Dropping to his knees before the 10 cardinals of the Inquisition, dressed in the white shirt of penitence, Galileo Galilei was forced to retract his "heretic" theory that the Earth moved around the Sun. Threatened with torture and interrogated for 18 days, the scientist, who was imprisoned in the 17th century, promised to never again teach the theory and spent the rest of his life under house arrest in his small farmhouse outside of Florence.
Galileo's fate was very different from that of other scientists at the time of the Inquisition. Some were executed for threatening the church's teachings. Italian astronomer Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher who argued that the universe was infinite, was burned at the stake.
Now in 2013, as Pope Francis settles into his new role as leader of the Catholic Church, the Vatican's head of science is urging a re-think of the "mischaracterization" of the relationship between the church and science.
The Vatican would like the world to see how much this relationship has changed.
With the new pope being himself a trained scientist — Francis graduated as a chemical technician before moving on to study philosophy, psychology and theology — the timing could be right for a new era of cooperation between the Vatican and science, building on the work of the STOQ Project — Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest — which was created by Pope John Paul II in 2003.
Since his election as pontiff, Vatican-watchers have been searching for signals about the direction in which Francis will take the church. Even in his inaugural speech, he referenced the importance of environmental stewardship and an appreciation of the natural world.
Written By: Florence Davey-Attleecontinue to source article at edition.cnn.com