In a previous post, I remarked that John Paul II “seemed to sign off on conventional evolutionary theory save for the divine infusion of souls at the origin of humanity.” This is not quite accurate. As a friend and colleague who knows the Catholic world much better than I do noted to me by email:
I don’t think any of us should be promoting (or at least going along with) the canard that John Paul II accepted “evolution” in some inappropriate sense. The 1996 Message on evolution was, indeed, a weak document, but it was also the least important thing JP II ever said about the topic. From the perspective of Catholic doctrine, an informal letter like that has basically zero magisterial authority. Most likely the letter was drafted by an accommodationist on the staff of the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences, vetted (but not properly vetted) by the staff theologians of the papal household, and then signed by the Pope, possibly without his even reading it. Then it seems that the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences did a major press release, and the world’s media obliged by turning a trivial event into a front-page story. But degree of play in the New York Times has no theological significance…
On the other hand, when John Paul II was actually teaching in an authoritative manner (for example, in his catechetical writings for his Wednesday audiences) on questions of creation, evolution, and design, he said only very design-oriented things. I’ve attached a Word document [omitted but soon to appear on the Discovery Institute server] that contains all of his own writings on the topic, as compiled by a priest/philosopher who searched all his writings looking for things on this topic.
Moreover, in the same document, you will find excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the most authoritative compilation of Church teaching, which makes clear that Darwinism is contrary to the Catholic faith: “We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom.141 It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance.” (Para 295) (The entire English translation of the Cathecism is online at http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm.)
So the real problem with evolution in John Paul II’s pontificate is not one of substance, but one of media relations and media bias, as well as some semi-subversive actions by the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences, which is plagued by a classic example of “regulatory capture” — i.e., it often seems to reflect the opinions of the materialist scientists that it is in dialog with rather than the truths of the Catholic faith.