The AP is running an article about how the Church is trying to “re-cast” Galileo as a man of faith for the upcoming 400th anniversary of his telescope. As the AP puts it:
The Vatican is recasting the most famous victim of its Inquisition as a man of faith, just in time for the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope and the U.N.-designated International Year of Astronomy next year.
Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to the Italian astronomer and physicist Sunday, saying he and other scientists had helped the faithful better understand and “contemplate with gratitude the Lord’s works.”
In May, several Vatican officials will participate in an international conference to re-examine the Galileo affair, and top Vatican officials are now saying Galileo should be named the “patron” of the dialogue between faith and reason.
It’s quite a reversal of fortune for Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who made the first complete astronomical telescope and used it to gather evidence that the Earth revolved around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
The church denounced Galileo’s theory as dangerous to the faith, but Galileo defied its warnings. Tried as a heretic in 1633 and forced to recant, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, later changed to house arrest.
The church has for years been striving to shed its reputation for being hostile to science, in part by producing top-notch research out of its own telescope.
The problem I have is that we are always trying to rescue the Church’s reputation. Why doesn’t Galileo’s reputation need rescuing? After all, he came up with a theory (a theory that was only partially correct), insisted he was completely right (which he wasn’t), he then picked a fight with the Church when called a character representing the Pope “stupid” in his book, ended up with house arrest in a beautiful Italian villa.
Some months back I was listening to Catholic Answers on my Sirius radio. A caller inquired of Jimmy Akin what he thought of Galileo. Jimmy answered, “I think he was a jerk.” I almost crashed my car I was laughing so hard.
Now every smug little college student who manages to pass college physics 101 with a C- blindly repeats this the same pseudo-history of Galileo as proof that the Church is anti-science. These same little minds are just as smug and just as obnoxious as Galileo but without the brain power to back it up. (Even though he was still wrong, just less so.)
I sincerely hope that Galileo was a man with faith, I think he probably was. If he managed to make to purgatory, I think that part of his purification is living with the knowledge that he has become the patron saint of jerks.