyerabend (a philosopher of science): ‘During the era of Galileo the Church was more faithful to reason than Galileo himself.  The trial of Galileo was reasonable and just.’  These are words that, as scientists faithful to reason and teachers who devote their lives to the advance and spread of knowledge, offend and humiliate us.  In the name of the lay nature of science and culture and out of respect for our forum open to teachers and students of all creeds and ideologies, we urge that this event be canceled.”

To the embarrassment of the professors, who claimed to be standing up for the freedom of education, the talk was not given in Parma, but in Rome at La Sapienza. L’Osservatore Romano traced the inaccurate information to an Italian article from the online user-edited encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

“That Wikipedia in all likelihood is the source of the quote is evident by the fact that the letter from the 67 professors makes reference to a speech by Cardinal Ratzinger on March 15, 1990 in Parma.  The speech was given, but it took place in Rome, at La Sapienza University on exactly that day,” reported L’Osservatore Romano. “The surprising thing is that whoever took the quote from Feyerabend could not have read the rest of the entry in Wikipedia, as he would have realized that the meaning of Ratzinger’s statement is exactly the opposite of what the 67 claimed the Pope was saying.”

Although Benedict did indeed say that the trial of Galileo was reasonable and just, he concluded by saying he did not agree with the Church’s ultimate ruling in the case. This fact was studiously overlooked by the professors in their letter.

The Wikipedia revelation is the latest in a long series of humiliations for the professors of La Sapienza, who attracted worldwide criticism for excluding the pope from speaking in the name of “tolerance.” More than 200,000 people showed up at the Vatican on January 20 as a show of solidarity with the Pope for the persecution against him. Officials at La Sapienza have promised to invite the Pope to speak again, determined to clear the school’s name in what has become one of the largest public relations victories for the Vatican during Benedict’s pontificate.

See Previous LifeSiteNews Coverage:

200,000 Faithful Catholics Throng into St. Peter’s Square after La Sapienza Insult

Rome Cardinal Calls for Faithful to Rally in Support of Pope Sunday – Prayers Urged

Fallout From La Sapienza Controversy: Rome Reacts Following Papal Rejection

Students Flock to Pope’s Wednesday Audience After Speech Cancelled over Protests