And why not?  My friend Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Jesuit astronomer and MIT grad who works at the Vatican observatory (and who surprised Stephen Colbert with his common sense about the Second Person of the Trinity) said he was "comfortable" with the idea of baptizing an alien.  At the opening of the British Science Festival (somewhat overshadowed by the visit of Guy's boss to the country) Consolmagno fielded the inevitable question about aliens.

He said he was "comfortable" with the idea of alien life and asked if he would baptise an alien, he replied "Only if they asked."

"I’d be delighted if we found life elsewhere and delighted if we found intelligent life elsewhere," he said. “But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it - when you add them up it’s probably not a practical question.

“God is bigger than just humanity. God is also the god of angels." He said the characteristics synonymous with having a soul - intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions may not be unique to humans. “Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has has a soul," he said.

Read the rest here.

James Martin, SJ

Comments

Liam Richardson | 9/25/2010 - 6:49pm
Given the Western Church's embrace of the Augustinian theory of Original Sin and its monogenic roots, to baptize an alien being who is not a member of the human species would at first blush be like baptizing a whale, dolphin, or mouse: a simulated sacrament. Which would be a grave crime under current Catholic law, right?
Anonymous | 9/24/2010 - 10:04am
When I first saw this story a week ago on another site, the commenter asked if the intelligence was found on a gas giant, would the baptism be with methane.  Or if the life form was silicon based would it be done with sand.
Vince Killoran | 9/24/2010 - 8:40am
When I asked I was worried that it was a nuisance question but I'm grateful to learn about this.  Thanks!
David Nickol | 9/24/2010 - 6:14am
Annie Devine | 9/24/2010 - 1:23am
When I clicked through to read the whole article, I was puzzled by the last line: ''The discovery of aliens would raise huge theological problems for the Roman Catholic church that would make the debate over women priests, clerical abstinence and contraception pale into insignificance.'' I scrolled down, thinking the author was going to say more about that statement but nothing. What exactly would be the theological problem?
Mary Sweeney | 9/23/2010 - 11:51pm
To John W. Martens:

In an emergency o?ne does not need to be a baptized Christian to baptize. Anyone can baptize in an emergency: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, male, female. It makes no difference. They need only have the intention to perform the ritual and carry it out in the prescribed manner. http://www.aboutcatholics.com/worship/baptism/
Marie Rehbein | 9/23/2010 - 11:13pm
Seriously, not every entity has a soul, but even if it did, it would not need baptizing (as others have pointed out) given the teaching on the reason for baptism.  Otherwise, why don't we at least baptize pets (love 'em) or chimps (genetically almost human) or computers (can be programmed to ask for it)?
Molly Roach | 9/23/2010 - 9:28pm
God became a man (human being) so that men (human beings) can be like God.
I have nothing against aliens but salvation in Christ seems to be an earthling story. I'd love to hear alien salvation stories. 
David Nickol | 9/23/2010 - 6:58pm
I note, by the way, that while only a priest can anoint the sick, nothing in the language of the canon precludes the priest from anointing sick aliens, presuming they have souls. Potential anointees are referred to only as the sick and the faithful. 

The Sick and the Faithful
may be seen on CBS weekday afternoons following The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful.
Stanley Kopacz | 9/23/2010 - 6:57pm
Newt was already baptized when he became Catholic, but has he been exorcized since?
David Nickol | 9/23/2010 - 5:33pm
Only a priest can administer the last rites.

Actually, I looked this up on Wikipedia, but they gave a link to a web site that had the information that follows. 


CHAPTER II : THE MINISTER OF ANOINTING OF THE SICK
Can. 1003 §1 Every priest, but only a priest, can validly administer the anointing of the sick.
 §2 All priests to whom has been committed the care of souls, have the obligation and the right to administer the anointing of the sick to those of the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care. For a reasonable cause, any other priest may administer this sacrament if he has the consent, at least presumed, of the aforementioned priest.
 §3 Any priest may carry the holy oil with him, so that in a case of necessity he can administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick.


Adrienne Krock | 9/23/2010 - 4:30pm
Jim - technically, "this" church did not baptize Newt Gingrich. He was baptized as a Baptist. He would have only made a profession of faith. 
JIM MCCREA | 9/23/2010 - 3:58pm
If this church can baptize Newt Gingrich, no one should be out of bounds.
David Nickol | 9/23/2010 - 1:31pm
If the reason we are baptized is because of Original Sin, what need would aliens have of baptism? 

In another forum, we recently had a discussion of Original Sin, and it seemed to me the theories had to either ignore long-standing Church teaching, on the one hand, or modern science, on the other. I did learn that the Orthodox Church gets along quite well without the idea Original Sin as it is understood in Catholicism.
Vince Killoran | 9/23/2010 - 11:03am
Thanks John-now I remember hearing that along the way.  The same is true for "last rites," no?
Vince Killoran | 9/23/2010 - 10:09am
A really engaging story-and I love the fact that Brother Guy went to my high school (University of Detroit Jesuit H.S.).

I do have one question, though: can a vowed brother conduct baptisms?