A predecessor organisation was founded in 1603. It was called ‘the Academy of the Lynx-Eyed’, and from 1611 the president was Galileo. This Academy ceased to exist on the death of its founderFederico Cesi.
In 1801 it was refounded by an Italian priest and scientist, Abbot Feliciano Scarpellini. He died in 1840, and in 1849 the Academy was refounded by Pope Pius IX as the Pontifical Academy of the New Lynx-Eyed.
In the 1870s, the Academy split into two, with one part seeking royal patronage as the Royal National Academy of the Lynx Eyed, and the other remaining a Pontifical Academy. This second group is the direct ancestor of the current Pontifical Academy, which was renamed in 1936 by Pope Pius XI, who said:
“Amongst the many consolations with which divine Goodness has wished to make happy the years of our Pontificate, I am happy to place that of our having being able to see not a few of those who dedicate themselves to the studies of the sciences mature their attitude and their intellectual approach towards religion. Science, when it is real cognition, is never in contrast with the truth of the Christian faith. Indeed, as is well known to those who study the history of science, it must be recognized on the one hand that the Roman Pontiffs and the Catholic Church have always fostered the research of the learned in the experimental field as well, and on the other hand that such research has opened up the way to the defense of the deposit of supernatural truths entrusted to the Church….We promise again that it is our strongly-held intention, that the ‘Pontifical Academicians’ through their work and our Institution, work ever more and ever more effectively for the progress of the sciences. Of them we do not ask anything else, since in this praiseworthy intent and this noble work in that service in favor of the truth that we expect of them.” (Pius XI)
Here’s what the Academy says about itself:
WHO ARE THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMICIANS?
The Pontifical Academicians are eighty women and men from many countries who have made outstanding contributions in their fields of scientific endeavour. They are nominated by the Supreme Pontiff after being elected by the body of the Academicians.
The Pontifical Academicians participate in study groups and meetings organized by the Academy to examine specific issues. Their deliberations and scientific papers are published by the Academy. They assemble in the Vatican in the Casina Pio IV for Plenary Sessions.
RELATIONSHIP TO THE HOLY SEE
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is an independent entity within the Holy See. Although its rebirth was the result of papal initiative, and though it is placed under the direct protection of the reigning Supreme Pontiff, the Academy defines its own goals with regard to its statuted aim:
“…to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of epistemological problems relating thereto” (Statutes 1:2).
Pius XII underlined the Academy’s freedom of inquiry in an address of 1940 to the Academicians:
“To you noble champions of human arts and disciplines the Church acknowledges complete freedom in method and research…“.
Since the deliberations and studies which it undertakes are not influenced by any one national, political or religious point of view, the Academy constitutes an invaluable source of objective information upon which the Holy See and its various bodies can draw.
The operating expenses of the Academy are defrayed mainly by the Holy See. In addition, gifts from foundations, firms, membership organizations and individuals have enhanced the Academy’s efficacy and outreach.
Their activities, which cover a wide range of topics, are also listed on their website.