Here then is the answer that a modern historian and educator makes to all the representations with regard to the development of anatomy and the practice of dissection during the Middle Ages. If the practice of dissection was permitted it was in spite of the Popes. The fact that there were a dozen of medical schools in Italy at which dissection was carried on is ignored. The great anatomists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries simply did not exist–Dr. White knows nothing about them. There must be no admission that the Popes permitted dissection or any other form of science. Dr. White makes his last stand by a really marvelous tour d’esprit. It was Venice defying the Vatican that permitted dissection. This, he supposes, may help him, for anatomy did develop very wonderfully at Padua when it was Venetian territory. But, as pointed out by Roth, dissection was practiced very successfully, and the anatomical tradition established at Padua, before it came under the dominion of Venice. At all the other important cities of Italy dissection was carried on. We have given some of the evidence for Verona, for Pisa, for Naples, for Bologna, for Florence, and, be it remembered, even for Rome. Padua was the rival of Bologna in anatomy only for a comparatively short time. Bologna always maintained a primacy in the field of anatomy, and never more so than after she became a Papal city at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Vesalius taught and demonstrated not at Padua alone, but also at Bologna and at Pisa. For two centuries Rome was the most successful rival of Bologna, and hundreds of dissections were done in the Papal Medical School.
Of course, the appeal to Venetian opposition to the Papacy as an explanation for dissection being carried on in Italy in spite of ecclesiastical regulations to the contrary is only a subterfuge. It can only be found in histories written by those who refuse to see facts as they were, because those facts do not accord with pet theories as to Papal Opposition to Science, and the Warfare Between Theology and Science, which must be maintained at all costs, though with an air of apology always for having to tell such unpleasant truths of these old-time religious authorities.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)