Is Pope Francis willing to go to extremes to fill the pews? Apparently so, if his latest outreach message is an indication.
Speaking on Monday during the homily at his daily morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta inside Vatican City where he lives, he told his mostly clerical audience that they should keep an open mind to anyone—or anything—seeking God. “If—for example—tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them... And one says, ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?” he asked parishioners. “When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let’s do it this way...’”
One assumes the pope doesn’t actually think an alien ship filled with little green men hoping to convert to Catholicism will land in St. Peter’s Square any time soon, and Vatican Radio quickly interpreted the message as one about “inclusion” lest anyone start worrying about the Holy Father’s faculties. Apparently the Pope’s message about Martians meant, “Who are we to close the doors to the Holy Spirit?” according to an an article attributed to Vatican Radio on the Vatican’s main news website. “The Spirit blows where it wills, but one of the most common temptations of those who have faith is to bar its path and drive it in one direction or another.”
Catholic News Service also quickly defended and interpreted the quirky remarks, saying Francis was trying to make the point that the Church is often overly judgmental when it comes to acceptance and that “if the Holy Spirit prompted the most unusual being to see, baptism, who would we be to hinder that person?”
Francis is not the first Vatican insider to toy with the idea of alien life. In 2008, Father Jose Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, told L’Osservatore Romano that “believing in the possible existence of extraterrestrial life is not opposed to Catholic doctrine” in an article entitled “The Alien is my Brother.” He said that since astronomers—even Catholic ones—believe that the universe is made up of 100 billion galaxies, so it is not reasonable to discount that some could have planets. “How could it not be left out that life developed elsewhere?” he pondered in the article. “As a multiplicity of creatures exist on earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God. This does not contrast with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God. [According to] Saint Francis, if we consider earthly creatures as ‘brother’ and ‘sister,’ why cannot we also speak of an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? It would therefore be a part of creation.”
Funes’ views were backed up in 2010, when fellow Vatican Observatory astronomer and Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno penned the book Intelligent Life in the Universe? Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life. In it, he posed a number of questions, including whether aliens exist, and if they do and have souls, could they be baptized?
The answer, apparently, is yes. “The limitless universe might even include other planets with other beings created by that same loving God,” he wrote in the book. “The idea of there being other races and other intelligences is not contrary to traditional Christian thought. There is nothing in Holy Scripture that could confirm or contradict the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”