Tuesday, May 13, 2008, the director of the Vatican Observatory stated there may be other life forms in the universe and that the existence of such "brethren" to humans fits with Christian faith because they would also be God's creatures.
This seemingly heretical announcement shocked many observors of the Roman Church & left not a few students of Astronomy slightly befuddled & perhaps star-struck. It seems incomprehensible to interested commenters that The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, astronomer to the Pope, would repeat the infamous heresy that put Galileo Galilei in jeopardy of his life at the hands of the Jesuit Inquisitors. The director of the observatory is, himself, a Jesuit.
On June 22, 1633, Galileo went before the Inquisition. His sentence was, "Whereas Galileo, 70 years old, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, Florentine, you were denounced in 1615 to this Holy Office for believing the false doctrine...." The inquisitors, from The Society of Jesus, condemned Galileo to life in prison (which he was allowed to serve under "house arrest) for heresy.
Oct. 31 1992, 359 years after Galileo's death, John Paul II admitted that errors were made by the theological advisors in the case of Galileo. He declared the inquiry terminated; however, the Pope did not admit the Church was wrong to convict Galileo of the heresy--which was his belief that Earth rotates round the Sun.
Even more astonishing is that the current Pope, Benedict XVI, was the chief inquisitor for the Church as John, Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In effect, this Pope was chairman of the historical committee that sentenced Galileo 375 years ago, next month.
Some less-than-charitable wags have suggested that "the Vatican knows something." For them, it is not plausible that a Jesuit priest would make such an assertion, based on the historical background of Galileo, the Inquisition, the Society of Jesus & the present Pope. According to several atheist, communist, Muslim & Baptist astronomers, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for their respective safety from the tabloids, it seems likely that the Vatican Observatory has come up with a discovery, of sorts, that makes this "almost heretical" announcement necessary--especially since the comments were for attribution & published in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
Careful examination, though, shows that Fr. Funes did not at any point claim the Earth spins or revolves around the Sun or that the heavens above change. The view of our Kosmos as arguably Ptolemaic remains solid doctrine. It is merely that this peculiar place may be occupied, here & there, by entities who share with us the common denominator of having been created by God. Pater omnipotens aeterna deus.
A sharp-tongued Italian communist joked that "some people are still looking for evidence of intelligent life at the Vatican, much less outer space."
A student with the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence group said, "We've not found very much here, so we look out there. Who knows, Fr. Funes may have an inside track."