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Geoff Watts meets scientists who work for the Catholic Church.

Tuesday 30 April 2002, 8.00-8.40pm Rpt 5 May, 5.00 pm

Many people will be surprised to learn that the Catholic Church has its own crack team of scientists - mainly Jesuits - who do front line research. For example, there's a team who study the heavens through telescopes at the Vatican Observatory. The Pope can also turn to his own academy of sciences.

St Peter's and the Vatican
St Peter's and the Vatican

The Academicians are independent from the papacy and comprise some of the world's leading lay scientists - many are Nobel Prize Winners. They act as papal advisers and influence church thinking on scientific topics. They have pronounced on issues such as the implications of genetics and environmental concerns. In 1996 they advised the Pope when he tried to reconcile the theory of evolution with the biblical story of Creation.

Geoff Watts meets the scientists who work for the Vatican and those who are members of the Pontifical Academy, and explores how their work and advice translates into the policies of the Catholic Church.
Geoff Watts with Prof Nicola Cabibbo
Geoff Watts (left) interviewing Prof Nicola Cabibbo,
President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Did life arise by chance or by necessity and what does this say about God the Creator? If there is intelligent life elsewhere, did Christ come to save them?

These questions were raised by George Coyne in a scientific paper prompted by the discovery of dozens of planets outside our solar system. George is no ordinary scientist - he is also a Jesuit priest and director of the Vatican Observatory. The questions raised would probably have got him executed by the Inquisition four hundred years ago. Thankfully the Church is more open these days - so much so that it has many of its own scientific institutions.
Marcelo Sanchez Sorondon The Church is currently facing some of the biggest challenges to its doctrines since the time of Galileo. The possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe, the unravelling of the atom and controversial new developments in reproductive biology pose such vexing moral questions that the Vatican is now conducting its own research. At the Pope's disposal is a large body of scientists, primarily Jesuit priests, who not only conduct their own front line research, but also scour the scientific literature for moral and philosophical problems, either caused by science or which can be helped by science. They act as the eyes and ears of Rome on scientific developments.
Marcelo Sanchez Sorondon, Bishop Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Vatican Scientists profiles the work of these priest/scientists to find out how they can work as inquisitive scientists whilst still adhering to the teachings of the Church. What motivates their work? We explore the nature of their relationship with the papacy and the strange city state in which they hold office. We talk to them about their work, about the ethics of modern science and the perception that the Catholic Church has had an uneasy relationship with the scientific establishment.
Vatican City
Vatican City

The Pope is also able to call on his the members of his own scientific academy - The Pontifical Academy of Sciences. It's 80 members meet every two years to make their cumulative wisdom available to the church. Members are drawn from many disciplines and are among the most famous and eminent scientists in the world - Stephen Hawkins is a member, so too is our Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. By picking issues carefully, they believe their views can be very influential - helping to shape the Church's views on DNA technology and what was once seen as the biggest threat to its doctrines: evolution.

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