Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans painted in 1636.Many times I’ve discussed the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church. Mainly I’ve pointed out that, on the one hand the Church claims to be the sole remaining arbiter of morality and ethics on the planet; but on the other, it has spent decades allowing its own clergy to prey on children almost at will, has obstructed efforts to prosecute them, and has covered up for abusive clergy as much as they could get away with. That they aren’t getting away with it as much as they used to, bothers the Vatican immensely, and that institution is not happy with the impertinence of those who dare criticize it for refusing to accept the consequences of its actions.

The Church, therefore, proudly claims “the moral high ground” — but hypocritically refuses actually to stand on it.

But now comes another, somewhat different, example of the Vatican’s hypocrisy. USA Today reports that the Church is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s revelation of his telescope and its wonders (WebCite cached article):

Four hundred years after Galileo Galilei first demonstrated his telescope to scholars on a Roman hilltop, the astronomer condemned by the Catholic Church was celebrated on the same spot with a multimedia art exhibit that, oddly enough, included an installation from the Vatican.

Heliographs, astrolabes and other antique astrological instruments that belong to the Vatican Observatory stood alongside contemporary art inspired by Galileo and his science: rows of intensely hot, blindingly bright floodlights simulating the sun; a performance by a Tibetan musician playing a telescope-like horn.

The event took place Thursday night at the American Academy in Rome, a research center for the arts and humanities whose gardens lie on the exact spot where, on the night of April 14, 1611, Galileo showed off his telescope for the first time to the most important scholars of his time.

What makes this whole thing sickly hypocritical, is that this is the very same Catholic Church that prosecuted Galileo for having published his findings, specifically his confirmation of Copernicus’s heliocentric solar system theory:

Galileo made the first complete astronomical telescope and used it to gather evidence that the Earth revolved around the sun. Church teaching at the time had 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 for heresy and forced to recant in 1633, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

The Vatican is trying to act as though its harassment, persecution, and imprisonment of Galileo was somehow “no big deal”:

“It’s not a simple ‘The church was against science,’” said Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican’s Observatory. “The church never speaks with one voice on these things.”

Actually, Brother, it IS that simple! The Catholic Church in Galileo’s time was, in fact, “against science,” at least any science that could have been construed to undermine its authority. Since the heliocentric model of Copernicus appeared to contradict scripture, Galileo’s confirmation was something the Church was very much “against,” in every possible way.

For decades the Vatican has been tap-dancing around the wrong that had been done to Galileo. In 1979 Pope John Paul II called for an annulment of or amendment to Galileo’s conviction; it took that august body an entire 13 years of dodging and swerving to finally decide that Galileo had been right … but also that his persecutors should not be faulted.

What an accomplishment. The Vatican must be so proud.

At any rate, the Church celebrating the scientific accomplishments of a man who was targeted by the Church for his scientific accomplishments, is the very height of chutzpah, and exactly the sort of hypocrisy that Jesus Christ himself explicitly and utterly condemned. Way to to, guys. You just may have outdone yourselves.

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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  • When you get to be 1900 years old, you will have made some mistakes too. The pedophile priests are no more prevalent than in the general population. Why did this become a weird sort of conspiracy? It really wasn't. Priests are not police. I knew a guy that I respected that was a pervert. You practically had to beat me over the head with the evidence before I'd believe it. We think we're good judges of character. We don't expect our friends and colleagues to be child molesters. 99/100 times if we were asked to pick the child molesters out of a crowd, we'd be wrong. These perverts are usually engaging and position themselves in places of trust so that they can get access for our kid. They often are very successful and well liked. I think the Catholic Church didn't deal well with something the clergy didn't really understand. There is no Vatican SVU. That's just about how it goes with the rest of us too. We turn a blind eye to things we don't want to see.

    As far as Galileo, it was 400 years ago.

    • Re: "When you get to be 1900 years old, you will have made some mistakes too."

      Aha. I see. So it's OK when the Church does things it shouldn't, because they were only "mistakes" and that's just fine. Right? Got it. I disagree … even "mistakes" ought to be corrected … but you're free to go with that if you want.

      BTW the R.C. Church in its current incarnation isn't 1,900 years old. As it's structured, it only dates back to the Council of Trent in the 16th century.

      Re: "The pedophile priests are no more prevalent than in the general population."

      Irrelevant. Even one instance of abuse of any child is one too many. Yours is a common defense of the Church, but it's a horrific one, because it defines the problem as only being a problem if the abuse is extensive enough to be greater than "the general population."

      And that reminds me: Can you document how much pedophilia there is in "the general population"? I'm guessing neither you nor any other apologist for the Church has even the first clue how much pedophilia is in "the general population." They just insist there's no difference … based not on numbers, but on a desire not to admit their Church could possibly have done anything wrong.

      Re: "Why did this become a weird sort of conspiracy?"

      I have no idea. You'll have to ask the Church hierarchs who conspired to cover up the abuse and who protected the abusers. They're the ones who created and perpetuate the conspiracy. Those of us who've noticed it, and critiqued them for it, aren't responsible for it, cannot explain its existence, and cannot excuse it.

      Re: "Priests are not police."

      Of course not, but I'm not aware I said they were. That said, that doesn't mean in some jurisdictions they don't have a legal duty to report suspected abuse to the police.

      Re: "I knew a guy that I respected that was a pervert. You practically had to beat me over the head with the evidence before I'd believe it."

      Damn near everyone knows someone who turned out to have been a lot worse than we'd thought. So what?

      Re: "We think we're good judges of character. We don't expect our friends and colleagues to be child molesters."

      Again, so what?

      Re: "99/100 times if we were asked to pick the child molesters out of a crowd, we'd be wrong. These perverts are usually engaging and position themselves in places of trust so that they can get access for our kid. They often are very successful and well liked."

      Suspected abuse is seen not in the abusers, who do generally hide their activities and put on an appealing facade, but in the children they've abused. To allow oneself to be impressed with someone's character but to purposefully ignore the harm s/he might be doing to children, is amoral and unacceptable.

      Re: "I think the Catholic Church didn't deal well with something the clergy didn't really understand."

      It was absolutely NOT ignorance on their part. Countless investigations around the world have revealed a strong and repeated pattern of hierarchs KNOWING abusers were in their ranks, but covering for them and shuffling them around to evade prosecution. The Church as an institution does not view the abuse itself as a problem; it views criticism and reporting of the abuse and of the attendant cover-ups as the problem. And as I've documented, it views the abusive priests as the actual victims in the scandal; the abused children are either willing perpetrators, or unwitting agents of the Forces of Darkness trying to bring down God's holy church.

      Re: "As far as Galileo, it was 400 years ago."

      Yes, but I didn't bring him up. The Church did. They're expressing their pride in the history of a man whom they'd tried to destroy while he was alive. If you don't get how hypocritical that is, then I can't help you.