The Vatican has just completed a five day conference astrobiology where scientists convened to discuss the detection and implications of extraterrestrial life. A major driving force behind the conference was the Director of the Vatican Observatory, the Jesuit priest Father Jose Gabriel Funes. In May 2008, Funes gave an interview to the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper saying that the existence of intelligent extraterrestrials posed no problems to Catholic theology. The conference itself was officially convened by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, chaired by its religious leader Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, and was held on private Vatican grounds from November 6-10. Together with Funes’ 2008 interview and subsequent public comments by him, the conference demonstrates a welcome openness by the Vatican on the possibility and implications of extraterrestrial life. The Vatican’s openness to discussion of extraterrestrial life is no accident. It is part of an openness policy secretly adopted by the United Nations in February 2008. In fact, the Vatican is playing a leading role in preparing the world for extraterrestrial disclosure.
For most observers, the conference was an innovative scientific gathering sanctioned by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences to show the Holy See’s support for modern science in the detection of extraterrestrial life. The conference primarily focused on the detection of primitive extraterrestrial life forms, and featured presentations from nearly 30 international experts in astronomy, physics and biology. Marc Kaufman from the Washington Post reports:
Scientists (many of them nonbelievers) are offering presentations on subjects as varied as how life might have begun on Earth; what newly found “extremophile” microbes living in harsh places on our planet might tell us about possible life on others; and how life forms might be detected in our solar system, or how their bio-signatures might be found on and around the many distant exoplanets.
Discussion of the implications of intelligent extraterrestrial life, both scientific and theological, did not appear prominently in the conference agenda. One of the presenters, however, Prof Paul Davies commented on the religious implications of discovering intelligent extraterrestrial life: “If you look back at the history of Christian debate on this, it divides into two camps. There are those that believe that it is human destiny to bring salvation to the aliens, and those who believe in multiple incarnations,” Davies pointed out that the multiple incarnations theory, the idea that multiple examples of Jesus Christ would be found in the universe “is a heresy in Catholicism.”
The Vatican, through Funes, is supporting the idea that the incarnation of Christ is a unique event in Earth’s history tied in to humanity’s ‘fall’ and ‘original sin’. This idea was a major focus in Father Funes’ May 2008 interview which was titled “The extraterrestrial is my brother.” Funes said that intelligent extraterrestrial life may not have experienced a ‘fall’, and may be “free from Original Sin … [remaining] in full friendship with their creator.” This makes it possible to regard them as ‘our brothers’ as Funes explained:
Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can’t put limits on God’s creative freedom… “Why can’t we speak of a ‘brother extraterrestrial’? It would still be part of creation…
Most importantly, Funes’ statement makes possible the idea that Christianity can be exported to extraterrestrial worlds that have not experienced a ‘fall’ and are free from original sin.
The Vatican’s new openness on extraterrestrial life is consistent with reports of secret discussions held at the United Nations that began in February 2008. The Vatican’s permanent representative to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, was reported to have attended along with a number of other prominent government officials to discuss increased UFO sightings and the implications of extraterrestrial visitation. Significantly, Migliore’s position requires that he maintains close relations with the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. At the time of the secret UN discussions, Migliore made a presentation on moral issues associated with scientific problems such as climate change. Most importantly, the UN discussions reportedly led to a new policy of openness being adopted by approximately 30 nations that would begin in 2009.
Another noteworthy participant reported to have attended the 2008 UN discussions was Britain’s Permanent representative at the time, Sir John Sawers. Sawers was later appointed to head Britain’s prestigious foreign intelligence service MI6. The appointment of a diplomat to head an intelligence service was highly unusual. According to a BBC report: “giving the job to someone more recently associated with diplomatic service was regarded as a break from the tradition.” Seen in the context of the February UN meetings, perhaps MI6 was acknowledging the need for greater diplomacy in dealing with problems posed by a new openness policy on UFOs, and eventual disclosure of extraterrestrial life.
The Vatican sponsored astrobiology conference was a landmark event. It showed that the Vatican was willing to officially sanction public discussions on the existence of extraterrestrial life. More significantly, it showed that the Vatican was willing to initiate a comprehensive dialogue on the theological implications of the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The Vatican’s astrobiology conference is yet one more sign that major global institutions are preparing for some kind of formal disclosure concerning UFOs and/or extraterrestrial life. This is a direct outcome of a series of landmark meetings at the UN beginning in February 2008 that led to the adoption of a new openness policy.
After more than a year of openness, the Vatican is taking the openness policy to a new level, and preparing the public for some kind of formal extraterrestrial disclosure announcement. Numerous independent sources have predicted such disclosure is imminent, and that the Obama administration is expected to play a prominent role. The Vatican is also positioning itself to play a major role in such an announcement and in a post-disclosure world. Its emerging theological position that extraterrestrials “are our brothers” is a welcome departure from more hostile depictions of extraterrestrial life found in some religious denominations and in Hollywood movies. On the other hand, the idea that the Vatican could justify sending missionaries to convert extraterrestrials born without original sin, does raise major concerns. The Vatican, nevertheless, is currently playing a constructive role in preparing the public for the imminent disclosure of extraterrestrial life.
[Event Notice: Dr Michael Salla will speak about the theological implications of extraterrestrial life at the upcoming Earth Transformation Conference on the Big Island of Hawaii (January 7-12, 2010).]