The pope has been forced to cancel a visit to a university in Rome because of fears for his safety.
Benedict was due to address students at La Sapienza University, but called off his trip at the last minute because of a sit-in protest.
The last papal trip to be cancelled for security reasons was in 1994, when John Paul II was due to visit Sarajevo. However, the pope has never been unable to tour Italy in modern times.
Angry students had threatened to blast dance music at the pontiff, and also to dress up as nuns. According to sources close to the Vatican, there had also been "more serious threats".
The official newspaper of the Holy See, L'Osservatore Romano, said that "this is a dramatic threat against the papacy, culturally and civilly".
The controversy began after 67 professors at the university signed a letter saying the pope should not be allowed to give the inauguration speech for the academic year.
The professors accused Benedict of being opposed to science, and cited a speech he gave two decades ago. They argued that the pope would have supported the Church's 17th century trial against Galileo for claiming the earth revolved around the sun.
Although there is little evidence in the speech to support their claim, the students lent their support to the cause, and occupied the dean's office, waving banners which said: "The Pope has occupied La Sapienza. Free the Intellectuals!"
The Italian Bishops' Conference said they were "worried" about the state of the university, which was founded by the Vatican seven centuries ago. "There seems to be part of the secular world which does not argue, but demonises and which does not discuss, but creates monsters," said a spokesman for the bishops.
Students rejoiced when the Vatican finally conceded and cancelled the trip, shouting "Get the Pope out !"
However, Renato Guarini, the dean of the university, said he was "bitterly upset" at the tension on campus.
Romano Prodi, the Italian prime minister, also condemned the students' actions, saying that it had been "unacceptable".
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Credit where credit is due
The Telegraph reports the Sapienza controversy very well: