Putting Animals on the Agenda of the Catholic Church


AIA Member Catholic Concern for Animals

Submits an Animal Welfare Paper for the Consideration of His Holiness, Pope Francis for His Forthcoming Encyclical on the Environment

By Dr Deborah Jones and Chris Fegan
In 1866, Cardinal Donnet of Bordeaux declared that
‘The Church, by the voice of her Sovereign Pontiffs, has placed herself at the head of the [animal defence] movement. It is for her to take the lead whenever she can make herself heard’.

Directly Concerning the Environment:

We respectfully draw attention to the negative effects of intensive (factory) farming and the livestock industry –   Documents such as the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation’s report Livestock’s Long Shadow (2006) show that modern intensive ‘factory’ farming makes grossly unfair use of limited natural resources. The livestock sector is a leading contributor to the most serious environmental problems at every level – land degradation, climate change, air and water pollution and loss of biodiversity. It also produces unprecedented health hazards. Far from solving the problem of feeding the world’s hungry, it increases it, as the conversion rate of protein from grain to meat is very poor compared with the direct use of plant-based protein. Studies therefore conclude that moving to a plant-based diet is the single biggest change an individual can make to counter the effects of hunger, climate change and ecological degradation. In other words, for the developing world to have enough to eat, the developed world needs to change its eating habits – even more than its travel methods.

Specifically, intensive farming:

– destroys livelihoods as small, family farms cannot compete;

– creates global food insecurity as one third of all arable land is used to produce feed for meat animals, not food for people;

– is one of the largest polluting sectors of air, land and water;

– is extremely cruel to animals, causing them to live and end their lives in unnatural, unhealthy and often very painful conditions.

That last point is important, as the Catholic Church is widely perceived as not regarding animal suffering as a significant moral issue. The absolute primacy of human interests has led to an indifference to the condition of other creatures, an attitude that causes great scandal in sections of the secular community.

Opponents of the Church, some of whom are disillusioned former Catholics, contrast her silence at condemning cruelty to animals with the apparently more compassionate attitudes of agencies and people outside the Church. The drift of many Catholics to other religions, such as Buddhism, or to none, is often explained by the Church’s indifference or even hostility to animal interests.

We respectfully request, therefore, that animals and their welfare are mentioned in this and future documents, and that all aspects of cruelty are condemned. As Aquinas noted, a lack of compassion and respect towards other creatures harms people. We all have a stake in a cruelty-free world, and to protect the most vulnerable of human lives – the unborn, newly born and elderly – we presume to advocate a pro-life ethic that is explicitly inclusive of all living beings.

Specific horrors, such as ‘blood’-fiestas and bullfights can and need to be condemned outright, while the general instrumentalisation of animals leads to an attitude of disregard for creatures as subjects in themselves and with a relationship with their Creator, independent of theirs with us, or ours with God’s.

General Animal Concerns

We are inspired by the example of solidarity with and kindness to animals of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Philip Neri, Martin de Porres, and many others, and of the theme of the harmony with creation of the Desert Fathers and the Celtic saints of Britain and Ireland as living signs of a realised eschatology.

Advances in ethnology and animal studies have shown that many animals are far more capable of feeling, suffering and happiness than was previously thought when earlier Catholic theologians and philosophers proposed their teachings. It is therefore incumbent upon the present generation to develop theological understanding, which takes account of more recent findings. There are teachings of, for example, St Thomas Aquinas, which can be revisited and revisioned, as well as those of, for example, Blessed John Henry Newman, which could be more highly emphasised. One of these is the abhorrence in which he held the practice of vivisection, calling it ‘satanic’, an attitude shared by Cardinal Manning of Westminster, who helped to found a society opposed to it which continues today.

We also request that attention be given in the pastoral field, especially when companion animals are adopted into families. Two-thirds of all UK households have pets. They help to strengthen the family and to tutor the heart to compassion and caring, yet there are no resources to help families with the bereavement of a beloved pet, or burial of it. Being welcomed into church is a rare event, and some; particularly elderly people are prevented from attending Mass because they cannot leave their dogs behind. Pet blessing services are becoming common in churches of other Traditions, but much less so in Catholic ones.

There is nothing within Catholic education or formation from seminary to infant school that attends to animal creation as a moral issue and as one that can help lead to a compassionate culture. Please note – there is a disparity of gender in this concern. The sheer weight of numbers of women involved in animal organisations compared with those of men indicates this, and it would be good for those (men) who govern the Church to show that they are listening to these concerns of women.


What we are asking Your Holiness

– For your official support: to know that you take the treatment of animals as a serious moral concern.

– For positive expressions in public addresses and documents of the Church’s concern for the wellbeing of the animal creation.

– For encouragement in the work of each of the curial departments, particularly those concerning liturgy, doctrine, education and formation, to put and keep animal ethics and theology on the agenda.

– For ongoing communication, to be allowed to act as a consultative body to the Church at all levels; and to be involved in official channels in the development of the theology of animals.


Catechism of the Catholic Church

In the light of the above, we recommend the following revisions to the ‘animal paragraphs’ in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In place of the present wording, we propose:

n.2415. The seventh commandment enjoins religious respect for the integrity of God’s creation. The mineral and vegetable resources of the universe are the common patrimony of the world’s people: the use of these resources cannot be divorced from environmental considerations for present and future generations. Economic development must proceed only in consideration of the flourishing of eco-systems that support life. All living creatures have been created for their own purposes and with their own interests, which must be respected by human beings. People’s stewardship over them, granted by the Creator, must not be abused, for human dominion is a role of service, not tyranny. People’s treatment, therefore, of other creatures must be governed by moral imperative.

n.2416. The inclusion of further examples of saints who have treated animals respectfully and compassionately.

n.2417. God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image [Cf. Gen 2:19-20; Gen 9:1-4]. Hence human beings must remember that animals, both domestic and wild, belong to God, not to them, and so treat them with all kindness and consideration, animals should not be treated as property. When people use animals to meet their legitimate basic needs, which cannot otherwise be met, they must do their utmost to secure the well being of the animals to the highest possible degree, and not give priority to the concerns of income and profit. People must not make animals work beyond their strength, nor impose living conditions contrary to their natures. They should not engage in leisure pursuits, which, directly or indirectly, cause suffering to animals. The use of animals in experiments, other than for the benefit of the individual animals concerned, (or, in rare cases, for the sake of the animals’ own species) is not an appropriate exercise of human stewardship.

n.2418. By adopting in love the roles of servant and priest of creation, the human being goes beyond simply fulfilling duties towards animals. People’s love for them must be appropriate to the needs of the species. It is contrary to God’s rights over his creation for animals to be caused any suffering, and especially premature death, except under exceptional circumstances and where no alternative course of action is available. While the relief of human suffering must always be a duty of the Church, that is not to disregard the legitimate use of resources for the relief of animal suffering.


Catholic Animal Theological Primary Source: The School of Compassion: A Roman Catholic Theology of Animals by Dr Deborah Jones (Gracewing, 2009)

Catholic Concern for Animals
Catholic Concern for Animals

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