By REX W. HUPPKE
Word that the Vatican had declared devout Catholics free to believe in aliens traveled at warp speed last week, around the globe and, quite possibly, to points unknown.
Earthbound theologians and astrophysicists debated it, online “Jedi Council” forums erupted in geeky chatter, and many who have long dared to believe that life exists beyond our terrestrial confines felt some small measure of vindication.
“If you’re sitting in a room that’s totally dark and you can’t see anything, and the door is cracked just a millimeter to let a little light in, that can be extremely useful,” said Peter Davenport, head of the National UFO Reporting Center in Washington state.
What made the statement significant, several experts say, is that the comments by the Rev. Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, were printed in the Vatican’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Tuesday.
The Rev. Christopher Corbally, vice director of the Vatican Observatory, said he has been bombarded with e-mail from colleagues pondering whether God could have created more than one world and whether other beings could be granted redemption via a Christ-like savior.
“It’s a fun way to catch people’s imagination,” he said. “How wonderful it would be to have other life beyond our own world, because it would show how God’s creation just flows out without abandon.”
“Any kind of literalist in Christianity would be barring these sorts of beliefs,” said Thomas O’Brien, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University. “If you were to go to some fundamentalist Christian churches, you’d hear some pastors say belief in UFOs is tantamount to a non-belief in Jesus Christ.”
Such pooh-poohing of cosmic possibilities runs quite counter to last week’s comments from the Vatican Observatory. Funes said that to not believe life exists beyond our planet would be to “set limits on the creative liberty of God.”