Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. (Laudato Si, p. 30)
Laudato Si week, which ran from 12-19th June, marked the first year anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis’ historic encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home.
Our One Web of Life (OWL) members reflected on the message of this momentous document and how it relates to compassion for animals.
Frank Molteno writes:
In his encyclical, Pope Francis draws to our attention that “we are called to recognise that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: ‘by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory’ [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2416], and indeed, ‘the Lord rejoices in all his works’ (Psalm 104:31).”
Pope Francis continues: “In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish”. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, ‘we can speak of the priority of *being* over that of *being useful*’.
The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticises a distorted anthropocentricism: ‘Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things.’ [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 339]” [LS#69]
What is the fundamental truth underlying all that is outlined above? It is that God loves all that He creates. “Every creature,” emphasises Pope Francis, “is . . . the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection.” [LS#77]
Thus “We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God’ (Luke 12:6). How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?” [#221]
Indeed! Amen! And how, therefore, can we possibly do to laying hens, for example, what is done to them in factory farms? Crammed their whole lives into cages in which they can barely move and are prevented from exercising even their most basic of natural behaviours. Furthermore, they are routinely de-beaked and often de-toed without anaesthetic.
One small but significant step that you could take right now, is to sign the petition calling on McDonald’s SA to stop supporting the cruelty of factory farms and commit (like many of their international counterparts have done) to a policy of sourcing their eggs from cage-free chicken farms: https://www.change.org/mcdonaldssacruelty .
Beulah Thumbadoo also reflects deeply on the rights of animals. Drawing from Laudato Si’and other theologians, she wrote a philosophical essay entitled ‘Creation and rights for people and animals’. Here is an extract:
‘If rights can be made to exist and operate on behalf of human beings, then they can be made to exist and operate on behalf of animals, especially in relation to suffering, since to people of conscience the differences between humans and animals cannot be morally relevant to their suffering.
People who support this view are not asking for animals to have the sorts of rights attributable to humankind, but are voting for animals to be freed from lifetimes of oppression and suffering for God’s sake, for their own sakes and because of the karmic implications for us of such ongoing subjugation.
[…] Eco-theologian Thomas Berry’s description of the earth community’s “right” to exist is both simple and radical. Referring to rights in their original (as opposed to legal) sense, Berry equates the having of rights with existence – ‘rights originate where existence originates’, and every member of the Earth Community has the right to be, the right to inhabit and the right to fulfil its role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth Community. The Christian might easily replace the word ‘existence’ with ‘creation’ in this sentence and mean exactly the same thing. Rights originated with Creation and all of creation is entitled to rights, if one part is.’
[…] ‘Who’ or ‘what’ is doing the suffering should be of little significance to people of conscience and of faith. That we are complicit in supporting extreme suffering presents a moral challenge. While it is understandable to identify more with one’s own grouping or species, it is unconscionable to deliberately cause lifelong suffering (oppression) to any other group or species. More so if one is inspired by a Pope who works across God’s creation for social justice.
Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. (Laudato Si, p. 151)
Read Beulah’s full essay here
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