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

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Letters - By J. M. Gilheany
On meatless Fridays Catholics should reflect on the violence of the slaughterhouse

From Mr John M Gilheany, author of Familiar Strangers: The Church and the Vegetarian Movement in Britain (1809-2009)

SIR – When Sir Paul McCartney launched an international campaign to encourage “Meat-Free Mondays” a few years ago, concern was expressed among Catholic commentators that a unique aspect of the faith had been forfeited and basically recycled by secularists.

On the surface, the two forms of weekly abstinence appear to be disparate. The Catholic penitential tradition will in future require vegans to transcend temporal tastes with precisely the same effort and sacrificial focus as those who regularly consume animal products. Whereas those of a secular “flexitarian” persuasion who decide to cut down on their meat intake are inclined to view the traditionally western foodstuff as increasingly unsustainable; both environmentally and ethically.
It may even be argued that the Catholic conscience has inwardly recognised that within wider culture the products of slaughter often represent a particular challenge in the struggle for spiritual mastery over the flesh.

There is no evidence of such considerations in the recent announcement by the bishops of England and Wales (Report, May 20).

However, there seems to be an implication that to renounce meat in order to facilitate “control of self-indulgence and unruly appetites” and “connect to the pain and suffering of the world” (Leading article, May 20) – is to acknowledge the uneasy relationship that exists between spirituality and slaughterhouse products.
Nor is the dichotomy anything new. The vegetarian movement in Britain was often led by Christian ethicists in the course of its historical development. An early leaflet by the Vegetarian Society comprised an extract from a sermon by Cardinal Manning to promote “Thoughts about Lent”, while the Bishop of Salford, in 1887, addressed their membership with a message of traditional Catholic affinity for their diet and even a prediction that the vegetarian lifestyle “will, in the long run, prevail all over England”.

Such a vision may remain centuries away for the Church and certainly other elements of modern society. Yet it might be pertinent to reflect upon the institutional violence of the slaughterhouse at least once a week, while striving towards spiritual separation from a less than divine state of affairs.

The Catholic Herald (10/6/11)

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