The pope is set to host a seminar with his senior clergymen to discuss the Catholic Church's position on evolution. The move follows months of mixed signals from the Church with supporters of Darwin's theory at odds with those giving more credence to Intelligent Design, and other more creationist views.
The last pope, John Paul II was pretty clear on the subject. In 1996 he issued a formal statement that evolution was "more than a hypothesis".
The recently departed head of the Vatican Observatory was also an outspoken supporter of Darwin's theory. Father George Coyne had described creationism as a "religious movement devoid of all scientific basis".
In an interview with a science magazine, he expressed further support for the theory of evolution when he said: "God isn't a designer and life is the fruit of billions of attempts".
It is not known if Coyne will be at the meeting. He stepped down from his post earlier this month saying he needed treatment for cancer, but there has been speculation that he was given the old heave-ho because of his stance on evolution.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn is known to be attending, according to New Scientist. The good cardinal, once considered a papal contender, has been seen as a supporter of intelligent design, the notion that life is too complex to have arisen without the intervention of a superior intelligence, presumably God.
He last made an appearance on El Reg when he announced that evolution and creationism need not be incompatible, although he reserved the moment of genesis for God himself.
However, his remarks at Rimini when he announced the seminar seem to have backtracked again. According to New Scientist he repeated his belief that life could not have formed in a random way.
Dominique Tassot, a prominent Roman Catholic scientist who does not support evolution, said that the meeting should help to broaden the debate.
It is hard to say what the seminar will mean for the wider public. While the intelligent design vs. Darwin debate is still raging in the US, the Roman Catholic Church has not been a major player in the dispute.
In his inaugural speech, however, Pope Benedict did say that humanity was not the "accidental product, without meaning, of evolution", which suggests that he might not share his predecessor's support for science. ®