September 3, 2006

Pope and former students ponder evolution, not “ID”

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Benedict and his former doctoral
students spent a weekend pondering evolution without discussing
controversies over intelligent design and creationism raging in
the United States, a participant said on Sunday.

The three-day closed-door meeting at the papal summer
residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome ended as planned
without drawing any conclusions but the group plans to publish
its discussion papers, said Father Joseph Fessio S.J.

Media speculation had said the debate might shift Vatican
policy to embrace "intelligent design," which claims to prove
scientifically that life could not have simply evolved, or even
the "creationist" view that God created the world in six days.

"It wasn't that at all," Fessio, who is provost of Ave
Maria University in Florida, told Reuters by telephone from
Rome. The Pope's session with 39 former students was "a meeting
of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme."

"We did not really speak much about intelligent design,"
said Fessio, whose Ignatius Press publishes the Pope's books in
English. "In fact, that particular controversy did not arise."

Creationism -- the view that God created the world in six
days as described in the Bible -- was "almost off the radar
screen of the people in this group," he added. The Catholic
Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally.

Fessio said Benedict took part in the discussions but said
nothing different from previous public statements, in which he
has recognized evolution as a scientific fact but argued that
God ultimately created the world and all life in it.

As the Pope put it at his inaugural Mass after being
elected in April 2005, "We are not some casual and meaningless
product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of


Benedict, who taught theology at four German universities
before becoming archbishop of Munich and then the Vatican's top
doctrinal official, has held these annual get-togethers since
the late 1970s. The international group debates in German.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has long been rejected
in the United States by conservative Christians who want to
have a Bible-based view of creation taught in public schools,
where the church-state separation bars the teaching of

More recently, Darwin's critics have campaigned to have
"intelligent design" taught as a scientific alternative to
evolution. President George W. Bush and other conservative
politicians support this drive to "teach the controversy."

The "ID movement" does not name the designer as God, but
its opponents say that is the logical conclusion and call this
an unacceptable bid to sneak religion into the teaching of

Schools in some parts of the United States teach
intelligent design as an alternative to evolution but a
Pennsylvania court banned it there last year, saying it was
religion in disguise.

Catholic teaching accepts evolution as a scientific theory
but disagrees with what it calls "evolutionism," the view that
the story of life has no role for God as its prime author.

Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a close associate
of the Pope, was one of four speakers who addressed the
meeting. He raised eyebrows last year with a New York Times
article that suggested the Catholic Church supported the "ID

Schoenborn and Benedict have said several times over the
past year that intelligence in the form of God's will played a
part in creation and that neo-Darwinists who deny God any role
are drawing an ideological conclusion not proven by the theory.

They say they use philosophical reasoning to conclude that
God created the world, not arguments which intelligent design
supporters claim can be proven scientifically.

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome)