Image: Pope protest in Rome
Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
A banner making a parody of the Latin language phrase used to announce the election of the popes hangs from a balcony of La Sapienza University of Rome on Wednesday. It reads: "I announce to you with great joy: we don't have a pope."
updated 1/16/2008 5:58:56 PM ET 2008-01-16T22:58:56

The pope's top aide said Wednesday that Benedict XVI's reason for canceling a visit to a Rome university was that he did not want to create a pretext for further "unpleasant" protests by professors and students opposed to the religious leader speaking at a secular campus.

Anti-pope slogans have appeared on banners and posters around buildings at La Sapienza University, where Benedict was to have spoken Thursday.

A group of professors, mainly from the sciences, wrote to the university rector late last year to object to the pope's visit, depicting Benedict as a religious figure opposed to science. On the grounds of separating secular and non-secular, they disapproved of him speaking at a public university.

The rector had given students a designated space where they could protest during the pope's visit.

Cancellations are rare
The Vatican said Tuesday that the pontiff would not go to the university because protests by students and professors had made such a visit inopportune.

It is rare for the pope to cancel a visit, and on Wednesday, the Holy See's No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, spelled out the reasoning behind the decision.

"Since there were no longer the conditions for a dignified and calm welcome, thanks to the initiative of a decidedly minority group of professors and students, it was judged opportune to skip the planned visit to remove any pretext for demonstrations which would have ended up being unpleasant for all," said Bertone in a letter to the university rector, Renato Guarini.

Bertone also sent the rector a copy of the speech that the pope would have read, "with the hope that all can find in it reason for enriching reflection and probing."

Speech outlines missions
In the speech, the pope explores the mission of popes and of universities.

As if answering the skeptics who opposed his visit, the pope wrote: "What does the pope have to do or say in the university?"

Benedict said that he did not intend to "impose faith in an authoritarian way on others" but that it was his task to "maintain high the sensibility for the truth, to always invite reason to put itself anew at the service of the search for the true, the good, for God. ..."

Benedict's speech was supposed to have been one of several addresses during a ceremony to inaugurate the academic year at the university, which was founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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