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The precursor to the actual Pontifical Academy of Sciences was the "Linceorum Academia," which was founded in Rome in 1603 and which, after some vicissitudes, was named "Pontificia Academia dei Nuovi Lincei" by Pius IX in 1847. It was enlargened by Leo XIII in 1887, and in 1936 it received its current name from Pius XI.

Currently it is the only academy of sciences of a supranational character which exists in the world. It has as its scope: to pay honor to pure science, wherever it is found, and to assure its freedom and to promote its research, which constitute the indispensable basis for progress in science.

This academy is directly responsible to the Holy Father. Elected for a four-year term, its president since 1993 has been Italian Prof. Nicola Cabibbo. It is composed by 80 academicians who are named by the pope. The academic body selects names, without discriminating in any way, among the most illustrious devotees of mathematical and experimental sciences of every country, and then proposes them to the pope. Chancellery director is H.E. Msgr. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo.

Added to these 80 academicians are the "perdurante munere" academicians, chosen by reason of their office, and honorary academicians, by reason of their merits towards the academy.

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences was founded by John Paul II in January 1994, with the Motu Proprio "Socialum Scientiarum." Its objective, says Article 1 of its statutes, is "to promote the study and progress of social, economic, political and juridical sciences in the light of the social doctrine of the Church."

The academy is autonomous and at the same time, maintains a very close relationship with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with which it coordinates the planning of various initiatives. Its academicians are also named by the pope and their number cannot be fewer than 20, nor more than 40. Currently there are 31 members who come from 24 countries throughout the world, without distinction to religious denomination, and who are chosen for their high level of competency in some of the diverse social disciplines.

The president is French Prof. Edmond Malinvaud. The academy is financed through a Foundation Council, whose president is Prof. Hubert Batliner. The chancellery director is the same as that of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Msgr. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo.

At the presentation of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Archbishop Jorge Maria Mejia, then vice president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, read a speech prepared by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray. "The Academy which the pope has just instituted," it said, "has the desire to face several challenges of modern society: it hopes to be a great center of 'interdisciplinary dialogue' on ever more complex problems which influence man."

With his Motu Proprio "Vitae Mysterium" of February 11, 1994, John Paul II instituted the Pontifical Academy for Life. Its objectives are the study, information and formation on the principal problems of biomedicine and of law, relative to the promotion and defense of life, above all in the direct relation that they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church's Magisterium. To achieve these objectives, the "Vitae Mysterium" Foundation was instituted in October 1994.

The academy for life is autonomous and is linked to the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers and various other dicasteries of the Roman Curia committed to the service of life.

After the death of its first president, Prof. Jerome Lejeune in April 1994, the academy has been and is headed by Chilean Dr. Juan de Dios Vial Correa, who is assisted by a vice president, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and by a Board of Directors of five academicians named by the pope.

Seventy members named by the pope, who represent different branches of biomedical sciences and those which are closely linked with problems concerning the promotion and defense of life, belong to the academy. There are also three "ad honorem" members and members through correspondence who work in institutes and centers of study on the culture of life. The Board of Directors names a secretary who, under the president's direction, coordinates the organization of the academy's work.