In a solemn audience, held on 10 November 1979 before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the College of Cardinals and the Diplomatic Corps to the Holy See, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein, John Paul II requested that theologians, scholars and historians, animated by a spirit of sincere collaboration, will study the Galileo case more deeply..."This desire was concretized in the constitution by the Pope in July 1981 of a commission to "coordinate the research of theologians, scientists and historians which would help to further clarify the events which occurred between Galileo and the Church and, more generally, the Ptolemaic - Copernican controversy of the 16th and 17th centuries in which the Galileo affair is situated".
The commission consisted of four working groups to deal with exegetics, general culture, science and epistemology, and history and jurisprudence. The task of the commission was officially described as a scholarly and calm reflection, founded on objective evidence and emphatically not a new trial nor an attempt at rehabilitation.
As co-director of the working group for science and epistemology George Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory, initiated a series of research publications entitled, STUDI GALILEIANI. To date the following publications have appeared in that series:
- GALILEO AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: A CRITIQUE OF THE "CLOSURE" OF THE GALILEO COMMISSION'S WORK, by Annibale Fantoli (2002)
- GALILEO: FOR COPERNICANISM AND FOR THE CHURCH, by Annibale Fantoli (1996)
- GALILEO: PER IL COPERNICANESIMO E PER LA CHIESA, by A. Fantoli (1993)
- GALILEO AND THE COUNCIL OF TRENT, by Olaf Pedersen (New Edition, 1991)
- ESSAYS ON THE TRIAL OF GALILEO, by Richard S. Westfall (1989)
- THE GALILEO AFFAIR: A MEETING OF FAITH AND SCIENCE, editors: G.V. Coyne, S.J., M. Heller, and J.M. Zycinski (1985)
- THE LOUVAIN LECTURES OF BELLARMINE AND THE AUTOGRAPH COPY OF HIS 1616 DECLARATION TO GALILEO by U. Baldini and G.V. Coyne (out of print)
- THE IDEA OF UNIFICATION IN GALILEO'S EPISTEMOLOGY by J. Zycinski (out of print)
Information on purchasing any of the above books in print can be found from the Vatican Observatory's publications page.
In an audience before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 31 October 1992 John Paul II officially closed the work of the commission, after having received in that same audience a report from Cardinal Paul Poupard on the work of the commission, with the words:
"From the Galileo case we can draw a lesson which is applicable today in analogous cases which arise in our times and which may arise in the future. ... It often happens that, beyond two partial points of view which are in contrast, there exists a wider view of things which embraces both and integrates them."
(The addresses of the Pope and of Cardinal Poupard are published in L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO, 1 November 1992).
George V. Coyne, S.J.