…"IF MY PEOPLE WHO BEAR MY NAME, HUMBLE THEMSELVES AND PRAY AND SEEK MY PRESENCE AND TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS, I MYSELF WILL HEAR FROM HEAVEN AND FORGIVE THEIR SINS…" (2 CHRON. 7:14) – "YOU WILL SEE THAT IN PRAYER YOU WILL FIND MORE KNOWLEDGE, MORE LIGHT, MORE STRENGTH, MORE GRACE AND VIRTUE THAN YOU COULD EVER ACHIEVE BY READING MANY BOOKS, OR BY GREAT STUDIES. NEVER CONSIDER AS WASTED THE TIME YOU SPEND IN PRAYER. YOU WILL DISCOVER THAT IN PRAYER GOD COMMUNICATES TO YOU THE LIGHT, STRENGTH AND GRACE YOU NEED…" (SR LUCIA DOS SANTOS)
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CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS’ VIEW ON ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS VERSUS CRUELTY TO ANIMALS
WHAT DO THE BIBLE, THE CATECHISM, THE POPE AND TEACHERS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH SAY?
Do animals have rights? Obviously they do not in the sense of being entitled to vote or to be expected to discharge duties – any more than infant children.
St Thomas Aquinas (Doctor of the Church) affirmed that they do indeed have natural rights, defended by justice. In God’s world of nature, all creatures obey eternal law, defined as God’s ‘wisdom directing all actions and movements’ (Summa Theol.220.127.116.11). Every animal achieves its God-given purpose, its TELOS, through the behaviour that is natural to it. This is what the Catechism means in n.2416 where it says that by animals’ “mere existence, they bless God and give him glory”. So our treatment of each animal should enable it to achieve its purpose and not prevent it from fulfilling it. The Catholic theologian, Richard Wade, condemns any violation of the natural inclinations of animals:
“For example, [by] the infliction of pain and abuse, deprivation of water, food, space to run free, and so forth, is against the interests they require to have their natures fulfilled…failure to respect the PRIMA FACIE interests of animals based upon their nature is to deny them natural justice.”
The Catechism (n.2415) upholds this view by stating:
“Man’s dominion over inanimate or other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute…it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation”.
This means that we cannot do just as we please with created beings. To achieve a ‘religious respect’ implies more than simply following the basic requirements of care for living creatures. It is to acknowledge that, as St Francis of Assisi testified, we all have a common Father-Creator. It is God’s rights that are trampled upon when his beloved creation is misused and abused. As Cardinal John C. Heenan of Westminster wrote in replying to the proposition that animals have no rights:
“They have very positive rights because they are God’s creatures. If we have to speak with absolute accuracy we must say that God has the right to have all his creatures treated with proper respect.”
A previous Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Francis Bourne, in a talk to children in Westminster Cathedral, said:
“There is even in kindness to animals a special merit in remembering that this kindness is obligatory upon us because God made the animals, and is, therefore, their Creator.”
The Catechism warns against spending disproportionate amounts of money on pets (companion animals) that should “as a priority go to the relief of human misery”. Spending disproportionate amounts on pet “clothing”, jewelled collars, or fancy food is an abuse of resources – as, of course, is any spending on frivolous luxury. What is more, is that the dignity of the pet as an animal is compromised.
The Church has not pronounced on the subject of killing animals for food – either for or against it. In 1992, when still a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI was asked in an interview with a journalist, whether killing animals for food is permissible. His answer echoes a point often made by Christian promoters of vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, that, at first, the only food provision for human beings was plant-life: ‘Only after the flood, that is to say, after a new breach has been opened between God and man, we are told that man eats flesh…’ (Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World, a conversation with Peter Seewald). So killing for food has not been forbidden although, he insists, a person “should always maintain his respect for these creatures”.
Indeed, the Church has a long ascetical tradition of self-denial, whereby people, including several religious orders, renounce meat-eating to live a more simple life-style, in solidarity with the poorest people. For centuries the faithful abstained from meat-eating on Fridays, also on Wednesdays, and during Lent and Advent, although often fish was substituted for the flesh of mammals and birds. In England and Wales, fasting every Friday is binding; no meat is to be consumed by the faithful on Fridays.
Nowadays, many organisations concerned with both global social justice and the environment urge the reduction or elimination of a meat-based diet in order to feed growing human populations in a world of limited resources, and to cut down our ‘carbon footprint’. It is estimated that livestock consume at least three times (some say seven times or more) the amount of food that they return in the form of meat, eggs, and milk; and their sector accounts for up to one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, Pope Benedict XVI, in the 1992 interview, gives a powerful denunciation of certain farming practices, namely the method of producing foie gras, and intensive poultry conditions:
“Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”
Since AD 830 the clergy have been forbidden to hunt.
And finally, on vivisection, there have been Catholic voices, notably British ones, that have spoken out against cruelties exercised on animals, including the use of live animals in experiments, known as ‘vivisection’, for instance Blessed (Cardinal) John Henry Newman:
“At one time it is the wanton deed of barbarous and angry owners who ill treat their cattle or beasts of burden; and at another it is the cold blooded and calculating act of men of Science, who make experiments, perhaps merely from a sort of curiosity… There is something so dreadful, so satanic in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power, who have weapons neither of offence nor defence, that none but very hardened persons can endure the thought of it.”
- D. Jones
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Posted by prayers4reparation on March 18, 2012 in Practical Spiritual Advice for Daily Living, Prayers for Ordinary Time
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