Geocentrism ‘Seminar’ Hosted by Radical Traditionalist Catholics

The Last Word

SOUTH BEND, IND. — it took some 350 years for the Roman Catholic Church to finally admit it was wrong to have found pioneering astronomer Galileo Galilei "vehemently suspect of heresy" in 1633 for affirming Nicolaus Copernicus' groundbreaking 1543 theory that the earth and planets revolve around the sun. But there remains a strain of "radical traditionalist" Catholics who basically tore up Pope John Paul II's 1992 acknowledgement and is still adamant that the Bible's accounts of an earth-centered universe are literal truth — and that the church was right to convict the old stargazer all those years ago.

Eight of the world's leading proponents of neo-Dark Ages cosmology (with one token dinosaur-age conspiracy theorist thrown in) met here on Nov. 6 for the First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism — the theory that the earth sits motionless at the center of the universe. The one-day seminar was entitled, "Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right."

'Galileo Was Wrong' Geocentrism banner
A “geocentrist” conference held in Indiana used the same name as a book (above) co-authored by one of its main participants, Robert Sungenis. Sungenis rejects modern Catholic teachings on both the motion of the planets and toleration of the Jews.

"Seminar" might be generous phrasing: The presentation was a mind-numbing, 15-hour-long sermon-cum-pep rally for radical traditionalist Catholic apologists desperate to debunk any science that suggests the Bible shouldn't be interpreted literally. Numerous biblical passages describe the earth as at rest, with the sun in transit around it.

About 90 mostly Catholic devotees, curious skeptics and feisty college students who converged on South Bend endured a series of one-sided monologues declaring that theorists from Copernicus and Galileo to Einstein and Hawking were wrong about celestial physics. Though much of it was difficult for mathematical mortals to follow, the presenters' gambit was clear enough: Can anyone really prove the earth isn't sitting still? That's tougher than it sounds: Even though astrophysicists tell us that every body in the universe is in motion, it will always appear that the thing you're on is standing still relative to everything else.

"If we're saying that the earth is in the center of the universe and it's not moving, that means Someone, with a capital S, put it there," said the conference's principal speaker and emcee, Robert Sungenis, founder of Catholic Apologetics International. "You can't have the earth at the center of the universe by chance. … The devil is a powerful foe and he will use something like [the model of a sun-centered solar system] to win his battle. If [scientists] have to admit that the earth is in the center of the universe, where does the power shift back to? It shifts back to the church."

Some of the South Bend presenters have taken their certainty about what they see as literal biblical truth to hateful extremes far more consequential than dismissing Galileo: Sungenis has published a number of venomously anti-Semitic screeds that drew official church condemnation and have rendered him unwelcome in most mainstream Catholic circles.

E. Michael Jones, who also was at the gathering, has used his South Bend-based magazine Culture Wars to viciously denounce the "Jewish world view" and has expressed enthusiasm for many core Nazi ideas about Jews (a sampling of his magazine's cover stories: "Judaizing: Then and Now," "The Judaism of Hitler" and "Shylock Comes to Notre Dame"). Martin G. Selbrede, who also spoke, is vice-president of the Chalcedon Foundation, the leading think tank of the Bible-literalist Christian Reconstruction theology; the foundation has never renounced the racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views of its late founder, R.J. Rushdoony.

Except for some of Jones' anti-Jewish books being offered for sale, there was little evidence of these unsavory connections at the conference.

The best moments of the gathering came when 15 or so bright college students finally got to confront the purported experts at the end of the long day. The panel struggled with and occasionally mocked their questions and host Sungenis at times seemed to bristle at the students' audacity.

If such an attitude is typical of all like-minded theorists, it's easy to scientifically postulate that geocentrism is a lot of solar hot air.