Want to Join Me in Starting the "Galileo Award?"

For a long time I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a web page that annually awards the dumbest teaching or ruling from the Catholic Church that year. The obvious reason for the name is the way the 17th Century Catholic Church treated Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

Galileo (and Nicolas Copernicus before him) challenged the theory that the sun revolved around the earth. As a reward for his scientific work the Church denounced him, ordered him to recant, and held him under house arrest. The Church argued that he must be wrong because Psalm 93:1 states: “Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved.” Also, Psalm 104:5 says: “[God] didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.” Finally, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states: “The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.” [Quotations are from the Revised Standard Version Bible]

Now, in fairness, there has been some progress since 1633. In 1943 Pope Pius XII wrote the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu which essentially stated that the Catholic Church is not fundamentalist in reading Scripture. And in 1992 Pope John Paul II announced that Galileo was correct; this is particularly inspiring as it came only 23 years after the moon landing.

And while the Church now acknowledges Galileo was right, and while I still find great joy and love in being Catholic, she continues to make occasional stupid and senseless rulings. Catholics of my generation remember well the 1968 encyclical On Human Life, better known as Humanae Vitae that created great pain for young married couples. Other notables are the 1992 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (aka the Office of the Inquisition) that allows for discrimination against our gay brothers and sisters and Vatican’s support of those who demanded that Terry Shiavo be kept alive long after it was clear that it was time to say goodbye to her.

The event that finally moved to me throw this suggestion to the cyberworld is the latest publication from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Reiki. For the unaware, Reiki is a spiritual practice that has been adopted for healing. Reiki practitioners use energy practices on people who are experiencing illness or pain, and we use this at San Diego Hospice where I work. I have to confess that I don’t fully understand how it works, but I also don’t understand acupuncture, aroma therapy, or a host of other alternative therapies. In any case, our bishops have decided that reiki is really about attacking faith and they have condemned it as being unscientific. Hard to imagine what Galileo is thinking about that. You can download the PDF on their ruling here.

In any case, this is my first nominee for 2009. I suggest the award be given on January 8th, the anniversary of Galileo’s death. This conforms to Catholic tradition where a saint’s day is determined by the date of his death, or in other words, his birth into Heaven.

Let me know what you think.