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George M. AndersonNovember 22, 2010

Animal suffering has been largely ignored by the church for a long time,” said Deborah M. Jones, general secretary of Great Britain’s Catholic Concern for Animals. “There has been virtually no teaching at all on the subject,” she said. “The church still thinks in an entirely anthropocentric way,” as if it is afraid that “by giving animals attention, we may be dethroning humans from their position at the ‘pinnacle of creation.’” But compassion is a seamless robe, which she insists should “extend to the whole of God’s creation,” not just to humankind.

Visiting the United States on a lecture tour that included a presentation at the Catholic Theological Society in Cleveland, Ohio, Ms. Jones said that she has been a strong advocate for animal welfare issues since childhood. When she saw a friend’s parents (farmers who kept hens in their yard) starting to confine the hens in tiny cages for the whole of their lives, she first became aware of cruelty to animals. Animal cruelty is one of the concerns highlighted in her new book, The School of Compassion: A Roman Catholic Theology of Animals (Gracewing Publishing).

Ms. Jones, a former high school teacher of English and classics and also a Catholic convert, studied theology for a year in Rome at the Regina Mundi Institute. After returning to England, she worked as a diocesan director of adult education and then as the editor of The Catholic Herald, a national weekly newspaper. Later she became involved with Catholic Concern for Animals and earned a doctorate in animal theology at the University of Wales.

Like other activists in the area of animal theology, she was encouraged by a statement made by Pope John Paul II during a public audience in 1990. “The pope said on that occasion that animals do have souls and, as fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit, merit respect.”

Animal Rights in the Catechism

Ms. Jones has found little in the church’s other statements to promote what she calls a more “animal-positive” way of thinking. “The church is terrific when it comes to social justice, the rights of the family and poverty in developing countries,” she said, but there is “a silence about animals.” Animal rights advocates are not saying that animals are equal to people, she explained, “but the catechism itself says that they [animals] are God’s creatures and man thus ‘owes them kindness.’” She applauds that particular paragraph (No. 2416) as “superb”: God “surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.”

She is not a fan of the catechism’s next two paragraphs, however, which, as she puts it, “muddy the waters” with their references to the use of animals for food and clothing and for medical experimentation, an expression of the dominance of humankind over animal life that may have grown out of the understanding of “dominion” over animals suggested in Genesis. She has a different take on that notion. “Dominion is service,” she said, “taking Christ’s example. Our duty is to protect, nurture and cherish—to enable the flourishing of creation in all its aspects. In the modern context that means in the way we live, including our dietary choices and pastimes.”

Notwithstanding the catechism’s approval of animal experimentation with what she referred to as “undefined limits,” Ms. Jones finds the use of animals in medical experimentation disturbing. “There’s a debate in our organization about whether the opposition to it should be based on the cruelty aspect or the damage to humans; but in principle,” she said, “we’re against it. We [humans] have no right to use animals that way, especially when it causes them immense suffering.” She also pointed out that some drugs, tested on animals, subsequently caused problems in humans—like thalidomide, which caused many thousands of birth defects in babies around the world.

“How are we imaging God to [the animals], when they look at a person in a white coat who’s going to put probes in their brains or chop their skulls in half?” she asked. “This is certainly not the God of the first chapter of Genesis who brought them into being and…‘saw that it was good.’

“I do foresee a time,” she said, “when the instrumentalization of God’s creatures will be considered as abhorrent as, say, human slavery or child labor.” Ms. Jones finds encouragement in recent papal statements that talk “more about creation in an inclusive way,” but she concludes, “There is a long way to go yet before teaching on animals catches up with other concerns.”

Ms. Jones observed that a recognition of the rights of animals has been ongoing in Britain for much longer than it has in the United States. “We were the first to pass animal cruelty laws and the first to have a national society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, which was given a royal mandate by Queen Victoria,” she said. So far, too, England has not resorted to huge factory farms like those in the United States, which, in addition to being cruel to animals, produce foul runoff that has caused serious water contamination. Speaking of her organization, she said: “We prevented one proposed mega-farm in England that would have allowed for 8,000 head of cattle. The planning application was withdrawn because of opposition. Everybody was against it, even the farmers’ unions—everyone except, of course, the retailers.” The factory farms that exist in England tend to include grazing areas for cattle. “We don’t yet have zero grazing, thank goodness,” she noted, adding that laws throughout Europe are phasing out the use of tiny cages for chickens.

Ms. Jones describes reliance in the United States on industrial-modeled animal production as “sin on a large scale.” “It insults the Creator of all life by treating creation in such an abusive way. Christians need to mobilize to be a ‘sign of contradiction’ in the face of this gigantic-scale horror.” Education at all levels, preaching, writing, campaigning, “all lawful means,” she insisted, “should be used to prevent animal industrialization for the sake of the animals and the health of the nation and the planet.”

She is familiar with U.S. animal rights groups, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and has been in touch with one of its leaders, Bruce Friedrich. “I’ve crossed swords with Bruce,” she said, referring to what she called PETA’s shock-tactic use of religious imagery, “which we find distasteful and counterproductive.” She gave an example of a picture of the Madonna cradling a piglet. “I’ve nothing against piglets, just the inappropriateness of the image, causing scandal rather than changing minds and hearts.” Although she acknowledged that PETA’s tactics do appeal to young people, “we in Catholic Concern for Animals take a more orthodox approach to efforts aimed at opposing animal cruelty.” But, she admitted, “it is good to have both approaches” in order to achieve similar goals.

Gender issues also play a role in how people regard animals. “Maybe because women have evolved to be more nurturing, all animal welfare societies have a gender imbalance,” said Ms. Jones. If the church were not so “gender imbalanced” in its governance, she suggested, perhaps concerns more often held by women might be higher up on the hierarchy’s list of priorities.

The fur trade is an area in which advocates have made significant progress in both the United States and England, she said. The demand for fur is shrinking, but she warned: “It may come back as fashions change. All it takes is a few designer label names to bring fur back.” While some people may not want to know where their fur is from, others think they are wearing faux fur when it is actually real, as in fur trimming, she said. “China knows of our antipathy to fur and so they might be using real fur, like cat fur, while calling it faux.”

Extinguishing Creation

Ms. Jones also addressed the issue of the extinction of certain wildlife species. “Because of war, habitat poaching and the whole degradation of the environment, there will be no more big cats in a few decades,” she said, meaning that lions and tigers will be wiped out, along with other species, “except for the few kept in wildlife refuges.”

“As religious people,” she concluded, “we should see this situation as blasphemy: we are betraying God’s creation.” Regarding ways of countering this betrayal of God’s creation, she spoke of liturgy as a means by which the church might present a more positive view of animals and their place in creation. For example, “Liturgies could be developed for people grieving over the loss of a cherished pet,” she said. “Blessing services, too, could also serve a useful purpose, praying not just for pets, but for farm animals, too. But at present, I find little in the church that is helpful.”

She had other practical suggestions: “Reverence animals by not eating them,” she said, adding that a reduced- or no-meat diet also “will enable all the world’s people to eat” by returning grazing land to agriculture. Consumers can also reverence animals “by not treating them as units of production or means of entertainment, by not causing them to suffer or be killed unless for absolute necessity…by rendering obsolete the term vermin and by learning to cooperate with nature instead of trying always to conquer and overwhelm it.”

Avoiding prescription drugs that have been tested on animals may prove difficult, she noted, but consumers have a role to play in animal welfare. “Where choices can be made in the purchase of any product, consumers can influence manufacturers to produce cruelty-free products,” she said. “Individuals can feel helpless in the face of mass markets, but collectively they are more powerful than they realize. If all Catholics chose humanely produced goods, the world would change.”

In addition to her work with Catholic Concern for Animals, Ms. Jones also portrays them in her own painting, which is virtually an “obsession” with her, she said. Among artists whose work she admires is the 18th-century American Quaker Edward Hicks. His various representations of what he called the “peaceable kingdom” illustrate the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the lion and the lamb co-existing in peaceful harmony—“the realization,” Ms. Jones said, “of what we should all be working to bring about in the world.”

Ms. Jones’s book concludes with a poem by an English Jesuit scholar, Robert Murray, called “The School of Compassion,” which suggested her book title. The poem tells of a passerby who has “learned in the school of compassion” to find the holy in the animal kingdom. Coming upon the torn remains of a squirrel beside a country road, the passerby reverently places the lifeless form among “the roots of a wayside oak” and makes the sign of the cross over it, asking it to “remember me in the peaceable kingdom.” The gesture reflects a sense of the holy that Ms. Jones perceives throughout the whole of animal creation. It is a sense that informs all her work.

Listen to an interview with Deborah M. Jones.

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Angelo Roncalli
13 years 3 months ago

St. Francis is to have said that animals do have souls — the difference being that the souls of animals are mortal and our souls are immortal.

13 years 3 months ago
The "theology of animal rights" as proposed by Deborah M. Jones and explained by Jesuit Father George M. Anderson in, "All God's Creatures," is too extreme to be practicable. Yes, by all means do not torture or mistreat any animal - to do so would be sinful. But they certainly may be used as food, or as a clothing source. also for medical experimentation for the good of humanity, in which case they must be properly sedated to alleviate pain and  may even be necessary to assure a proper outcome. Humans too must at times endure pain as in medical, or dental procedures to obtain a good result. This is part of the reality of life.

Francis of Assisi is a good example of how to treat animals. He did not just love and protect them, but when appropriate used their meat as food, in a celebratory way. In his day all fridays were days of fast and abstinence, yet he told his first friars should Christmas fall on a friday, not only should they eat meat, but they should also "rub the walls of their huts" with meat, celebrating the birth of Jesus!

Also let's remember that, in anticipation of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross, Creator God allowed the sacrificial slaughter of countless thousands of animals in Temple sacrifice by priests, including the killing of the Pascal Lamb by God's Chosen People as they were about to be led out of bondage to freedom by Moses.

In time determined by God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, entered the Animal Kingdom, by assuming human nature. We humans are part of the Animal Kingdom. In Jesus was fulfilled the sacrificial imagery of the Old Testament, becomimng through torture, slaughter and death, the Sacrificial Lamb of God put to death to give humanity supernatural life. Jesus died so that we may live a spiritual life and animals die sustaining our natural life. Thus, animals when they become a food-source share  with Jesus God's life-giving mission, each in the way intended by God.

Incidentally, just as an interesting aside, there's a strand in Franciscan Speculative Theology that says, when the Trinity announced to the angelic assembly that, the Second Person of the Trinity was going to assume an animal form while remaining God, to die a sacrificial death, some of the angels rebelled and refused to bow down to a God in a lower nature than theirs. The angelic nature is higher than the animal nature of a human being. Thus Hell was created as an act of mercy on the part of God towards the fallen angels, an "act of mercy" because it would have been a greater hell for the rebel angels to remain in the presence of God whom they  now loathed, so God mercifully banished them from his presence!

I personally believe that animals do have a soul and when they die their God-given life returns to God from whom it came. And I pray daily for road kill and all creatures big and small who die daily, offering their lives back to God and thanking him for having shared life with them.  It's interesting to note that St. Augustine suggests that all of God's creatures even plants, may enjoy eternal life in the world to come when he said, "plants, animals ... all the delights that image God and lead us to him in this life will do so even more perfectly in the next!" Yes' "creatures big and small praise the Lord!" This appeals to me as a professed Secular Franciscan.

Whatever the case, Deborah M. Jones must be a lovely lady, warmhearted and a sincere lover of animals. God bless her! However I cannot agree with her, although cruelty to amimals is a grave sin, it is not "as abhorrent as human slavery and child labor." Wouldn't it be nice if in the Land of the Living we discover not only animals we loved on earth, but also in fact and not just metaphorically, that  "the wolf shall be guest of the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with young goat and the calf and the young lion shall browse together and then cow and the bear be neighbors." (Isaiah 11:6-8) That would be wonderful!
John Sniegocki
13 years 3 months ago
The theological issues related to animals are actually rather simple. God does not want any of God's good creation to suffer unnecessarily. In circumstances where harm to animals can be avoided, our call as disciples of a compassionate God is to avoid such harm. With regard to food, there is no need for the vast majority of people living in First World contexts to consume meat or other animal products. A vegetarian diet is healthier, much more ecologically sustainable, a better use of the world's resources (modern forms of factory-farm meat production are extremely inefficient, wasting many resources that could feed the hungry), and avoids unnecessary harm to animals. For good discussion of these issues, see the website of the Christian Vegetarian Association at www.christianveg.org. Also, see the book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, by Matthew Scully (a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush), who makes the case for vegetarianism from within the framework of conservative Christian theology.
James Parker
13 years 3 months ago

As the author of a recently published book entitled, Animal Minds, Animal Souls, Animal Rights, and as theologian who has worked in the field of biomedical research for nearly twenty years, I looked forward to reading “All God’s Creatures.” Very quickly I found myself embarrassed and disappointed by a theologian who loses her credibility when she pontificates on science and scientific history. What are we to make of these paragraphs in the article by George Anderson:

She [theologian Deborah Jones] also pointed out that some drugs, tested on animals, subsequently caused problems in humans—like thalidomide, which caused many thousands of birth defects in babies around the world.

“How are we imaging God to [the animals], when they look at a person in a white coat who’s going to put probes in their brains or chop their skulls in half?”

First, thalidomide, the drug that caused 10,000 children to be born crippled or deformed:

Ms. Jones apparently blames animal research for this tragedy. She evidently agrees with ethicist Peter Singer that “what we should learn from thalidomide . . . is not that animal testing is necessary, but that it is unreliable.”(Singer, Peter, Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for Our Treatment of Animals 2nd edition, 1990, p. 57.)

Ms. Jones, like Singer, might have checked with one of their own, John McArdle, Ph.D., a scientific advisor to the animal rights movement. He advised that the true story about thalidomide is evidence in favor of using animals in toxicity testing. (McArdle, John. “Sorting out the facts from the fiction.” The Animals’ Agenda (March, 1988), 44-47)

Better, Jones might have consulted Frances Kelsey, who was given the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service by President John F. Kennedy. Kelsey’s story is a profile in courage. After tests on rats and other laboratory animals revealed no ill effects, thalidomide was introduced in many countries as a sedative in 1957. In the United States, however, Kelsey fought successfully to keep it off the market. She was convinced that testing had not been sufficiently extensive. In 1960, the drug began to be prescribed in Europe to control morning sickness during pregnancy, and a year later it became apparent from the births of impaired babies that something was wrong. By the end of 1961, thalidomide had been removed from the market, and in the very next year Congress passed the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1962 to increase the powers of FDA to guarantee drug safety.

All agree that thalidomide wasn’t tested on pregnant animals until after women taking the drug began giving birth to deformed babies. Then it was found to cause birth defects in rabbits and several types of monkeys. Disagreement turns on whether more extensive testing would have detected the problem before the drug’s release.

Animal rightists seem to take their cue from a report of the Office of Health Economics, a research organization set up by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry:

With thalidomide . . . it is only possible to produce the specific deformities in a very small number of species of animals. In this particular case, therefore, it is unlikely that specific tests in pregnant animals would have given the necessary warning: the right species would probably never have been used. (Teeling-Smith, George. A Question of Balance: the Benefits and Risks of Pharmaceutical Innovation, London: Office of Health Economics, 1980, p.29.)

Note the words ‘specific deformities.’ Neal Barnard and Stephen Kaufman, employ similar qualifying language when they say, “Most animal species used in laboratories do not develop the kind of limb defects [emphasis added] seen in humans after thalidomide exposure; only rabbits and some primates do.”(Barnard, Neal D. and Stephen R. Kaufman. “Animal Research is Wasteful and Misleading.” Scientific American 276 (1997), p. 81.)

However, as veterinary researcher Adrian Morrison pointed out, Barnard and Kaufman ignored the fact that subsequent tests in the early 1960s with mice, rats, and certain inbred strains of hamsters showed congenital malformations of eyes, ears, heart, kidneys and digestive tracts. Surely, if such results had been available before, rather than after, approval of thalidomide in Europe, its introduction would have been delayed for the further trials demanded by Kelsey. Those trials, conducted in many species of pregnant animals, would have given the necessary warning about the specific deformities that occurred in humans.

The real question, according to Morrison, is whether “thalidomide [would] pass the [birth defect] tests subsequently implemented as a result of the tragedy, if it were produced as a new chemical entity today?” He answers his own question with an ‘emphatic no!’  (http://biomednet.com/hmsbeagle/member/1998/25/people/op_ed.htm) And, on this point, McArdle agrees that “if tested under today’s standards, thalidomide’s potential to cause birth defects would probably be discovered.”( McArdle, p. 57)

Second, the white-coated scientists putting probes into animal brains or chopping their skulls in half.

This sentence is one-half ignorance, one half histrionics. Probably all of us have seen and involuntarily grimaced at pictures of probes placed in human brains, forgetting that such tests are possible because there are no pain receptors in the brain. The same human tests are allowed with laboratory animals, but only after deliberated assurances that nothing in the procedure will cause pain.

As for chopping skulls in half—what can be said about such irresponsible language other than that it doesn’t belong in reasoned discourse?


Jan Fredericks
13 years 3 months ago

If we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and to convict us of violating God's laws of compassion, mercy and justice (for all), we may find ourselves wanting to be God's image on earth.   

PCRM.org (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) is a great site for more information about lab animals and a plant-based diet- which is God's original diet for us before sin entered the world.

If we pray 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven' (the Bible does show that animals are in heaven which is also written about in many books) then we should be moving towards that ideal state of being.   

As religious/spiritual people who are full of compassion and love as we follow Jesus, we should educate ourselves about God's laws (including OT laws which Jesus fulfilled).   God has compassion on all of His animals and put them in our care to protect.
Dominion does not mean 'domination'.  God has dominion over us which is loving and compassionate.  We will be held accountable someday for all creation (Hebrews 4:13) which includes animals!

I would  suggest that by avoiding dairy and egg products (which we use ironically celebrate new life (during Easter), would have a greater impact on eliminating billions of animal sufferage in factory farms.  It would include helping those animals raised for meat.  While having a vegetarian lifestyle is good, being a vegan is much more better for your health, environment and of course for billions of God's creatures in factory farms.
A great book written by Dr. Holly Roberts, Vegetarian Christian Saints, gives an "enormous amount of meaningful and sensitive information concerning the lives and minds of over 150 canonized Christian saints who chose to live as vegetarians" (on back cover)  -  including St. Francis. 
I've found this article to be very good and is a good spring-board for discussion and consideration for following Jesus more closely.  

One more point.  As a 'prolife' advocate, I find it difficult to understand why prolife doesn't include all life.  There is much written about being prolife to include animal life.   If 'prolife' people do not include all life, they should call themselves 'anti-abortion people' or 'prolife for humans'.    Many people who care about God's animals also are 'prolife'.  These 'prolife for all' people include social workers, nurses, doctors, etc.   It's time that people who care about people only, also include all life - it is not only beneficial for the body, but for the soul and for their relationship with our God and Creator of all.

Catholic convert
Founder/President, God's Creatures Ministry
Member, Catholic Concern for Animals
Licensed Professional Counselor 
"Our views and treatment of God's creatures affects and reflects our relationship with God."   JF

"Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy."  Jesus

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