Historic first: Vatican appoints Protestant to head science academy


Pope Benedict XVI named Saturday Nobel laureate Werner Arber, a Protestant, to head the Vatican’s scientific academy, the first time a non-Catholic is heading the centuries-old body.

The 81-year old Swiss microbiologist will succeed Italian Nicola Cabibbo, who died in August, to lead the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Vatican announced in a press release.

The nomination of a non-Catholic head is the first in the history of the academy founded in 1603, according to I.Media, a news agency that specialises in religious information.

Arber, who teaches at the University of Basel, shared a 1978 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Americans Hamilton Smith and Daniel Nathans, for the discovery and application of restriction enzymes.

The discovery and application of the enzymes, which are bacterial defence mechanisms against infection, led to a revolution in molecular genetics.

Arber has been a member of the Vatican’s scientific academy since May 1981 and figures on the board of directors.


  1. I’m not “up” on politics at the Vatican… but why are they allowing Protestants, who subscribe to heretical doctrines, to hold positions of authority in ANYTHING?

  2. i think it’s awesome. And i’m not worried: it’s not like he’s deciding anything on faith issues…

  3. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Well, I’m mixed. I’m all for Pope B16 being the Pope of Christian Unity. But having a Protestant this high up could be like opening Pandora’s box. The expression is “give em an inch, they take a mile.” He just better be under close supervision with his position, but who knows, maybe he will be introduced to the Truth of Christ in this way and convert!

  4. All men of good-will have something to contribute–while I agree that one’s faith perspective will ultimately affect everything you do, I would rather have someone for the position who was a man of conscience open to and desiring the Truth than someone hardened to the truth with the superficial name of Catholic. If Mr. Arber is one seeking the Truth, I say more power to him. If he’s followed it to the extent that he is able to be extraordinarily helpful in the realm of current scientific knowledge, then that’s another plus. And…of course if we get to see him find its source authoritatively expressed in the Catholic Church, that would be a JOY.

    I guess we pray, commend ourselves and our choices to God, listen, and do our best–I assume that’s what the Pope is doing! Hurrah!!

  5. OhTheHorror says:

    This sends the wrong message. Protestants are do not have a history that exhibits the correct balance of faith and reason. Such is important for a science post.

  6. OhTheHorror says:

    Who knows… maybe the Pope will sit with him and convert him… Like he did the reporter for “Light of the World”

  7. @ Thomas

    This person will be the head of the Vatican SCIENTIFIC Academy… hence his competence will not regard Catholic Theology, but science.

    Hence I would not worry, Thomas.

    Also I think it’s a good idea that all Christians start working together after centuries long animosity.

  8. Jess N McLean says:

    Some of these COMMENTS show much more of the WRITER than the person appointed to the post.

  9. I agree completely Jess.
    These comments reflect a misplaced triumphalism and a hubris that “we” already know everything about God’s creation and “we” have nothing to learn from our separated bother and sister Christians. ( or our Lord for that matter)

    Fortunately the Holy Father understand we are still a pilgrim people. And appointing a Nobel laureate who as a protestant has nonetheless served for 30 years on the Vatican scientific academy tells me that Benedict knows his man far better then any of us.

    Many thanks to Mr.Arber for his past service to advance both science and the Vatican science academy.

    May Mr. Arber help the entire Church ( church) and especially a doubting world better understand the the underlying truths at the intersection of science and belief.

  10. I think it’s great to have a non-Catholic at the helm; gives more credibility to the great work this academy has done for years. I assure you Mr. Arber had to have been nominated by his peers.

    For any reading who still thinks the Catholic Church hates science, this was the very first scientific academy, ever. It rarely gets any press, but does extraordinary work. it’s an international organization overseen and largely funded by the Vatican.

    God speed to all!

  11. Seeing that Benedict can hardly be seen as Catholic anymore (not that he ever truly was), it is hardly surprising. And in light of the Pope’s October religious summit (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12103186) honoring JPII’s summit, both of which are sins against the First Commandment, we should be even less surprised.

    Pope St. Pius X, Foe of Modernism, pray for us.

  12. I think it speaks to Benedict’s desire to create the “court of Gentiles” that he often speaks of. He sees an urgent need to discuss the important science issues of the day with the world at large.

  13. Far-be-it for a lay-person such as myself to see the genius of Benedict XVI move in appointing a man with 30 years of experience on the council to the post bearing in mind that the expertise of post ought to be scientific with regard to theology and not vice versa, but at least it wasn’t Hanno the White Elephant who we will never forget, right?

  14. Amos Dyressor says:

    Science is science and Christians are Christian.
    If Rome wants him, I trust their decision.

  15. First of all, look up what the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is and its purpose. One suggested link:

    Second, Pope Benedict XVI is being totally consistent here with the correct understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. The kind of knowledge that science arrives at is not the same as the way in which faith is arrived at. The study of how knowledge of the natural world is acquired through empirical knowledge and the scientific method is all together unrelated to the acquisition of faith. So, I think the job of a Protestant director could be done as well as a Catholic one here as long as he’s good at science. Sounds like Dr. Werner Arber is a distinguished scientist.

  16. Another way of putting it is that science arrives at knowlegde through empirical proofs so you could be a good scientist and an expert advisor yet not a Catholic. You can be a great and holy Catholic like Pope Benedict XVI and not be an expert scientist. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is subject to the guidance of the Pope, too, which ensures that it all of a sudden doesn’t claim that science proves there is no God, or something ridiculous like that, which is out of the realm of possibilities within the scope of scientific knowledge.

  17. He is no Protestant.

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