VATICAN CITY The Vatican said on Tuesday the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible but planned no posthumous apology to Charles Darwin for the cold reception it gave him 150 years ago.
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister, was speaking at the announcement of a Rome conference of scientists, theologians and philosophers to be held next March marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "The Origin of Species".
Christian churches were long hostile to Darwin because his theory conflicted with the literal biblical account of creation.
Earlier this week a leading Anglican churchman, Rev. Malcolm Brown, said the Church of England owed Darwin an apology for the way his ideas were received by Anglicans in Britain.
Pope Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans in 1950 and Pope John Paul reiterated that in 1996. But Ravasi said the Vatican had no intention of apologising for earlier negative views.
"Maybe we should abandon the idea of issuing apologies as if history was a court eternally in session," he said, adding that Darwin's theories were "never condemned by the Catholic Church nor was his book ever banned".
Creationism is the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible. The Catholic Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally, saying it is an allegory for the way God created the world.
Some other Christians, mostly conservative Protestants in the United States, read Genesis literally and object to evolution being taught in biology class in public high schools.
Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for the U.S. vice presidency, said in 2006 that she supported teaching both creationism and evolution in schools but has subsequently said creationism does not have to be part of curriculum.
The Catholic Church teaches "theistic evolution," a stand that accepts evolution as a scientific theory and sees no reason why God could not have used a natural evolutionary process in the forming of the human species.
It objects to using evolution as the basis for an atheist philosophy that denies God's existence or any divine role in creation. It also objects to using Genesis as a scientific text.
As Ravasi put it, creationism belongs to the "strictly theological sphere" and could not be used "ideologically in science."
Professor Philip Sloan of Notre Dame University, which is jointly holding next year's conference with Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, said the gathering would be an important contribution to explaining the Catholic stand on evolution.
"In the United States, and now elsewhere, we have an ongoing public debate over evolution that has social, political and religious dimensions," he said.
"Most of this debate has been taking place without a strong Catholic theological presence, and the discussion has suffered accordingly," he said.
Pope Benedict discussed these issues with his former doctoral students at their annual meeting in 2006. In a speech in Paris last week, he spoke out against biblical literalism.
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Patsy Wilson in Washington; editing by Robert Hart)