Catholic World News News Feature
Italian leaders dismayed by papal speech cancellation January 16, 2008
Italian political leaders have expressed their dismay that a noisy protest at La Sapienza university in Rome prompted Pope Benedict XVI to cancel his planned appearance there.
Italian president Giorgio Napolitano released a statement condemning the "inadmissible intolerance" shown by the campus protestors, who had planned to greet the Pope with loud rock music, anti-clerical posters, and parades of militant homosexuals. Prime Minister Romano Prodi said that the protests had "provoke unacceptable tensions and created a climate that does not honor Italy's traditions of civility and tolerance."
Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni added his perspective that the Pope's appearance on campus would have been "another great opportunity for the city of Rome to show itself as the center of civil dialogue." While intellectual debates are welcome, he said, the "intolerant behavior" of a minority at La Sapienza was "bad for democracy and liberty." The former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, went further, saying that the incident was "humiliating" and a "shameful day" for Italy.
Pope Benedict withdrew from his scheduled appearance on January 17 after a group of about 100 leftist students occupied to office of Dr. Renato Guarini, the dean of La Sapienza, demanding a withdrawal of the invitation extended to the Pontiff. Earlier a group of 67 professors-- a small minority of the faculty-- had signed a statement charging that a papal appearance would be inappropriate because, they said, the Pope is hostile to science.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar for Rome, suggested that the city's Catholics should gather on Sunday in St. Peter's Square, for the Pope's regular Angelus audience, as a sign of solidarity with the Holy Father. On Wednesday, January 16, a large group of students from La Sapienza attended the Pope's public audience to show their support. At one point a member of the student group-- which had been organized by the Communion and Liberation movement-- shouted to the Pope: "La Sapienza university is with you!" Pope Benedict replied to the students: "Thank you for your presence and your sympathy."