According to Stephen Hawking his attendance at a 1981 Vatican Conference on cosmology reawakened his interest in the origin and fate of the universe. It was a combination of his own identification with Galileo and the pope's remarks about the big bang:
This quote from Brief History of Time (p. 116) is cited on a number of anti-Christian websites as evidence that the Church continues to repress sincere seekers of the truth. A couple of observations should be made.
First I assume that Hawking's "strong sense of identity" with Galileo caused him to get a little carried away and that he knew he was in no danger from the pope. Still it was a strange bit of imaginary drama to insert into science book for laymen.
A more serious question is whether the pope even made the statement. I've had a few people throw Hawking's version of it in my face as an example of Catholic obscurantism, but none were able to come up with the original statement. The Holy Father's 1981 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences evidences nothing like what Hawking claims. The Newman Center at Cal Tech has a list of the pope's messages regarding Faith and Science. He speaks about the urgent need for science and faith to benefit from each other, but at no point does he tell scientists there is something they should not inquire into. No "work of God" should be off limits and any one of them (particularly the big bang) points to the Creator.
Hawking & the Pope (Comparison of 1981 Statements)
A Brief Look at A Brief History of Time
Darwin Under the Microscope By Discovery Senior Fellow Michael J. Behe: "Pope John Paul II's statement last week that evolution is 'more than just a theory' is old news to a Roman Catholic scientist like myself..."
The Galileo Controversy: "And yet, it does move." These alleged words of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) conjure images of science's first "martyr":
In 1979 Pope John Paul II expressed the wish that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences would conduct an indepth study of the celebrated and controversial "Galileo case." The following English translation of the Holy Father's address, which was given in French, appeared in L'Osservatore Romano N. 44 (1264) - 4 November 1992
A Helpful Resource: Brebeuf College School Science and Religion Page
CRUSADES NONSENSE FROM U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church
Deflating Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Stephen Jay Gould: Gorbachev of Darwinism?
Test Tube Offspring Want to Know Father
Erickson vs. Bartell Drugs
Call No Man Father
What is Original Sin of Sex?
Bicentennial Man (Hidden Assumptions)
Bogus Knights of Columbus Oath
Ossuary of James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus
Magdalene Sisters and other anti-Catholic Pornography (Warning: Contains graphic descriptions.)
Rathergate: Dan Rather's use of forged documents & CBS anti-Catholicism
National Geographic July 2005 article on Stem Cells: One Culture They Fear Investigating