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From The Ark No. 188 Summer 2001

The origins of the CSCAW:
(1) The role of The Tablet
by Deborah Jones

A brief reference in the first-ever issue of The Ark, (February, 1937) led to a fascinating discovery.  The writer, Fr Ambrose Agius OSB, was reviewing the earliest stages in the development of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare from its beginnings in 1929,and had reached the year 1935: "About this time the Study Circle sustained a very great loss in the death of the Very Rev. Prior Kuypers, OSB, of Ealing Priory [now Abbey], whose letter to The Tablet in 1930 was the occasion of the origin of the Movement."

I was intrigued.  Just who was Prior Kuyper and what could be in this letter of 1930 to inspire the whole Catholic animal welfare ‘Movement’?

I read that Prior Kuypers of Ealing, one of the Study Circle’s founding members, had responded to a suggestion from Cardinal Bourne that Catholics should become more involved in the RSPCA, and been co-opted to the RSPCA’s executive Council.  He was elected to it three years later.  To find the letter itself, I had to go to Hammersmith, in west London, to the offices of the distinguished Catholic weekly, The Tablet.  There I found, not just the letter, but a whole series of correspondence and editorial comment that is as relevant and fresh today as it was then.  All the editorial comment below, including that between square brackets, is that of The Tablet’s then Editor, Ernest Oldmeadow, a convert to Catholicism who was appointed in 1923 (in preference to Chesterton!) under the influence of Cardinal Bourne.  Oldmeadow, a founder member of the Study Circle, was its Treasurer for many years.

That he was sympathetic to animal welfare issues is demonstrated by the reports in The Tablet, shortly before the appearance of Prior Kuyper’s letter, of two incidents of appalling cruelty to animals: one was of a lion performing in a circus ‘entertainment’, considered by the promoters to be suitable for audiences at Christmastide; the other was of the scandal of a hind, which had escaped the pursuing hounds, being chased into a river, lassoed and then killed by members of the Tiverton Stag Hounds Hunt.  The first Tablet of the year 1930 carried the following editorial comment on those reports:

The Tablet, January 4, 1930, page 4:

Both bull-fights à l’espagnole and prize-fights à l’anglaise are henceforth to be out-of-bounds for Spanish boys and girls under fourteen years of age.  Such is the effect of a Royal Decree promulgated in Madrid on the eve of Christmas.  It is one more step on the long road which will end, we hope, in the abolition of bull-fighting altogether.  And here is a practical suggestion for all Britons who wish to help in bringing about the reform.  Interference by men and women of one nation with the national habits and pastimes of another is always resented; but it provokes double resentment when those who interfere belong to a country whose own record is not clear.   The Hind of Tiverton and the Lion of Charmouth are only two out of a pitiable menagerie of poor beasts lately tormented in Britain for the delight of our educated and leisured compatriots.  Let us back up every sane and responsible movement for the protection of dumb creatures in our own land: and then we shall have a better status for lecturing other people.

Now to the Prior Kuyper letter itself:

Saturday March 15, 1930, page 338
Letters to the Editor

Sir – I am frequently asked if the teaching of A Catholic Dictionary (Art. Animals, lower), Addis and Arnold, 1893, and Moral Philosophy (Sect ii, So-called Rights of Animals) by Father Joseph Rickaby, SJ, 1888, represents the mind of the Church.

These works contain statements, on the subject of the lower animal creation, which are felt to be lamentably crude to the modern mind.

I should welcome an expression of opinion by experts in the columns of The Tablet.

Yours faithfully,

Arthur B Kuypers, OSB.
Ealing Priory, Ealing W5

[This very point was raised only last month at an informal meeting in London of Catholics who wish to work on behalf of cruelly-treated animals.  We shall be glad to hear from priests and also from laymen learned in theology. – Editor.]

* I take the editor here to be referring to the first gathering of those founders of the Catholic Study Circle.  The letter does not in itself seem to be startlingly seminal, yet it began a useful correspondence and presumably raised the subject of Catholic involvement in animal welfare to a significant degree in the public domain .

Saturday March 29, 1930
Letters to the Editor

Sir, - Catholics should be grateful to Father Kuypers for drawing attention to the subject of the treatment of animals.  I know of several who have been distressed, not to say scandalized, by this so-called official teaching.  Its effect on most minds is certainly to create the feeling that we need not bother much as to how we deal with animals.  But it seems to me that there are weak points in its logic.  There can be no right, it is argued, without a corresponding duty; and therefore animals, having no duties, can have no rights.  But the right and the duty are not in the same person.   If A owes B a pound, B has the right to the pound, and the duty of paying it is with A.  B may owe no man anything and may be under no duty of payment whatever.   Likewise a child, not yet come to the use of reason, cannot be under any duties.   Can it be said, therefore, to have no rights and that we may, e.g., experiment on its living body in the interests of science?  There is a flaw somewhere.

Yours faithfully,
Francis Hughesdon
5 Murray Road, Wimbledon

Saturday April 19, 1930
Letters to the Editor

Sir, - I was much interested to read the letter from the very Rev. Arthur B Kuypers, OSB, in your issue of the 15th ult., concerning the teaching of Father Rickaby, SJ, on man’s relation to the lower animals.  The Jesuit Father, in his book Moral Philosophy, raises the question "Have we duties of charity to the lower animals?" and answers it by affirming that, as man’s nature is immeasurably above that of the animal creation – since "Man alone speaks. Man alone worships" – "we have then no duties of charity nor duties of any kind to the lower animals as neither to stocks nor stones."

This seems to me to be the teaching which Prior Kuypers (and many others) consider "lamentably crude to the modern mind," and he asks for the "opinion of experts" as to whether it represents the mind of the Church.

As the experts have so far been silent, may I be allowed to draw attention to The Catechism Explained, by the Rev. Francis Spirago, SJ, Benziger Bros, 1900, in which we are told that the fifth commandment of God forbids us "to treat animals with cruelty" (see page 380 and Sec.3 on Animals, page 390-1), and that we are "to take care of the welfare of animals" who "all proclaim the omnipotence, the wisdom, the bounty of their Creator."  The author reminds us "not a sparrow shall fall on to the ground without your Father" (Matt.x, 29), and adds "this should teach us to care for the welfare of animals."

Pius X, Benedict XV, and our present Holy Father have all given their blessing to those who work for kindness to animals – a sentiment which we do not extend towards "sticks and stone".  May we not, therefore, hope that the teaching of the book Moral Philosophy on this subject does not represent the mind of the Church?

Yours faithfully,
Sidney M. Vanheems
47 Berniers St, W1.

[Not only to "the modern mind" but to the perennial Mind of the Church is Father Rickaby’s statement, in our opinion, objectionable.  It looks as if we shall have to print once again Cardinal Manning’s beautiful words on this subject. – Editor.]

Saturday May 17, 1930
Letters to the Editor

Sir, - The attitude of some theologians towards animals seems wanting in clearness, if not consistency. Unless, with Cardinal Newman, they regard the whole subject of animal suffering as a mystery, they must admit it was unmerited, and, having no compensatory value, as human suffering has, useless.  Either admission, however, would appear to be incompatible with the goodness and wisdom of God.

If we believe (1) that animals, irrational and therefore incapable of sin, were created like ourselves by God and possess organs and sensibility similar to ours; (2) that He pronounced them "good", commanding them to increase and multiply; (3) that He afterwards placed them under the dominion of man, but before the Fall when man was in a state of grace; (4) that it was Adam’s sin that brought death and its attendant evils upon all creatures, the duty on the part of man of avoiding adding to those evils and of showing pity and protection to those undoubtedly innocent victims is clearly implied. Countless millions of them had been sacrificed on His altars throughout the ages until the one spotless Victim, True God and True Man, offered Himself in their place.  Was it unfitting that they were among the first worshippers at His Birth, receiving Him when men rejected Him; that they took part in His triumph; conversed with Him in the desert; furnished so many true and touching symbols of His parables; and were conspicuous by their absence on Calvary?

All who are interested in animal welfare, especially from the Catholic point of view, must feel grateful to Prior Kuypers for his letter on this subject. But until such a statement as that quoted by Mr Sidney Vanheems, in his letter of April 19, from the Rev. Francis Spirago’s Catechism Explained, receives general acceptance, not in one but in all Catholic countries, I fear the deplorable impression created by Father Rickaby’s Moral Philosophy will not easily be effaced.  That it is not according to the perennial Mind of the Church, nor to the practice of her saints in every age, we were always convinced.

Yours faithfully,
Agnes Cummins

(Membre de la Société Protectrice des Animaux)
24 Béguinage, Bruges.

The Tablet, August 2, 1930. Page 139.

This paragraph is in answer to very many enquiries.  The Tablet has certainly not dropped its plans for bringing more closely together the many Catholics who feel that we ought to be doing more and better work against cruelty to animals.  There are three reasons why there has been a lull in our activity.  First, the late spring and early summer are the months in which the heaviest demands are made upon the space of ecclesiastical newspapers, by reason of what used to be called "the May Meetings".  Second, some special matters, such as the Education Bill and the trouble in Malta, have filled many columns …  Third, and this is the most important reason – it has come to our knowledge that Father Rickaby, SJ, is preparing a retractatio of his well-known page on this subject which has given rise to so much letter writing from the pens of Catholics who felt that this much-respected priest fell below his usual high level when, in a moment not free from pique, he wrote about our dumb friends.  A retractatio is not necessarily a withdrawal or recantation of what has been previously said or printed.  In some cases the word is correctly applied to a mere re-handling, necessitated by altered circumstances or amplified information.  As we have not had the privilege of reading what Father Rickaby is writing, or has written, we do not know how far the revised version of his teaching may go to meet the objections raised against the original.  Hoping for something very good, we are content to wait and see for a few more weeks.  Correspondents are therefore asked to be patient and to accept this assurance that not one communication of theirs has failed to receive our respectful and grateful attention.

Saturday September 6, 1930
Letters to the Editor

Sir, - Not long ago you opened your correspondence columns to an interesting and important discussion on the Catholic attitude towards animals and their "rights", … in view of prevalent misunderstandings and confusion of thought, a clear, unequivocal re-statement of Catholic teaching on this subject seemed to be necessary.  Such a re-statement is becoming almost indispensable …

May I humbly suggest that a sort of simple anthology of ancient and modern Catholic writers who have dealt with this matter of animals and their rights on orthodox lines be compiled without delay?  Extracts from the sayings of Our Lord, the writings of the Fathers, saints and theologians of the Church should provide a thrilling book.  But that no angle of the subject be left unseen, Catholic scientists and zoologists ought also to contribute and be quoted …  The task is apostolic as likely to clear the air of certain prejudices and so lead to the conversion of souls.

Yours faithfully,
Egerton Clarke,
The Colonnade Kennels,

Tisbury, Wilts.

[Father Rickaby’s promised retractatio ought to clear away the worst misunderstandings.  We are respectfully suggesting to the venerable theologian that he might usefully expedite its appearance. – Editor.]

Post script

That concludes the original material from The Tablet, but I was concerned to find out whether or not Fr Rickaby ever did produce his retractatio upon which the Tablet’s Editor had held so much store.  I contacted the Jesuit archive department at their Farm Street centre.  According to Br. James Hodkinson SJ, the assistant archivist of the British Province of the Society of Jesus, it appears that ‘there is nothing here in the archives of any published article by Fr Rickaby on [the] subject.  Being that he retired to St Beuno’s, [North Wales], a sick man, in 1929 it may have been more in hope that he said he would do an article for The Tablet.’ Fr Rickaby died there in 1931.  Our thanks to Br. Hodkinson for kindly researching this fact.

Return to The Ark No. 188

For questions, comments and submissions, please contact:
Deborah Jones at The Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare

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