This clarified the question for me, and I hope it helps in your understanding of this issue.
In a document, Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God from the International Theological Commission, prepared by a subcommission from 2000-2002, approved by ballot, and given permission by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the President of the Commission, for publication, evolution – as a science – is indeed affirmed.
The document is a development of the doctrine of imago Dei, the human person created in the image of God. It was intended to orient our reflection on the meaning of human existence in the face of the challenges that accompany the increased ability to control the forces of nature with technology. In Chapter Three, “In the Image Of God: Stewards Of Visible Creation” the first section addresses “science and the stewardship of knowledge” and it is here Pope John Paul II is quoted from his 1996 “Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution.”
“[N]ew knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.”
What does it say?
This document affirms the “widely accepted scientific account” that the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the “Big Bang” and that it has been cooling and expanding since then.
It affirms the gradual emergence of conditions necessary for the formation of the atom, then galaxies and stars, and about 10 million years later, planets.
It affirms the formation of the solar system and of earth about 4.5 billion years ago, and the emergence of life and then the first organism’s dwelling some 3.5-4 billion years ago.
It affirms that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, and that it is “virtually certain” that all living organisms have descended from this first organism.
Finally, it affirms that there is “converging evidence” from the physical and biological sciences that some theory of evolution accounts for the diversification of life on earth, acknowledging controversy over the pace of mechanism.
The story of human origins is complex, but the document affirms that physical anthropology and molecular biology make a “convincing case” for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a “humanoid population of common genetic lineage.” The decisive factor in human origins was a “continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens.” With the introduction of the “uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity” mankind began a social and cultural evolution.
This publication undoubtedly affirms evolution.
Did it affirm creationism?
Well, that requires definition. In one sense, yes of course it does. In another sense, no it does not.
This document is in continuity with the teaching of Pope Pius XII in the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis where he also warns that “materialist, reductionist and spiritualist” theories attached to the science are incompatible with the Catholic faith. “Creationism” in the sense of a literal interpretation of a 6,000 year old earth that denies what sciences has revealed about human origins is rejected, a spiritualist theory. Materialist and reductionist theories are also rejected because science alone, while it may reveal a story of physical origins, cannot say anything about the “ontological leap” that fully explains the “conception of man” as created in the image of God.
Philosophy and theology are required for an adequate understanding. Why does the Church have an interest in understanding who the human person is? In part, so that the person “cannot be subordinated as a pure means or instrument” to the species or to the society. What that means in plain language is that people are people, not objects.
A statement at the beginning of this section merits examination.
“Without embracing a discredited concordism, Christians have the responsibility to locate the modern scientific understanding of the universe within the context of the theology of creation.”
Concordism is the error of taking scripture for scientific fact, which refers to “creationism” in the literal sense. This statement says “without embracing discredited concordism,” clearly a rejection of such theories. But the statement goes on to say that Christians have the “responsibility” to see science in the context of the “theology of creation.” That is to say, we must see science as the study of creation. Whatever the science tells us, we are studying creation, an a priori theological view of the knowledge.
Wait, a priori theological knowledge?
We don’t have assumed axioms reasoned from cause to effect in science! Science assumes nothing.
If that’s what you’re thinking, keep reading.
This section of the document goes on to explain that the human person is made to be in communion with the uncreated Persons of the Blessed Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a life of grace available to all human persons which unites us as the human race. It is thus inappropriate to speak of the Creator as an impersonal force or energy that created by imperative rather than free will. Creation ex nihilo is the act of a personal agent, acting freely and intelligently, thus the human person, made in the image of God, also has free will and intelligence. That is what the title of the section refers to, that this “stewardship of knowledge” requires us to view the scientific understanding of the created universe within the Christian vision.
Hence, our assumed axioms are that God created the universe from nothing and that we are created in His image.
Thus, with respect to evolution, Catholic tradition affirms, in keeping with the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, that God is the cause not only of existence but also the cause of causes. God enabled creatures (organisms) to act according to their natures and to bring about the end he intends. God sustains all those secondary causes in the unfolding of the natural order. If there is a degree of purpose and design revealed by empirically observable developments, as the Intelligent Design theories say, Catholic theologians see that discovery as an affirmation, rather than proof, entailed by faith in Divine Providence. We know the universe was created by God out of nothing by faith in Divine Revelation, not by science, and we understand the science within the context of that faith.
Regardless of what you think about evolutionary science, understanding that ordering is critical. I’ll explain why I think that in the next post. In the meantime enjoy this document, it is the Church’s ancient, full, dignified, and beautiful Trinitarian answer to the mind-body problem that modern science grapples with in the muddy puddles of materialism.