FROM THE ARK OF FIFTY YEARS AGO
As the promotion of the cause of Pope Pius XII (r.1939-1958) possibly nears
the stage of beatification, Ark readers might like to learn of this insight into
No single figure received such coverage from the world press as Pius XII.
Only the Soviet tried to play down his greatness. But while the newspapers of
the world extolled the many-sided virtues of the Holy Father’s character, its
splendour and its simplicity, none of the innumerable writers thought fit to
dwell on his love for animals. This article fills that lamentable gap.
Pope Pius was a lover of animals in an age when some of the fiercest
controversies of the day are waged around animals: domestic animals, draught
animals, animals for food, animals for experimentation. One hears the
everlasting refrain: ‘Man has dominion over animals, therefore he can do what he
likes with them’. Or ‘Animals have no souls, so they have no rights: treat them
as you like’. Or, more frequently, ‘Regard for animals is a sign of mental
debility, silly sentimentality or disjointed psychology’.
The argument is all the more fierce because authoritative statement of
principles is, or is thought to be, lacking. So everyone decides according to
his own feeling or convenience or, more usually, profit.
Pius XII as a ‘rock’
In this confused welter, as in so many others, Pope Pius XII stood firm as a
rock, regardless of criticism. His guidance is clear-cut and authoritative. And
he acted according to his principles.
Moreover no one could accuse Pope Pius of sloppy thinking, or baseless
sentimentality. He stands head and shoulders above even the business tycoons for
sheer, solid, down-to-earth, hard-boiled common sense. Where he leaves the
tycoons, business, political or military, trailing on the horizon is his
sensitive contact with the highest principles of religion and with the Author of
all belief on the one hand, and on the other with the common man or woman,
whether patrician or proletarian, favoured or unprivileged. Pope Pius was a
contact between God and man, and between ourselves, fellow creatures of every
But he was no dreamer. Whether he spoke to nuclear physicists and
philosophers from the great universities of the world or with Harlem basketball
players or world race cyclists, he was always au fait with the minutiae of their
experiences and ambitions and able to advise even them.
He was a man unique and providential, whose opinion never failed to win
Now, ask the average man what lead the Pope gave in the matter of animal
welfare and the solution of animal problems, and he will answer: nothing. That
is untrue. And if we are honest and want to get right down to the root of
things, it is very important that we should know what the Holy Father said and
did in this matter. Here it is.
Pius XII was walking in his garden when he noticed a disabled bullfinch. He
didn’t ‘pass by on the other side’. He didn’t just direct a gardener to dispose
of it. Like the Good Samaritan he took it up tenderly, carried it back to the
Vatican (which has seen papal pets before now) and nursed it back to health and
strength. After that the bird was never happier than when in his presence. It
flew round the room when the Pope was shaving and settled on his head and even
on his electric razor, enjoying an intimacy allowed to no other, man or beast.
It was a sad moment when Sister Pasqualina carried the bird back to a Vatican
that would know Pius XII no more.
Pius XII and the bullfighters
Again, the promoters of bull-fights in Spain, seeing how every kind of
society was being kindly received by the Holy Father thought they would ‘horn
in’ and get a blessing for their questionable trade. They thought the Holy
Father would not refuse the toreador’s cloak they had already prepared,
gold-embroidered to the tune of a million pesetas. Their cynicism got its
reward. The Holy Father gently but firmly turned them down. It would not be
convenient for him to see them. The interview was postponed sine die, which
means, for ever.
Significantly, almost the last thing the Holy Father did was to arrange for a
forty-eight hour reprieve for stray cats and dogs in honour of St Francis’ day.
Not only that, but relief patrols were sent out to provide the hungry strays
Those who think, and say, in no uncertain terms, that any care for animals is
wrong when so much good needs to be done in the world may well ponder the action
of the Father of Christendom. His action provides the answer which many people,
to my knowledge, have already found for themselves: do both.
Thus in action Pope Pius showed his solicitude for animals.
What of his words?
The Charter, as it may be called, of the right Christian attitude towards
animals is contained in Pope Pius’ reply to the petition presented by the
Duchess of Hamilton and two other ladies on 10th November 1950, in the name of
200 animal welfare societies, most of them non-Catholic.
Pope Pius gave them a document which he had written and typed himself twice
over. He begins by establishing the principle of respect for all lesser
creatures – because they are creatures and still belong to their Creator.
Moreover, their very existence comes from the ‘power, wisdom and goodness of
God’. Therefore, to ill-treat them is to deviate from those divine attributes.
Such deviation is wrong and dangerous. Therefore, ‘Any reckless desire to kill
off animals, all unnecessary harshness and callous cruelty towards them are to
Nor is this put out just as an opinion. It is what the Catholic Church
teaches in public and private, and anyone who holds the opposite view is
therefore a ‘deviationist’ from the Catholic teaching. Thus has the Pope spoken,
and this is therefore the official view, which is in possession. For the Holy
Father adds that the Church not only teaches this, but also ‘she exerts herself’
to get these principles adopted and observed and legally sanctioned. Here is the
last paragraph of the Charter: ‘The Catholic Church strives (s’efforce in
French) to influence individuals and public opinion to ensure the acceptance of
these principles and their legal protection in daily life’.
There are two other points made by the Holy Father. Cruelty, as described,
warps the human character. It injures the natural sensitiveness of the best
human natures towards others and the desire to avoid causing them pain. (How
horrified he would have been at the idea of school-age experimenters on living
animals.) In a word it tends only to make men brutal, to accept a sub-human
Use of animals - but regulated
Finally Pope Pius, and it is the vindication of his sane approach, safeguards
man’s essential right to use animals, because they were given to him to be at
his service. But just because man’s intelligence puts him on a higher level than
the beasts, so must he use that intelligence to regulate the service he requires
The Holy Father read his ‘Charter’ twice: then he gave his apostolic blessing
to all workers for animal welfare, as previous Popes had done before him. The
text was later transmitted through the then Apostolic Delegate in England.
Nothing could be more deliberate or official.
Once more Pope Pius spoke: this time through his Secretary of State. The
Humane Society of the United States, in February 1958, sent out a
representative, with two priests, the Editor and sub-Editor of The Ark, to Rome
to present to the Holy Father a memorandum on animal experimentation in the
At the same time was presented a specially bound copy of The Ark. In a letter
acknowledging the latter, the Secretary of State declared that the Holy Father
was ‘sincerely grateful’, that he took it ‘paternal interest’ in the work of the
Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare [as Catholic Concern for Animals was
then called], which he designated as ‘praiseworthy’, and he gave his apostolic
blessing to all its officials and members. So, right up to the end, the Holy
Father rejoiced to hear of and participate in any work of relief for God’s
A poster representing the Holy Father surrounded by animals (as Christ was in
the wilderness) was, with the Pope’s express sanction, prepared and displayed in
every school in Italy. That poster was copied by the Irish Society for Animal
Welfare and it has now been reproduced in Spanish for South American use.
But still, when people talk of animals and the use we may make of them, you
would never guess that Pope Pius XII had laid down for evermore the essential
principles which should guide our treatment of them. Perhaps, out of respect for
his memory and in a genuine effort to follow his courageous lead, there may be
at least a beginning of an attempt to get back to the Creator’s idea of how we
should treat His creatures. .