An Open Letter to Pope Francis from Tom Regan
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Tom Regan
November 2014

Holy Father, all Christians implore you: Speak out about cruelty to God’s creatures, billions annually are denied all that God intended for them, and they are treated neither with Christ’s mercy nor with God’s compassion.

As you enter another year of your Papacy, all Christians pray fervently and hopefully for your good health and fortitude on behalf of justice, mercy and peace—both in the church and in the world.

As someone who shares your commitment to justice to all of God’s creatures, I was delighted by your choice of name: Francis.

Of all the many virtues your Namesake possessed, none is more synonymous with his name than his love of animals. He called them his “brothers” and “sisters,” and was famous for preaching to the birds--and even to the fish! On one occasion, he persuaded a wolf to stop attacking local farmers if the farmers agreed to feed the wolf. To turn a carnivore into a vegan? Nothing better represents the power of Saint Francis.

How did Saint Francis think his brothers and sisters in fur, feather and fin should be treated? He must have believed that what happens to them matters to them apart from any human interest. Why would he think in those terms?  Because what happens to them makes a difference to the quality and duration of their life. Either they live a long and fruitful life, which Saint Francis preferred, or they suffered and died prematurely.

Of course, Pope Francis, you, like the rest of us, surely believe that ill-treatment to any of God’s creatures surely is against God’s will. Whether animals have rights or not, surely they deserve to be treated with mercy and kindness, gratitude and sympathy, respect and admiration. Who in their right mind can be against humane care and treatment of creatures?

Well, evidently it depends.

Consider some examples of what happens to animals in research laboratories.

Cats, dogs, nonhuman primates, and other animals are drowned, suffocated, and starved to death.

They are burned, subjected to radiation, and used as “guinea pigs” in military research.

Their eyes are surgically removed and their hearing is destroyed.

They have their limbs severed and organs crushed.

Invasive means are used to give them heart attacks, ulcers, and seizures.

They are deprived of sleep, subjected to electric shock, and exposed to extremes of heat and cold.

Every one of these procedures and outcomes complies with every federal law everywhere. Each conforms with what federal inspectors count as “humane care and treatment.”

This same ideology applies to how farmed animals are treated.

It is standard procedure to have “veal” calves spend their entire life individually confined to narrow stalls too narrow for them to turn around in.

Laying hens live a year or more in cages the size of a filing drawer, seven or more per cage, after which they routinely are starved for two weeks to encourage another laying cycle.

Female hogs are housed for four or five years in individual barred enclosures (“gestation stalls”), barely wider than their bodies, where they are forced to birth litter after litter.

Until comparatively recently, due to the “Mad Cow” scare, beef and dairy cattle too weak to stand (“downers”) were dragged or pushed to their slaughter.

Geese and ducks are force-fed the human equivalent of thirty pounds of food per day to enlarge their liver, the better to meet the demand for foie gras.

All these conditions and procedures demonstrate the relevant industry’s lack of commitment to mercy and kindness, compassion and sympathy.

And what might “humane” fur farming or trapping permit? Here are some examples.

On fur mills, mink, chinchilla, raccoon, lynx, foxes and other fur bearing animals are confined in wire-mesh cages for the duration of their lives. 

Waking hours are spent pacing back and forth, or rolling their heads, or jumping up the sides of their cages, or mutilating themselves, or cannibalizing their cage mates.

Death is caused by breaking their necks, or by asphyxiation (using carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide), or by shoving electric rods up their anus to “fry” them from the inside out.

Animals trapped in the wild take fifteen hours on average to die.

Trapped fur-bearers frequently chew themselves apart in their futile attempts to regain their freedom.

Despite the obvious cruelty, this is all perfectly legal.

Holy Father, all Christians implore you: Speak out about cruelty to God’s creatures, billions annually are denied all that God intended for them, and they are treated neither with Christ’s mercy nor with God’s compassion.

Among your other troubles and concerns, please honor St. Francis of Assisi and the call of the Catechism by raising your voice on behalf of God’s other animals.

Tom Regan is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, North Carolina State University. Among his major works is The Case for Animal Rights. The editors of Utne Reader have described Professor Regan as “the philosophical leader of the of animal rights movement” and named him, along with the Dalai Lama, as “one of fifty people who are changing the world.”

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