Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States – his first-ever visit – has created extraordinary excitement and drawn enormous crowds and round-the-clock coverage. This Pope and his ideas are of enormous interest to the American public, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.
The Pope is of special interest to us at The HSUS because of the ideas he’s championed in his recent encyclical about animals and the environment, and his belief that Christians and others must do good in the world – that all are called to serve. His encyclical is full of references to animals and calls on all of us to embrace a more humane path. He named his encyclical “Praised Be” (Laudato Si) after St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, in which the Saint praises God for animals and creation.
New York Times Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist Nicolas Kristof lauded Pope Francis today in a column about the Pope’s compelling call for animal protection.
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 notes 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. “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.”
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.”
He adds, creation has “an intrinsic value” which is “independent of [its] usefulness. Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself.”
Francis hasn’t departed from Catholic teaching on animals, as his position is rooted in scripture and a long-standing tradition. But his frankness and his willingness to speak clearly and unmistakably about our calling to be stewards is touching people and elevating the prominence of these issues. He is an authentic voice and is making Catholicism relevant to a new body of believers who have hearts for animals.
Also, his inclusion of animal issues among other pressing issues like poverty, climate change, immigration, and prison reform, indicates his view that these issues are connected and that they belong among the moral concerns of Christians everywhere.
Welcome to America, Pope Francis. We’ve been anxiously awaiting you. Keep spreading the gospel of compassion for animals.