First and foremost I believe in God as the creator of the world, states Fr. Jose Gabriel Funes who heads the Vatican Observatory. But his faith does not stop him from looking for extraterrestrial civilizations. If aliens are out there, he says, the Catholic Church will embrace them.
“Just as there are a plethora of creatures on Earth, there could be others, equally intelligent, created by God,” Fr. Funes wrote on Tuesday in the Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. As our knowledge is still too unsatisfactory to understand God’s plan we can neither exclude nor include the possibility that there are more inhabited planets. But it doesn’t mean that humans may lose their privileged status. If, asked Fr. Funes, we perceive animals and plants as brothers and sisters, why shouldn’t we think the same of our extraterrestrial brothers?
Fr. Jose Gabriel Funes received a doctorate in Astronomy from the prestigious University of Padua, the alma mater of another famous astronomer, Nicholas Copernicus. Just like his great predecessor, the Argentinean Jesuit does not limit himself to only one field of science. Apart from his credentials as an expert on celestial bodies, Fr. Funes reaches over the frontiers of the universe and probes into the inscrutable depth of the human soul. In 1995, the same year when he was ordained a priest, he received a bachelor degree in Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. One year later he accomplished his master’s studies at Universidad del Salvador, in his native Argentina.
A priest for only 13 years and astronomer for over 20, Fr. Funes says he is not afraid of schizophrenia. The cleric and the scientist in him simply work in unison and one completes the other. As to his belief that we are not alone in the universe, the Jesuit does not expect aliens to be equal to humans, even if their civilization is centuries ahead of ours. “If other intelligent beings exist, it’s not certain that they need redemption.” In other words, aliens may be smart, but they probably do not have souls, the attribute limited to human beings.
In 2005, another Jesuit, American Guy Consolmagno, began the discussion on Christianity and aliens. In his pamphlet titled “Intelligent Life in the Universe? Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life,” he argued that Catholics should not fear astronomical discoveries as they could only confirm their faith. “No matter what we learn, it doesn’t invalidate what we already know,” wrote Fr. Consolmagno. “The idea of there being other races and other intelligences is not contrary to traditional Christian thought,” he concluded.
Fr. Funes says that it isn’t his intention to shock people. He reminds that despite years of intensified research, no scrap of evidence has confirmed the existence of intelligent forms of life on other planets. Instead, the Argentinean Jesuit wants Catholics to understand that their faith does not need to be in opposition to modern discoveries whether in astronomy or biology. “As an astronomer I continue to believe that God is the creator of the universe.”