The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Letters - By J. M. Gilheany

Animal welfare must not be a second priority

LETTER OF THE WEEK: For nearly two centuries, animal welfarists have been protesting about Catholic cruelty to animals in Spain.

It seems only reasonable to highlight the religious character of 'blood fiestas' and the resounding lack of disapproval from Spanish clergy towards bullfighting.

In the 1890's, the situation became intollerable for humanitarians when the Catholic Dictionary augmented the view of leading theologians that "brutes are made for man who has the same right over them which he has over plants or stones." During the early decades of the twentieth century, Catholics in Britain became uncomfortable with the accusation of a "general indifference" towards animal suffering. A retreat from Christianity by growing numbers of animal advocates was taken seriously by the Catholic press who sought to redress the damage that draconian theology had inflicted upon the reputation of the faith.

Indeed The Universe afforded extensive coverage to condemnation of bullfighting during 1923 which contained the encouraging words of an Italian Cardinal in support of all "efforts in civilised countries towards fostering the feeling of pity for animals."

Now we hear (Anger at Spain bill to give apes more right than unborn, The Universe, Sunday July 20) of a Spanish bishop taking an overdue interest in animal protection issues, and the news is not uplifting. Bishop Jose Munilla Aguirre of Palencia criticised a bill pending in Spain's Congress of Deputies that would extend rights to monkeys and apes, on the grounds that it gave rights to apes that were currently denied to the unborn.

I certainly hope that the 'anger' felt by Bishop Aguirre was not shared by many readers, as it would be a tragedy for the Church to adopt an attitude of resentment towards progress in the protection of non-human beings from "mistreatment, enslavement, torture, death and extinction." In the case of the Great Apes, these are intelligent and emotionally complex creatures. There is no reason to begrudge ethical progress in any sphere which affords respect for God's creation.

In 2002 the Bishops Conference of England and Wales published The Call of Creation which reflected on "our communion with the other creatures of the earth." We need to hear far more of this ethos in official proclamation, and positive input whenever the secular world leads the way in animal protection issues.

The Universe (3/8/08) 

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