An official astronomer for the pope, Guy Consolmagno, told The Guardian that he would be willing to baptize space aliens, but "only if they asked" to be baptized. "Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul," he told the British newspaper.

Consolmagno said he would be "delighted" if intelligent alien life were discovered, but he reiterated the common belief among astronomers (papal and secular alike) that the odds of finding or communicating with extra terrestrial are effectively zero. Unlike the Catholic church of old, which banned the work of some of the world's greatest astronomers such as Galileo Galilei, Consolmagno made clear in his interview that he feels today's church can peacefully coexist with cutting-edge science.

Consolmagno, who became interested in science through reading science fiction, said that the Vatican was well aware of the latest goings-on in scientific research. "You'd be surprised," he said.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which Stephen Hawking is a member, keeps the senior cardinals and the pope up-to-date with the latest scientific developments. Responding to Hawking's recent comments that the laws of physics removed the need for God, Consolmagno said: "Steven Hawking is a brilliant physicist and when it comes to theology I can say he's a brilliant physicist."

Consolmagno's interview, given as part of his trip to speak at a national science festival in the U.K., came at the same time as the pope's own U.K. trip, where he warned against "atheist extremism."