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Dear Fr. Joe: is it OK to believe in space aliens?

Q. I just read an article that the Vatican says it’s OK to believe in life on other planets. I thought God only created humanity in one place – isn’t the Vatican off-base on this one?

A.
OK – good stuff!
The L’Osservatore Romano is the somewhat official newspaper of the Holy See. It runs in Italian daily and has weekly versions in a lot of other languages. It covers Vatican news and press releases and really is worth checking out if you have time. In May 2008, L’Osservatore Romano interviewed Father Jose Gabriel Funes. Father Funes is a Jesuit priest from Argentina and is an astronomer who serves as the director of the Vatican Observatory.

    In this interview, Father Funes stated his belief that Catholics can believe in life on other planets. He went on to speculate that any alien cultures we may encounter in the future could even be free from original sin. Father Funes was clear that this was speculation on his part and that part of his reasoning was that it’s always a dangerous thing to put limits on our Creator.
    Father Funes wasn’t the first Vatican official to say such things. Monsignor Corrado Balducci served as a theologian at the Vatican for many years before his death in September 2008. He was a distinguished author and a famous exorcist and was not at all afraid to make the “controversial statement.” Monsignor Balducci looked at how different angels are from humans. He felt that the gap between angels and us was so big that it’s probably filled by another being that we haven’t met yet. 
    Now, neither of these men were making claims to be sharing approved Catholic doctrine, but both were clear that believing in life on other planets is something Catholics can do and still be in good standing with the church.
    C.S. Lewis wrote a trilogy about these ideas and I found it to be quite worth reading. A warning to Lewis readers: This is a series that is quite different from his other works.  In these books, Lewis explored what it would be like if we encountered a planet where folks had not given in to original sin. These books are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.
    In terms of God creating humanity in one place, we don’t really see that anywhere in the Bible or our tradition that I could find. In fact, when I was discussing this with a friend, he reminded me of the passage in John where Jesus says “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also and they will hear my voice; and they will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
    That passage points us toward the key in any discussion of this sort: the universality of our faith. Whatever we find in the future (or whatever finds us) it is important for us to remember that the things Jesus taught us, and those things he continues to teach us through the church, are for everybody. We are called to bring the light of Jesus to everyone. As I noted earlier, Monsignor Balducci pointed out that if we do encounter life from other planets, they may have never fallen into the “first sin” that brought us original sin and death. C.S. Lewis speculated the same in Perelandra. If that is the case, we will learn much more than we can teach, I think.
    Enjoy another day in God’s presence!


Father Joseph Krupp