In this Essay I’ll set forth the position of the Catholic Church on evolution, including requirements associated with the Dogma on Original Sin. An important distinction here: evolution is the descent of species from some common ancestor. As Pope St. John Paul II emphasized, there are many theories for how this occurred, including the one most commonly held by biologists, the neo-Darwinian.
The fact of evolution, common descent, does not conflict with Catholic teaching. As Popes Pius XII, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said: although the physical body of man may originate from pre-existing matter (other living forms) via an evolutionary process, the individual soul is created and implanted in each of us by God. Therefore interpretations of evolution—theories or models—that deny the existence of such a soul do conflict with Catholic teaching, but evolutionary models which do not deny the soul, do not.
Although some Christians deny evolution because it does not agree with a literal interpretation of the Creation account given in Genesis I, there is no reason to deny that Creation “at once” can refer to God as a primary cause who instilled secondary causes in His Creation, as St. Augustine argued. Moreover, God is eternal, timeless, so to say that He must have created the universe at a single instant in time is to put a limitation on His timelessness. Also, as Pope Benedict XVI argued, we cannot regard Scripture as a science text book; the Old Testament leads us to the New and is the road to Christ.
For a fuller account of the position of the Catholic Church on evolution and various models—theories—on the mechanism for evolution, see ESSAY 5: Evolution; No War between the Church and Science