Guest post from Contributing Editor Glenn Chaple
In the November edition of my “Observing Basics” column, I wrote that Galileo would be “relieved to know that the Roman Catholic Church, which excommunicated him for his heretical teachings, has since exonerated him.”
Three readers — Chris Cuoco (Grand Junction, Colorado), Ed Hahnenberg (Lake Leelanau, Michigan), and Fr. Ronald Gripshover (Fredericksburg, Virginia) — sent e-mails pointing out that Galileo had, in fact, not been excommunicated.
I apologize for the error. Some “facts” of astronomical history appear so often, we begin to take them as truth, much as we accept without question the concept of Earth being the “third rock from the Sun.”
Interestingly, I called a local parish priest for his perception of Galileo’s status after the Inquisition. He was under the impression that Galileo had been excommunicated. Apparently this astronomical urban legend is assumed to be true even by members of the Catholic clergy!
I have since consulted several reliable sources — all of which state that, while Galileo got into a lot of trouble with the Catholic Church, excommunication wasn’t part of his punishment. Now to check to be sure Earth really is the “third rock from the Sun!”