The Vatican has cancelled a planned visit by Pope Benedict to Rome’s most prestigious university, following protests by students and staff.
It is an unprecedented move since the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took over the Roman Catholic Church in April, 2005.
He was due to speak at La Sapienza University on Thursday at a ceremony launching the 2008 academic year.
But, defending higher education as secular, some there demanded his invitation be withdrawn.
Students occupied the offices of the chancellor as more than 60 professors wrote to the university, saying they were offended and humiliated by some of the Pope’s views.
Critics claim that in a speech he gave nearly twenty years ago, the Pontiff condoned the Church’s heresy trial against the astronomer Galileo.
Professor Marcello Cini has been at the forefront of the protest.
“We are getting a bit too close to those states in which citizens are given orders about what to do by a religious authority,” he said.
Protesters are in a minority at the university, But feelings on both sides are strong.
One student argued the institution was secular.
“The Pope has nothing to say to us,” he said.
But another wondered whether a visit from a Rabbi or an Imam would have triggered the same reaction. She said there was no harm because the Pope would have been speaking in a church, not a law class, and what is more, he was invited.