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Church 'never persecuted Galileo Galilei'

Citing a letter recently discovered in the Vatican's archive, a senior Curia official has denied that the Church persecuted Galileo Galilei for pointing out that the earth goes round the sun.

The new secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato, has claimed the letter proves that the Church treated Galileo very well.

The letter, sent by the Commissioner of the Holy Office to Cardinal Francesco Barberini in 1633, expressed the pope's concern that the trial of the scientist accused of heresy be concluded quickly as his health was poor.

The idea, he said, that "Galileo was incarcerated and even tortured so that he would abjure" was no more than a legend, "transmitted by a false iconography", he insisted.

In fact, he said, he was accorded every civility while residing at the Inquisition's pleasure: "his room was the apartment of the attorney - one of the highest officials of the Inquisition - where he was assisted by his own servant... During the rest of his stay in Rome he was the guest of the Florentine ambassador at the Villa Medici".

At worst, the Archbishop said, Galileo's reception was mixed. "When, in 1610, Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius, in which he upheld the centrality of the sun in the universe, he received the applause both of Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer, and of the Jesuit Clavius, author of the Gregorian calendar," he said.

"He even had great success among the Roman cardinals," he said. "All of them wanted to look at the sky through his famous telescope."

Observers suggest Archbishop Amato's are part of a Vatican effort to recast the Church as supportive of modern science.


Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Galileo Galilei

26 Aug 2003