The Director General of the Royal Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals, Peter Davies explains the duty on Christians
of care for all of God's creation, which naturally includes the world of
While I personally converted to Catholicism in 1970, the charity I
run, the RSPCA, does not promote any philosophical stance. However, it
is not always appreciated that the RSPCA - the first national animal
welfare society in the world - came into existence as a result of a
Appalled by the cruelty inflicted on horses, sheep and cattle, an
Anglican priest, the Reverend Arthur Broome, founded the Society in
1824, aided by other Christian social reformers such as William
The Society's first prospectus posed the questions: "Our country is
distinguished by the number and variety of its benevolent institutions
... all breathing the pure air of Christian charity ... But shall we
stop here? Is the moral circle perfect so long as any power of doing
good remains? Or can the infliction of cruelty on any being which the
Almighty has imbued with feelings of pain and pleasure consist with
genuine and true benevolence?"
As I approached my retirement from the Army, the opportunity to apply
for the post of Director general of the RSPCA became possible. After
discussing it over with my wife, I decided that this was a most
wonderful and demanding second career and would reflect my keen interest
in the animal world. Having spent a lifetime defending humans, it seemed
natural to spend my remaining active years defending animals.
The founding ethic, established by Broome, is still held today: to
prevent cruelty to, and promote kindness to, all animals. In 1977, the
Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Donald Coggan, became the President of the
Society, saying: "Animals, as part of God's creation, have rights which
must be respected. It behoves us always to be sensitive to their needs
and to the reality of their pain." His sentiments were echoed by the
present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, who stated in his
acceptance speech as first vice-Patron, that he was concerned that human
beings, who have unique ability and power, should treat the rest of
God's creation with respect and sensitivity.
In 1995, the importance of animal welfare to the Christian Church was
underlined when the then Chairman of the charity's council was granted
an audience with Pope John Paul ll at the Vatican. During this meeting a
petition was presented on behalf not only of the RSPCA, but also of the
World Society for the Protection of Animals and of the Eurogroup for
Animal Welfare. The petition reiterated the belief that human
stewardship brings with it a moral obligation to respect other forms of
creation and to avoid treatment that exploits and causes unnecessary
suffering to animals.
The document also urged the Church to condemn wilful cruelty to
animals whether it be on farms, in laboratories, in the wild or for the
sake of sport and entertainment.
At present, the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes a
short section on animals stating that it is contrary to human dignity to
cause needless suffering.
The RSPCA believes that this inclusion in the Catechism provides for
compassion towards animals, recognised by Roman Catholics as God's
creation and thus worthy of respect.
The understanding of animals as God's creatures has led so many
Christians over the centuries to take a stand for them. As well as St
Francis of Assisi, there are many examples of Christians who have
included care for creatures as part of the "living out" of their faith.
I am pleased, as a Welshman, to know that when St Melangel in Wales
saved a hare, her devotion to the creature is said to have led to the
conversion of the Prince who was hunting it.
Most modern Christians interpret discipleship as including some
degree of environmental responsibility, which must encompass animals as
part of creation. This does not mean that one has to have a romantic and
unrealistic view of the realm of nature. Indeed, our view is pragmatic
and practical in every sense. For example, in our continuing campaign to
ban intensive farming of battery hens we condemn the exploitation of the
animal as a mere commodity. A hen does not exist simply to provide
maximum profit through maximum egg production. Instead of merely working
to ban battery cages, we have set up the Freedom Food scheme which has
meant that millions of eggs have been produced in commercial schemes
where the hens have been reared within free-range and barn systems with
high welfare conditions.
Rescuing cruelly treated, unwanted and abandoned animals is probably
the best known of the work the Society does. We also prosecute those who
inflict cruelty. As well as that we campaign to change legislation and
working practices to bring about real improvements for the welfare of
all animals, from family pets, to livestock and wildlife, and to
This year one of our campaigns, to ban hunting with dogs, has been
supported by MP's in the Christian Socialist Movement. The Movement has
just published a pamphlet: The Christian Case Against Hunting
which highlights the contradiction between hunting for pleasure and
Christianity. They say that the exploitation of power by humans to kill
and control, diverted into pleasure at such acts, is a fundamental
betrayal of that God-given power.
The Bible makes clear that animals are part of God's creation. The
book of Genesis describes not only that the birds of the air and beasts
of the field were made by God, but in Chapter 9, verse 15 reports God as
saying that he will remember his covenant, not just with man, but also
with every living creature.
The interpretation of this one passage in Genesis has long been
debated - in what sense were humans given "dominion over" or should it
be "stewardship of" the living world?
The prevailing view in the Judeo-Christian world is that animals do
not belong to us but to God and must therefore be objects of value for
So, as humans given temporary lordship of creation, are Christians
not obliged to recognise their responsibility to avoid arrogant or cruel
treatment of animals. In the words sung by almost every schoolchild in
this country, "all creatures great and small, the Lord God made them
all". Surely they should be treated accordingly. The aims of the RSPCA
are consistent with, and can accommodate a broad spectrum of, views that
animals matter and that we humans have a duty to respect and care for
*The RSPCA produces an Order of Service for Animal Welfare/Blessing
which is appropriate for most Christian denominations.
From the Catholic Herald dated 6th February 1998