Bioethics News

Galileo’s sentence. Where is the truth?

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.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.