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 CNS Story:

COYNE Sep-11-2006 (480 words) Follow-up. xxxn

Vatican Observatory head rebuts suggestions that he was fired

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesuit Father George Coyne, who headed the Vatican Observatory for more than 28 years, said suggestions that he was forced out of the post by Pope Benedict XVI are "simply not true."

The Vatican announced Aug. 19 that Father Coyne, 73, would be stepping down as head of the Vatican's scientific research organization and that his replacement would be Jesuit Father Jose Funes.

Some news reports suggested Father Coyne was replaced by the pope in reaction to comments the Jesuit astronomer made over the last year supporting evolution and criticizing "intelligent design" as the explanation for how the universe was created. At the time, Father Coyne was on vacation and, he said in a Sept. 8 note to Catholic News Service, purposely avoiding the news.

Upon his return from vacation, Father Coyne responded to queries from CNS and others with a written statement Sept. 8 explaining that he had for several years been requesting a replacement as head of the observatory.

"For some years I have, upon realizing that a scientific research institute such as ours requires a continuous input of new initiatives, suggested to Jesuit superiors that they search for a new director of this work," Father Coyne wrote. "In May of this year upon my repeated request, they finally agreed to begin a search for a new director, resulting, rather rapidly to my delight, in the appointment of Jose Funes.

"This is truly a wonderful and blessed choice," he said. "Jose is a well-established international scholar, an excellent teacher and lecturer, very devoted to the intellectual life of the church and he will have new ideas and initiatives."

Father Funes, 43, an Argentine, has been on the staff of the observatory since 2000.

Father Coyne, who will remain president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, said he only learned about the speculation surrounding the transition once he returned from vacation.

Media reports that he was dismissed by the pope are "simply not true," his note to CNS said.

"The work of the Vatican Observatory under my directorship has been enthusiastically supported by John Paul I, if for ever so short a reign, by John Paul II, in many marvelous ways, and now by Pope Benedict XVI," he said. "Pope Benedict, to my mind, has renewed his enthusiastic support for the observatory's work by the appointment of Father Jose Funes and I am grateful to Pope Benedict for his enduring and loving care for this work of the church."

Father Coyne went on to say he had been granted a sabbatical year, which he would spend as a parish priest at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Raleigh, N.C. In September 2007 he plans to return to work at the Vatican Observatory. The observatory is based at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, and at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz.


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