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Brother Guy Consolmagno occupies a small space of heaven. A Jesuit brother and astronomer for the Vatican Observatory, he works at the observatory’s headquarters at the pope’s summer palace in Castel Gandolfo, a 45-minute train ride from Rome.
Castel Gandolfo sits on the high ground of Italy’s Lazio region, perched above the exotic, sapphire-blue volcanic Lake Albano. The view you get is magical. “This is a good place for things like an occultation, like the transit of Venus in 2004,” Consolmagno says. “We observed the comet hitting Jupiter because the first events were visible only from this part of the world.”
Below the observatory’s domed chamber are the offices that make up the rest of the Vatican Observatory. One study has bookshelves filled with hardbound journals all the way to the high ceiling. Consolmagno pulls one off a shelf and reads aloud: “Account of a new telescope by Mr. Isaac Newton.” He shows me, then smiles. “I think he has a future,” he says.
The lessons learned from the trial and condemnation of Galileo in the 1600s have guided an era of scientific caution and hesi¬tancy within the Vatican.
The Vatican keeps tabs on science, integrates new research into theology
Though it is virtually unknown among laypeople, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is an independent and remarkably influential body within the Holy See. Over the years its membership roster has read like a who’s who of 20th-century scientists (including Max Planck, Niels Bohr, and Erwin Schrödinger, to name a few), and it currently boasts more than 80 international academicians, many of them Nobel laureates and not all of them Catholic — including the playfully irreligious physicist Stephen Hawking.
A pope, more than anyone else, knows the exact reason for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In 1992 John Paul II told the members that “the purpose of your academy is precisely to discern and to make known, in the present state of science and within its proper limits, what can be regarded as an acquired truth or at least as enjoying such a degree of probability that it would be imprudent and unreasonable to reject it.” In the pope’s eyes, the academy is an instrument that teases scientific fact from fiction.
and within its proper limits
Pope sees physicist Hawking at evolution gathering
Fri Oct 31, 1:52 pm ET
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict told a gathering of scientists including the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking on Friday that there was no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.