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.
Earth-bound theologians and astrophysicists debated it, online forums erupted in chatter, and many who have long dared to believe that life exists beyond our terrestrial confines felt 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.
In other words, in the lonely world of alien believers, visitors are always welcome.
What made last week’s 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. That gave his words a certain papal heft.
It has also made for lively discussions among theologians. 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.
If God created human beings in his own image, how could there be others who don’t look like us? Little green men, Corbally noted, certainly do not fit the popular image of God.
“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.”
Human beings, on the other hand, have a tendency to be a bit literal when interpreting the teachings of their faiths. Many a faithful soul today would be aghast at talk of UFOs and other forms of intelligent life.
“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,” said Thomas O’Brien, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University.
Such pooh-poohing of cosmic possibilities runs counter to the 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.”
And God, most believers would agree, is not someone you want to mess with. As the Rev. Thomas O’Meara, a visiting theology professor at Boston College, put it: “If you have a mature view of God, God can do what God wants.”