Evolution is not inconsistent with God, said Pope Francis during an unveiling of a bust of his predecessor, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Monday.
"Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation," Francis said. "The scientist," he continued, "must [nevertheless] be moved by a trust in the idea that nature hides, within her evolutionary mechanisms, potentialities that it is the task of intellect and freedom to discover and actuate, in order to achieve the [kind of] development that is in the design of the Creator."
The pope, who backed the Roman Catholic Church's openness to evolution, added that scientific advancements can be used for the benefit of people.
The bust of Benedict XVI was unveiled during the course of the Academicians' Oct. 24-28 plenary meeting dedicated to evolving concepts of nature, Vatican Radio reported.
Francis praised his predecessor, and said the he "[was] a great Pope: great for the power and penetration of his intellect, great for his significant contribution to theology, great for his love for the Church and of human beings, great for his virtue and piety."
The Vatican leader encouraged science and scientists to continue working on "happy" theoretical and practical initiatives for the benefit of human beings.
Brother Guy Consolmagno, astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory, said earlier in October that he finds Young Earth Creation theories that run contrary to science "almost blasphemous" in nature.
"It's almost blasphemous theology," Consolmagno said. "It's certainly not the tradition of Catholicism and never has been and it misunderstands what the Bible is and it misunderstands what science is."
The Vatican astronomer added that although literal interpretations of the Bible could suggest that the Earth is of a young age, scientific evidence to the contrary has shown that such a belief is "bad theology."
The Catholic Church's acceptance of evolution stands contrary to other Christian views of the origins of the earth, such as creationism, which supports a literal interpretation of Genesis.
The question of human origins remains a divisive one in the U.S. especially, where a Gallup poll from June found that more than four in 10 Americans, or 42 percent, believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.
Another 31 percent of those who responded to the survey said that they believe in evolution, but with God guiding the process, while 19 percent said that God had no part in the process. Gallup noted that these figures have changed little over the past three decades.