Pope John Paul II issued a statement this week saying new research shows that physical evolution is "more than just a theory," a significant step beyond the Catholic Church's pronouncement nearly 50 years ago that evolution was worthy of discussion but still an open question.
The pope nevertheless said the human soul is divinely created anew in each person, and not subject to the evolutionary process. Any other teaching, he said, is "incompatible with the truth about man."
His statement is not likely to shake many in his own church, which has long assumed the credibility of evolution and taught it in Catholic schools. But it may rattle some non-Catholic biblical fundamentalists who believe in creationism and have respected this pope for his traditionalist reputation.
The pope's message was made public Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a group of eminent scholars--many of them Nobel Prize winners and non-Catholics--who meet annually at the Vatican to advise the church on scientific affairs. Their topic for this meeting was the origin of life and evolution.