Pope Francis’s Unreserved Embrace of Animal Protection

By on June 18, 2015 with 38 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

This morning, the Vatican released Pope Francis’s new encyclical on the environment, and it is truly historic. The encyclical, or letter, from the Pope is full of references to animals and calls on all of us to embrace a more humane path. The encyclical is named “Praised Be” (Laudato Si) after St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, in which the Saint praises God for animals and creation.

In the encyclical, the Pope reminds us, “We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God’ ( Lk  12:6). How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?”

The Pope also calls on us all to be better stewards of all creation, noting that “[e]ach organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself.” He condemns the view that humankind has “absolute domination over other creatures” as a misinterpretation of God’s grant of “dominion” over creation.

The Pope notes that “our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity’.”

And the Pope directly addresses animal testing, noting “the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives… human power has limits and that it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

I asked Dr. Charles Camosy, professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University and author of For Love of Animals, for insight into the significance of this encyclical. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

What moral limits should we consider placing on the market and technology to protect people, creation, and animals?  Should price and efficiency continue to drive animal agriculture?

History shows us that, without protections, an unrestrained market will ignore and even reward the violent marginalization of inconvenient populations. Both human and non-human. In the new encyclical, Pope Francis shows how this is especially true when market forces are married to the imperative to use technology to do things cheaper and faster—regardless of moral cost. The Pope calls us to resist an amoral rush to consume via technology in an unrestrained market. This disconnects us not only from the proper value of the things we consume—and of the people who work to bring those goods to us—but ultimately it disconnects us from ourselves. Consumerism is a soul-crushing practice, designed specifically to leave us unsatisfied so we keep on consuming more and more with no end in sight. While this might benefit the stock prices of big corporations, it kills the human spirit—and, significantly, the wider creation. As Pope Francis says in the encyclical: the ecological crisis is primarily a spiritual crisis. We not only need new laws…we need to become different kinds of people, living our lives is fundamentally different ways. Ways which resist the quick and easy path of consumerism.

What current practices involving animals are inconsistent with the Pope’s vision of our relationship with creation and animals?

In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel Pope, Francis almost certainly invokes the plight of animals in factory farms when he speaks of “other weak and defenceless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation.” In such farms, technology is used to gain more protein units per square foot, thus making more money for the corporation and cheaper food for the consumer. But this is precisely the kind of consumerist social structure called out more generally in Laudato Si. Indeed, the new encyclical calls for a new kind of “asceticism”: one which cultivates new practices of resistance to “greed and compulsion” and instead seeing creation as something more than merely a set of objects to be “used and controlled.”

Indeed, this is based on the theological idea—taught by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI—that all creation has intrinsic value.  Here are some important quotes from Francis making this point:

“It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves.” (#33)

“Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable.” (#36)

“We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” (#67)

Creation has “an intrinsic value” which is “independent of [its] usefulness. Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself.” (#140)

If we take the Pope seriously on this idea, Western culture in particular will need to totally rethink its relationship with animals as mere tools or products for us to use in sinful social structures of technological consumerism.

How is the flourishing of animals and creation related to the flourishing of human beings?

Perhaps the central new insight of Laudato Si is something that the Pope calls “integral ecology.” For decades now we’ve heard about the ecology of the non-human, and more recently Catholic theology has spoken of something called “human ecology.” But this new encyclical asks us to think about the interrelated ecology of the human and non-human.

Factory farms, of course, are a classic example of this. The intense and horrific harm done to animals is obvious. But the human harms are terrible as well: too much animal fat in our blood causing heart disease and cancer; all kinds of chemicals and drugs necessary for animals in factory farms getting transferred to human bodies; creation of dangerous superbugs via huge amounts of antibiotics; perhaps the most serious cause of climate change; and much more.

Pope Francis’ integral ecology explicitly “takes us to the heart of what it is be human.” (#11): When we reject consumerism, selfishness, and violence with respect to the non-human, we are then on the way to becoming the kinds of human beings we were created to be. In helping all of creation become happier and healthier, we become healthier and happier ourselves. This is the near-unbelievable good news—the Gospel—of the Christian message more generally. Rightly understood, Christian moral requirements are not a burden, but rather a means for becoming our best and most flourishing selves.

Categories
Animal Research and Testing, Farm Animals

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38 Comments

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  1. Beverley Krell says:

    I have the greatest respect for Pope Francis who’s a breathe of fresh air ridding the Vatican of its cobwebs and underscoring how previous Popes failed to tackle the thorny issues facing society.
    His encyclical may not be scientifically based but he reminds us that we are custodians of the planet and until the developed countries address their greed and squander the earths resources, future generations face a bleak future.
    As a man of humility he has highlighted the plight of the poor and has been bold enough to face off both Netanyahu and Erdogan. He has no political donors to answer to and would have made a thoughtful and caring Statesman.

    • Fred Rizzo says:

      Exactly. Animal agriculture is a main cause of global warming and disastrous eating habits. Unless he changes the Church back to its Vegan origins, i.e., Genesis1: 29 , he’s not fulfilling his spiritual destiny. Does Pope Francis have the courage to guide his millions of followers correctly?

    • Jamie says:

      I love what you wrote. I am so thankful that we have a Pope that is merciful to our animal brothers and sisters. Our Catholic Church is the richest of them all and should be doing far, far more to end poverty, homelessness and the torturing and murdering of Gods innocent creatures, for whom we are suppose to protect.

  2. Kathleen Cheatham says:

    Thank you Pope Francis for clarifying what our “dominion over all creatures” really means and which supposedly ” religious” people are using to show its ok to wipe out wolves or other INCONVIENT” species.

  3. Will says:

    If Pope Francis’s “Unreserved Embrace of Animal Protection” was authentic, he would announce to the world that he’s a vegan, and the reasons why. Without him changing his personal example, his words are weak and hollow and soon forgotten, as the financial elite desires…

    • Kali Muse says:

      I agree Will. But change needs to start somewhere. His message is powerful and his actions, especially if he embraces a plant based diet, can help to set the example for others. I’ve been a vegan for one year now and am happy to say I’ve been in touch with others who adopted this lifestyle for the good of the world.

    • christina says:

      I found myself thinking what empty words these are, there is cruelty and human dominance over every non human animal in this world and unless the Pope himself is vegan and promotes veganism to all mankind what he says is meaningless to my mind and to all animals. How is it ok to kill them or use them in a kinder way??? Surely not using or killing at all is when we can become the humans we were meant to be. Especially since we do not have to for survival.

      • Suzaan says:

        Christina, the sad truth is that the killing of animals will never end. If for no other reason but to make food for pets. It is only a matter of how the animals will be treated during their lives and whether they will be killed mercifully (as paradoxical and contradictory as it may sound)

      • Fref Rizzo says:

        Exactly. Animal agriculture is a main cause of global warming and disastrous eating habits. Unless he changes the Church back to its Vegan origins, i.e., Genesis1: 29 , he’s not fulfilling his spiritual destiny. Does Pope Francis have the courage to guide his millions of followers correctly?

    • Go Cart Mozart says:

      He could very well be Vegan, Vegetarian or vegetarian influenced. He is humbly drawing attention to Christian moral standards that apply to ALL of us, that make us better people.

    • Jennifer canfield says:

      Maybe he is and doesn’t brag about it.

    • Mel says:

      Fully agreed Will. Well said.

    • Katie says:

      Amen! For the Catholic Church to be truly pro-life, they must be vegan!

  4. Eileen Goodman says:

    I am so grateful to this wonderful Pope for these words! I’ve been waiting and hoping he would specifically address abuse and cruelty towards animals.

  5. Shakshi says:

    surely to God he can’t be eating animals after this?

  6. Steve Palmer says:

    Imagine that … The Pope says Go Vegan or even just ‘ I am a vegan’… or ‘I recommend you go vegan and realize the suffering caused to the animals by your diet and lifestyle choices’ ….That’s the news I’d like

  7. Shelley Watkins says:

    The most aware Pope there has ever been! I think he is on his way to a truly compassionate life: a vegan life. There is no reason to harm Gods creatures.
    Proverbs 12:10: “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of wicked are cruel.”

  8. ana morris says:

    It’s a start, very nice. Waiting for him to announce that he is vegan.

  9. Zardes says:

    Viva la Revolution! It takes a pope from South America (where revolutions are only in the recent past) to question consumerism. This is the first pope who has tried to take the church (and all creation) into the ethics of the 21st century.

    • Joyce Shulman says:

      I am in close agreement with Eileen. As a Jew, I never had any interest in the Pope, but,after hearing THIS, alll of a suddden, I love this Pope for all the beautiful words he had for the non-human animals, for reminding people that we are ALL creations of God. I am an American, living precisely in the land of St. Francis-Assisi-which I had purposely chosen because of his respect for animals and all of God’s creations. In all the years I live in Italy, this is the first Pope that I’ve heard, praising ALL of God’s creations-the animals-so perfectly. And if the humans would finally understand that Jesus did NOT say that humans should dominate, eat, and mistreat all the other creatures, there might actually still be hope for a further-evolved human being

  10. Jacqueline Cargill says:

    I am so happy that Pope Francis advocates for all animals. He is a great leader and a kind man. I am vegan and I hope that others will consider becoming vegan.

  11. David Yorck says:

    Great Pope
    Just what Catholic Church needs

  12. Annoula Wylderich says:

    So encouraging to see religious leaders who are not hesitant to approach topics that might cause discomfort for those who haven’t received the message yet. Pope Francis’ encyclical provides a significant guide for how we should be living our lives according to biblical teachings. He’s the ROCK STAR of theologians!

  13. Laura Hawkins says:

    One of the more beautiful responses to the encyclical that I’ve read – and I’ve read many. Thank you, Wayne

  14. bill carter says:

    JESUS took 7 loafs of bread and fish and feed 5000 plus.OT told meat
    we can eat ,NT say all is good,give thanks to God

    esus

    • Frank Lane says:

      The Bible also allows for slavery among other inhumane acts. There are many acts that have been done as commonly acceptable, but not as spiritually aware. Our spiritual goal is to have the least environmental and suffering foot print in our lives.

      BeInHeavenNow.com

      Frank Lane

      • Sue says:

        Yes, Frank, I agree with you that many acts of cruelty have been socially acceptable. In the name of medical research, animals are horrendously subjected to inhumane testing over and over again until they finally die on their own or are killed by the researchers themselves like throwaway toys! Your last line summarizes well the lives we should be living, but in our quest to be vegan let us not forget all the other ways we can help animals!

    • Julio says:

      We can eat meat but it is no mandatory for God. I think when the compassion for the animals is bigger that flavor of the meat….the people make the change to vegan. Jesús eat fish but was 2000 year’s ago. other time and situation. Now is no necessary eat animals.

  15. Charann Gross says:

    Yes, I pray that Pope Francis will be a vegan.

  16. Elizabeth FitzGibbon says:

    Pope Francis , Please become a Vegan. I am nearly 80yrs old and have been a Vegan for just over a year. I’s soooo possible. Also healthier and environmentally friendly, since animals consume so much food and water.

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