Once condemned by the Church for saying the earth revolved around the sun, Galileo Galilei today was praised in a Vatican statement as a "believer who tried, in the context of his time, to reconcile the results of his scientific research with the tenets of the Christian faith." At a press conference, the Vatican proclaimed that the Church will honor Galileo on the 400th anniversary of his first observations with a telescope for being an "innovative genius and son of the church." The focus on Galileo is part of the larger International Year of Astronomy. For the full story on the Vatican's newest efforts to reclaim Galileo, who was "rehabilitated" by Pope John Paul II in 1992, check out this story by Carol Glatz on CNS.
Although the Church has taken some not-so-gentle ribbing at times for its centuries-long view of Galileo's discovery as heretical, the reality is that the Vatican has long maintained its own observatory, Specola Vaticana. Headquartered at the Pontifical Villas at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, it is one of the oldest astronomical research institutes in the world.
In an interview with L'Osseravtore Romano last year, Jesuit Father Jose Gabriel Funes, director of the observatory, addressed the Galileo controversy, saying that no one can deny the conflict occurred and no on can say that similar conflicts might not arise in future. That being said, the world needs to "turn the page" and move on.
"I believe that the Specola has this mission, to stand on the frontier between the world of science and the world of faith, to bear witness to how it is possible to believe in God, and at the same time to be good scientists," Father Funes said.
Of course, no matter how grand the observatory and how good the intentions, the Church will probably never live down its condemnation of Galileo or the fact that it took hundreds of years to come around and admit that poor misunderstood Galileo was right after all.