Pope picks Protestant to head Vatican's sciences academy

Vatican City - The pope has picked a Protestant to head the Vatican's sciences academy.

Benedict XVI chose Werner Arber, a Swiss molecular biologist who shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1978, as president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Sunday it is the first time a non-Catholic has led the academy in its four centuries of history.

The academy help pontiffs understand scientific advances in fields ranging from genetics to nuclear physics. Arber became a member in 1981. Other non-Catholics who have been prominent academy members, but not president, include Rita Levi Montalcini, an Italian Jew and 1986 Nobel winner for medicine.