No episode in the history of the Catholic Church is so misunderstood as the condemnation of Galileo. It is, in Newman’s phrase, the one stock argument used to show that science and Catholic dogma are antagonistic. To the popular mind, the Galileo affair is prima facie evidence that the free pursuit of truth became possible only after science “liberated” itself from the theological shackles of the Middle Ages. The case makes for such a neat morality play of enlightened science versus dogmatic obscuratism that historians are seldom tempted to correct the anti-Catholic “spin” that is usually put on it. Even many intelligent Catholics would prefer that the whole sorry affair be swept under a rug
Since the Galileo case is one of the historical bludgeons that are used to beat on the Church–the other two being the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition–it is important that Catholics understand exactly what happened between the Church and that very great scientist. A close look at the facts puts to rout almost every aspect of the reigning Galileo legend.