Has the suffering endured by Galileo at the hands of Churchmen and institutions been acknowledged?
John Paul II recognised the greatness of Galileo, and deeply regretted the mistakes of those theologians. In fairness though, it should be said that a great myth has been created surrounding this suffering. According to an extensive survey carried out by the European Council among science students in Europe, almost 30% believed that Galileo was burned alive at the stake by the Church, and 97% were sure that he had been tortured. For three centuries, painters, writers and scientists have described in great detail the dungeons and torture suffered by Galileo because of the bloody-mindedness of the Church. There is absolutely no truth in this.
Galileo certainly suffered a lot, but the historical truth is that he was condemned only to “formalem carcerem”, a type of house arrest. He did not spend a single day in prison, nor suffer any type of physical mistreatment. There were therefore no dungeons, no torture, no burning at the stake. It is also indisputable that several judges refused to endorse the sentence, and that the Pope did not sign it either.
Galileo was able to continue working on his science, and continued receiving visits and publishing his work until he died peacefully nine years later at his home in Arcetri, near Florence, as we said. Viviani, who accompanied him during his illness, testified that he died in his bed with philosophical and Christian conviction at seventy-seven years of age, with plenary indulgence and the blessing of the Pope. Galileo lived and died a good believer.
-In any case, recognising this error now means that the Magisterium of the Church can be mistaken.
We have already said that the judicial decisions of a court of those characteristics do not compromise the Magisterium of the Church. John Paul II, upon completion of the work of the aforementioned commission, remembered Cardinal Baronio’s famous remark: “The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven, and not how heaven goes”. The divine assistance of the Church does not extend to problems of a scientific-positive order.
Galileo’s sentence, as scientist and person was already rehabilitated since 1741
The unhappy sentence of Galileo is there to remind us of this. This is its providential aspect. It is true that perhaps it has taken too long to thoroughly address this issue. For this reason, the Church on several occasions has deplored certain attitudes that have sometimes not been lacking among Christians themselves, who have not sufficiently understood the legitimate autonomy of science. In any case, it should be remembered that Galileo Galilei, as a scientist and as a person, was already rehabilitated a long time ago. In fact, when in 1741, the optical proof that the Earth rotated around the Sun was obtained, Benedict XIV ordered the Holy Office to grant “imprimatur” to the first edition of the complete works of Galileo, and in 1822, there was a reform of the erroneous sentence of 1633, by Pius VII (Alfonso Aguiló. www.interrogantes.net.mayo 2015).