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Pope Gives Final Absolution to Galileo

October 31, 1992

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ More than 350 years after being forced to his knees by the Inquisition, Galileo was rehabilitated today by Pope John Paul II.

The pope made a major speech today on the Italian astronomer, mathematician and physicist who was condemned in 1663 for saying the Earth was not the center of the universe. The case has long symbolized the conflict between science and faith.

Theologians at the time erred by thinking the ″literal sense of sacred scripture″ explains the physical world, the pope told church officials and scholars at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In fact, the pontiff said, there are two realms of knowledge, ″one which has its source in Revelation and one which reason can discover by its own power.″ The two realms are distinct, but should not be considered opposite, he said.

A Vatican statement said Friday that 13 years of study by the Commission for the Study of the Ptolemaic-Copernican Controversy had ended.

The commission didn’t say whether Galileo Galilei would be ″rehabilitated,″ but some Italian newspapers have suggested that would be the case.

John Paul, who appointed the study panel in 1979, already has admitted church errors in condemning Galileo and forcing him to recant his scientific findings.

A preliminary report from the Commission for the Study of the Ptolemaic- Copernican Controversy in 1984 said Galileo had been wrongfully condemned. And in 1757, Galileo’s ″Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,″ in which he endorsed Copernican theories about the movements of the stars and planets, was removed from a list of publications banned by the church.

An Inquisition court in 1663 condemned Galileo for saying the Earth was not the center of the universe, as church teaching then held. The church at the time was trying to hold its ground against the challenge of Protestantism and was keen on attacking what it deemed heresy.

Ptolemy, an ancient Greco-Egyptian astronomer, held that the Earth was the stationary center of the universe, while Nicholas Copernicus, a Pole, said the earth went around the sun.

In 1613, Galileo endorsed the Copernican theory.

Three years later, the church denounced Copernicus’ astronomical theory as dangerous to the faith, and Galileo was warned to stop teaching it. But his ″Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,″ directed at non- specialists, appeared in 1632, and he was tried a year later as a heretic.

Galileo defended himself by saying study of the natural world would promote religious understanding. But at the trial, he was forced to renounce his theory of a revolving Earth. Legend has it that at the end of the trial he whispered, ″Nevertheless, it does move.″

Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment, a penalty later lightened to house arrest. He was under house arrest for eight years, until he died in 1642 at age 77. He continued his research, despite illness and, as he aged, blindness, until his death.

The Vatican now maintains astronomical observatories as part of its scientific programs to help it keep close track of discoveries and aid it in ascertaining whether religion and science mesh.