During his historic visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI probably will not address the question of human responsibilities to animals and the environment, but his thinking on these issues is particularly important to The Humane Society of the United States given our new Animals and Religion program.
As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, with 66 million members in the United States, the pope speaks with force on the major moral issues of the day, with Catholic clergy following his dictates and many millions of adherents paying close attention to his declarations.
It may come as a surprise to many that Benedict has commented on factory farms, and on several occasions, the importance of protecting animals and the natural world. His statements are corroborated by similar statements from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Catechism.
The pontiff addressed his concern for animals and the environment in his annual statement for the Vatican World Day of Peace, delivered on the first day of this year. “Respecting the environment,” he said, “means not selfishly considering [animal and material] nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests.” And just last month, the Vatican declared pollution a sin, expressing the idea that sin is not simply an individual act but can also be an offense against the larger community.
In 2002, when the current Pope was known to the world as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he offered highly critical remarks about factory farms that deserve repeating here. In a published conversation with a German journalist, Peter Seewald, he was asked, “Are we allowed to make use of animals, and even to eat them?”
Pigs in gestation crates.
Ratzinger responded: “That is a very serious question. At any rate, we can see that they are given into our care, that we cannot just do whatever we want with them. Animals, too, are God’s creatures and even if they do not have the same direct relation to God that man has, they are creatures of his will, creatures we must respect as companions in creation … Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”*
Did you know the pope has a cat? Chico is his name, and a biography about the pope, entitled, "Joseph and Chico," was written from his perspective. In a passage, Chico describes the animal-friendly pope:
“Do you know how I know he is friends of us cats? Because in his garden he has a sculpture that represents one of us cats.”
It is the work of our Animals and Religion program to activate people of faith and religious leaders on the important questions of animal protection. We encourage you to get engaged, especially if you are a member of a religious community, and to help spread the good news of animal protection.
*Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald." (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 78-79.