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IS THE VATICAN CONNECTED TO COMING GREAT DECEPTION?—PART 4: The Sky Island’s Assimilation for Extraterrestrial Evangelism

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“The highest levels of Vatican administration and geo-politics, know that, now, knowledge of what’s going on in space, and what’s approaching us, could be of great import in the next five years, ten years.”[i]Father Malachi Martin, adviser to three popes

“You want to know about UFO[s] and little green men? Contact the Vatican. They have an observatory out in Arizona, and that’s what they are looking for.”[ii]Gordon Cooper, NASA astronaut

If astronomers do discover a planet suitable for extraterrestrial life, Mt. Graham is probably the facility that will make the announcement. Of course, a lot of people are wondering what the Vatican is doing up there—astronaut Gordon Cooper sure had an interesting opinion—and we hope to shine some light on that question.

While touring VATT, we met a Jesuit engineer eager to pontificate on the compatibility of science and faith. Of course, we agree that the war alleged by secularists is more about poor philosophy than a concrete conflict, but some Jesuits are part of the problem (more on that later). The VATT is a cherry assignment for a Jesuit interested in science. While the living quarters are tight, wealthy benefactors furnished a plush leather sofa and chairs for the otherwise rustic retreat. Amenities aside, this facility is for serious astronomy, and it houses an impressive instrument on an ideal location. The mission of VATT is displayed prominently outside the entrance in Latin and in English indoors.

By way of surveying the role of astronomy in astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, this series will follow our tour. First, we’ll look at how the Mt. Graham complex came to be and examine some of the Vatican’s contributions. Then, we will stroll up the gravel road to the LBT and discuss the search for exoplanets. Finally, we will look at the Submillimeter and radio telescopes, especially their use in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. Along the way, we will try to unpack why the Jesuit in charge of the Vatican Observatory Research Group told the media in 1993 that the purpose of VATT and the Mt. Graham International Observatory was to contact extraterrestrials and baptize them into the Roman Catholic Church.

Resistance is Futile

The VATT facility is really the brainchild of Jesuit George V. Coyne, who became director of the Vatican Observatory in 1978. In addition to his duties as a Jesuit, he was an adjunct professor in the University of Arizona’s astronomy department, as well as associate director of the Steward Observatory. As a darling of the atheist community, he appeared with Richard Dawkins advocating a deistic form of Darwinism and stunned the high priest of atheism by also promoting a radical form of pluralism, the idea that all religions lead to the same God.[iii] Of course, to those familiar with the radical revisionism of Vatican II (Second Vatican Council), it was no big surprise, but Coyne stretches the bounds of orthodoxy even given Rome’s embrace of postmodernism. He profaned the film Religulous hosted by atheist Bill Maher, claiming that the Scriptures are scientifically inaccurate obscurantisms to the cheers of secularists and pagans universal. As we will address in a later chapter, it seems that just as Malachi Martin lamented in The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church (1987), this sort of reductionist postmodernism has become the stock and trade of third-millennium Jesuitism.

Back in 1980, Coyne brokered an agreement between the University of Arizona and the Vatican wherein it was stipulated that Rome would pay a fee so that members of the Vatican Observatory Research Group (VORG) could use the Steward Observatory facilities and office space. The choice of location is no accident. Sometimes called the “Old Pueblo,” Tucson is a virtual “Holy See” for astronomers, because the climate and atmosphere of the surrounding mountains make it one of the best viewing locations in the world. As the second-largest populated city in Arizona behind Phoenix, it is home to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and National Optical Astronomy Observatories, as well as the University’s Steward Observatory. The University of Arizona, boasting the largest undergraduate and second-largest graduate astronomy program in the US, also hosts a cutting-edge Center for Astrobiology, and offers an undergraduate and graduate minor in astrobiology.[iv] The area is fast becoming a magnet for extraterrestrial ambitions.

Accordingly, Arizona is home to some of the more vocal exponents for astrobiology, like cosmologist Chris Impey, the best-selling author of The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe (2011) and many other popular titles and textbooks, who serves as the center’s astrobiology education and outreach point man. Impey has also collaborated extensively with the VORG, contributing to volumes on the intersection between science and theology, as well as presenting at the 2009 Astrobiology Conference hosted by the Vatican in Rome.[v] Another outspoken figure who attended that 2009 conference, Paul Davies, is conveniently nearby at Arizona State in Tempe, which is part of the Phoenix metropolitan area, a city famous for its 1997 visitation by a mile-wide, delta-shaped craft witnessed by then-acting Arizona Governor Fife Symington, numerous citizens, and law enforcement personnel. We will return to the high strangeness within, but now we must explain the assimilation of Mt. Graham.

Through a highly contentious process, the Mt. Graham International Observatory has come to be the premiere astronomical site on the planet. It all came about because the University of Arizona began to campaign for a new international observatory using the latest technology back in the early 1980s. At that time, all of the Tucson sites were occupied, so, at an altitude of two miles above sea level, Emerald Peak on Mt. Graham seemed a promising choice. The VORG, already in a symbiotic relationship with the university, was a seminal ally in forming an international consortium including not only Catholic institutions like Notre Dame University and a large group of Italian observatories, but also the Max Planck Institute of West Germany. The influential conglomerate is known to consist of these partners:[vi]

Consisting of four nation states (Vatican, United States, Italy, and Germany), the international juggernaut still had a small problem…those pesky American environmental laws and the local Indians who hold the mountain sacred.

Dzil Nchaa Si An (Apache for “Big Seated Mountain”) is one of the Western Apaches’ four holiest mountains. The mountain was named in 1846 when, during the war with Mexico, Lieutenant William Emory, a topographer for the Army, labeled the mountain on his map as Mt. Graham after his friend and fellow officer James Duncan Graham. Following a series of presidential executive orders, it was assimilated into the United States as public land in 1873. Accordingly, it came under the purview of the US Forest Service, under whose administration it still remains. The mountain has a majestic presence in the landscape as seen from the San Carlos Apache Reservation, where a remnant of the indigenous population now resides. The local Apache harbor a deep sense of violation from past events like the Camp Grant Massacre, during which American troops wiped out an entire village without provocation. It was so heinous that President Ulysses S. Grant threatened placing Arizona under martial law unless the perpetrators were brought to trial. In response, a Tucson grand jury indicted one hundred of the assailants with one hundred and eight counts of murder. Even so, it took the Tucson jury a mere nineteen minutes to find them not guilty.


The Vatican, Aliens, and Government Elites. Is It All a Coincidence?

With such horrific historical precedent, it comes as little surprise that many of the surviving Apache deeply resent the appropriation and desecration of their sacred lands. Calling it “cultural genocide,” they initiated a campaign to terminate construction. Environmentalists joined them, arguing that the astronomical mecca would contaminate the endangered ecosystem. Elizabeth A. Brandt, an activist for Cultural Survival, writes:

The astronomers have the resources of the scientific establishments of four nation-states on their side, and the best lobbyists and lawyers that money can buy. They have the support of many politicians in each country, and receive millions of dollars in research grants. The Apache opposition survives by donation and a spiritual conviction of the rightness of their cause. Environmentalists have also opposed the project because of their concerns with the damage it will cause to the unique ecosystems and endangered species on the mountain.[vii]

As a part of the Pinal Mountain range surrounded by the Sonoran-Chihuahuan Desert, the Nature Conservancy reports that the area contains “the highest diversity of habitats of any mountain range in North America.”[viii] Often referred to as a “Sky Island” ecosystem, the old growth forests on Mt. Graham’s peak are Arizona’s equivalent to tropical rain forests. It is home of at least eighteen species and subspecies of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet, including the aforementioned endangered red squirrel.

The beginning of the struggle traces back to the mid 1980s, and, for some, it is a holy war. Over the years, the resistance has staged road blockades and engaged in acts of small-scale domestic terrorism—making headlines when some twenty thousand dollars worth of equipment was stolen from the construction site in 1986.[ix] Interestingly, at the same time this controversy raged, Pope John Paul II paid a questionably serendipitous visit to Tucson in September of 1987, receiving Coyne along with a delegation from the university. The pope gave the project his blessing. Not surprisingly, wealthy Catholic benefactors for VATT were soon to fall in line. However, the timing also begs the question concerning possible papal persuasion of Roman Catholic congressmen and wildlife officials. According to the Syllabus of Errors promulgated by Pope Pius IX, Roman Catholics necessarily swear allegiance to the pope over any national interest.[x] Many believe Rome has consistently worked behind the scenes to subvert US interests as documented by Justin Dewey in the nineteenth-century exposé, Washington in the Lap of Rome.

In 1984, the conglomerate proposed the construction of thirteen telescopes on the two highest peaks of Mt. Graham: Emerald Peak and High Peak. Anticipating opposition, members of the international consortium threatened to build the complex in another country if it could not be built on Mt. Graham’s two highest peaks. In 1985, The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommended only allowing the consortium to build five telescopes on one of the peaks. Then-acting director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Frank Dunkle, was widely criticized by environmentalists for paying more attention to politics than natural resources, later prompting his resignation.[xi] During this time, the red squirrel was put on the endangered species list and the revised “Biological Opinion,” an official document/assessment by US Fish and Wildlife released in 1988, clearly indicated that the university proposal would jeopardize the red squirrel. The official opinion consisted of three options, two of which allowed for limited construction and one that prohibited the project. That could have been the end, but it was never allowed to be decided due to an unprecedented intervention by Congress suggesting high-level skullduggery.

One might expect the Roman Catholic delegation to be somewhat sympathetic and sensitive to the ecological concerns. However, it was decidedly the most caustic and aggressive proponent of the project. Responding to the environmentalists’ concerns, acting VORG director Coyne ranted:

Nature and the Earth are just there, blah! And there will be a time when they are not there.… It is precisely the failure to make the distinctions I mention above [between Nature, Earth, cultures, human beings] that has created a kind of environmentalism and religiosity to which I cannot subscribe and which must be suppressed with all the force that we can muster.[xii]

While this sort of violent language harks back to the Crusades and Inquisition, it also sounds eerily similar to Jean-Luc Picard’s post assimilation, “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward you will service us.”[xiii] Even worse were statements by his Jesuit brother and history professor at the university, Father Charles W. Polzer, who claimed, “The opposition to the telescopes and the use of Native American people to oppose the project are part of a Jewish conspiracy that comes out of the Jewish lawyers of the ACLU to undermine and destroy…the Catholic church.”[xiv] One marvels at the anti-Semitic vitriol coming from the so-called Society of Jesus (Himself, a Jew), but it also begs the question of how preventing the VATT project could destroy the Catholic Church. This suggests that something more than Jesuitical stargazing is at stake. Shortly subsequent to the pope’s visit, a congressional power play rendered the legal controversy academic.

The consortium and its supporters lobbied and convinced Congress to grant exemptions from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to begin construction of the first three telescopes, with VATT taking the lead. But these weren’t just exemptions; rather, this was a whole-scale reworking of federal law. By decree of Arizona Senator John McCain’s deceptively titled “Idaho and Arizona Conservation Act of 1988,” along with a half-million dollars paid for the services of the Washington, DC, lobbying powerhouse Patton, Boggs, and Blow, the project was given the green light. According to Dr. Randy Maddalena, a scientist in the Exposure and Risk Analysis Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,[xv] this move amounted to an extraordinary subversion of the legal process:

Congress responded by adding Title 6 to the Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act which was quickly enacted into law. In essence, Congress took over the job of the Forest Service by choosing “Reasonable and Prudent Alternative” Three from the Biological Opinion. In Title 6, Congress divided the construction of the astrophysical complex into two phases. Congress then ordered the issuance of a special use permit and instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to “immediately approve” the first phase of the astrophysical project. In legislating their decision, Congress circumvented the decision making process crafted by law and refined through judicial interpretation.[xvi]

In response, two Arizona physicians, Robin Silver and Bob Witzeman, met with McCain in 1992 in order to voice their concerns. They describe the senator throwing a violent fit at the mere mention of Mt. Graham: “He jumped up and down, screaming obscenities at us for about 10 minutes. He shook his fists as if he was going to slug us. It was as violent as almost any domestic abuse altercation.”[xvii] By hook or crook, the environmental exemptions were granted and the project realized. Exclaiming, “Resistance is futile,” the VORG officially inaugurated the VATT facility in September of 1993…Mt. Graham was assimilated.

Refusing to accept said futility, the resistance movement rages. As it stands today, the initial three telescopes are in operation, but the University of Arizona has requested a new evaluation from the Wildlife Service proposing at least seven telescopes. As recently as December 2010, a new lawsuit was filed:

On Dec. 22, 2010, the Mount Graham Coalition, the Maricopa Audubon Society and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for failing to reinitiate Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding the Mount Graham Telescope Project which is situated atop Mount Graham, a mountain considered sacred since time immemorial to the San Carlos Apaches.[xviii]

Even though the real battle was decided when VATT went operational, the bitter dispute remains a constant news item in Arizona. Of course, all of this is fueled by big science and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but the technological innovation that drove this hard-fought quest came from the Steward Observatory mirror lab. Now we turn to what in the world—or out of this world—the Jesuits are looking into!

UP NEXT: The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope

[i] Father Malachi Martin and Art Bell, “Father Malachi Martin on Exorcisms,” The Art Bell Show, April 5th, 1997, last accessed January 16, 2013,

[ii]Timothy B. Benford, “UFO, Aliens and the Vatican: And Why Astronaut Gordon Cooper Lied to Me,” Yahoo Voices, June 11, 2008,

[iii] To learn more, see: “Richard Dawkins Interviews Father George Coyne,” Catholic Truth, January 27, 2009,

[iv] To learn more about these programs, see: “Center for Astrobiology,” The University of Arizona, last accessed January 16, 2013,

[v] Science and Theology: Ruminations on the Cosmos (ND From Vatican Observatory Foundation) by Chris Impey and Catherine Petry (Jan 13, 2004); also International Symposium on Astrophysics Research and on the Dialogue between Science and Religion (ND From Vatican Observatory Foundation) by Chris Impey and Catherine Petry (Feb. 26, 2004).

[vi] Compiled with data from Ohio State University; see more here: “The Large Binocular Telescope,” Ohio State University, last accessed January 16, 2013,

[vii] Elizabeth Brandt, “The Fight for Dzil Nchaa Si An, Mt. Graham: Apaches and Astrophysical Development in Arizona,” Cultural Survival, March 24, 2010,

[viii] Information viewable here: “Arizona,” The Nature Conservancy, last accessed January 16, 2013,

[ix] David Chidester and Edward Tabor Linenthal, American Sacred Space (Religion in North America) (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995), 120; viewable here:

[x] To learn more about this, see: Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam, Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here (Crane, MO: Defender), 226.

[xi] Associated Press, “Ex-Fish and Wildlife Director Dies from Heart Complications: Embattled Boss Resigned in ’89,” The Spokesman Review, October 26, 1993,

[xii]Peter Warshall, “The Heart of Genuine Sadness—Astronomers, Politicians, and Federal Employees Desecrate the Holiest Mountain of the San Carlos Apache,” Whole Earth No. 91, (Winter 1997).

[xiii] “Locutus of Borg,” Memory Alpha, last accessed January 16, 2013,

[xiv]Steve Yozwiak, “Priest Calls Telescope Foes Part of ‘Jewish Conspiracy,’” Arizona Republic (August 14, 1992), B1; as quoted in: Jeffrey St. Clair, “Star Whores, Astronomers vs. Apaches on Mount Graham,” February 1–3, 2003,

[xv] “Personal Biography of Randy Maddalena, Ph.D.,” Environmental Protection Agency, last accessed January 16, 2013,

[xvi] Randy Maddalena, “The Price We Pay to See the Stars: Mt. Graham Red Squirrel v. Madigan,” Environs: Envtl. L. & Pol’y J. 16 (1992), 26; viewable here:

[xvii] Steve Yozwiat, “Priest Calls Telescope Foes Part of ‘Jewish Conspiracy’”; as quoted in: Jeffrey St. Clair, “Star Whores, Astronomers vs. Apaches on Mount Graham,”

[xviii] Sandra Rambler, “Mount Graham Coalition Included in Notice of Intent to Sue U.S. Forest Service,” Arizona Silver Belt, January 12, 2011,

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