Is There Anybody Out There?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy


Virginia Bell, Catholic Action for Animals
April 2018

Why do the few practicing Catholics who care about our treatment of animals do nothing about it within the parish? The answer I think is because it is such an unpleasant struggle... with the clergy and with the laity.

I have been struggling for several years now to set up local parish groups which would meet and act within the parish on behalf of animals. Name Ė St. Francis Group, Remit Ė educate parishioners about our responsibility to other animals, point out the moral aspect of our treatment of animals, spread the message of the Popeís recent Encyclical ĎLaudato Sií regarding animals, promote a lifestyle that does not abuse animals.

We Catholics are told that we all have a mission. I believe it. And this is my mission. Priests (and bishops) should be encouraging me and giving me some help. Unfortunately the opposite is the case. I have got nowhere. I have learned a few things though, and I donít intend to give up. God bless St. Jude.

There are two main reasons why I have got nowhere. The first is the priests. They rule alone. They do not delegate nor do they consult. As with the monarchs of England, they rule by Divine Right. God has placed them in complete charge. They know it all. The rest of the faithful are fit only to pray and to pay, not to have a say. The Pope calls this sort of clericalism ďa gross deformationĒ, and is constantly calling for consultation with the laity. He wants a more synodal Church. He states that by receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism we all have the right to be involved in the decision-making processes of the Church.

Pope John XXIIIís 2nd Vatican Council also called for consultation, but Parish Councils are now rare.

I go as a beggar, cap in hand, to ask the priest for a concession. Perhaps for permission to leave a petition form or St. Francis Group (SFG) leaflets at the back of the church. I am sometimes allowed to do this, but I know that among the mass of literature crowding my offering, no-one will see mine. Unless of course the priest draws attention to my leaflets. But that wonít happen, because the unwritten law is NEVER to mention animals during Mass.

I try to do the rounds of all the parishes in my town, emailing my request to leave SFG leaflets / petition forms. Often my emails are simply ignored, this being the easiest way to put me in my place.

My petition calls on the Bishopsí Conference of England and Wales to set up a Committee on Animals. They have a website and many Departments, Offices, Committees, Groups, Projects, Initiatives, Schemes, even a Committee on the Environment, but NOT ONE WORD about animals. Such gross neglect of an important aspect of our Christian life is unforgiveable. Iím only asking for a Committee, not a big deal, but this small step forward is a step too far for the Church.

At one event, a Christmas fete or bazaar, I attended with my petition and was asking the occasional person if they wanted to sign, and the priest asked me to leave. I went and stood in the public street outside, and carried on collecting signatures there from those arriving. There was a lovely banner up advertising the event, and claiming ďAll WelcomeĒ. Obviously all except animal defenders. At another parish, I stood on public land collecting signatures from arrivals at another Xmas fete/bazaar. The organiser, priest at her side, accused me of making people late for the event, as they had delayed entering the fete because they had stopped to sign my petition. At another fete (where else but at these yearly events can I conveniently collect signatures?) I stood on the approach to the event collecting signatures, and was later told by the priest that there had been complaints from people who felt intimidated. This I find VERY difficult to believe, as I am deliberately far from intimidating when approaching Catholics for a sympathetic signature. Iíve no doubt that the priest added his spin. I asked if he felt that the complaint/s was justified. He said yes, I made people feel uncomfortable. So ironic, because priests quite happily make me feel uncomfortable, excluded and alienated. Anyway, there was no point in arguing Ė he was under no obligation to hear and question both sides of the complaint. His bias prevailed. Petitioning was banned. My suggestion that I be allowed to take a small fold-up table with my petition on it to the fete so that people can approach me if they want to sign was given short shrift. As far as a 3 minute talk after Mass, I was told that there are too many appeals etcÖ, he didnít want to impose another one on the congregation. I suggested that those who wanted to leave should be invited to do so before the talk. Nothing doing. Any leaflets I wanted to leave in church I was required to leave in his office for him to vet. No doubt their final resting place.

The Pope himself has seen the St. Francis Group leaflet, which I sent to him, and he finds nothing wrong with it. On the contrary, he says he will remember the St. Francis Group in his prayers, and invokes Godís blessings on me.

At another parish, (I spread my discomforting self around several parishes locally, as I canít find anyone else willing to help), at the approach to a barbecue, I was standing with my petition, and the priest interrupted the conversation I was having with a parishioner. He proceeded to download some of his feeling of annoyance at my presumption. People donít want to be greeted with a petition, he said, and then took the opportunity to sneer at my bullfight petition (yes, Iíve got one of those. Itís to the Pope from priests asking him to condemn the bullfight). If I didnít move, he was going to start a petition in support of bullfighting, as bulls enjoy it, he said. While he was talking, the person to whom I had been showing my petition took the opportunity to escape. She hadnít understood what I was talking about. Very few Catholics understand what I am talking about. Animals are for eating they think, and I have to try to explain the concept of considering animals as beings that need our help.

Actually, the approach to an event is the best place to stand with a petition, otherwise one has to interrupt peopleís conversations to invite signatures, and people have food in their hands making it inconvenient to sign a petition. Also it seemed to me that some people did appreciate being greeted, even if only with a petition and a smile.

I didnít argue with the priest, but on the premise that I hadnít actually been thrown out, I took my petition into the barbecue area and carried on. Since then, permission to petition at this parish, as at others, has been refused.

Priests will use any excuse, any reasoning, to justify their biases. That is the problem. They are not accountable for their decisions and actions. Certainly not to parishioners or other priests. Any idiosyncrasy or prejudice is unchecked. They can stomp on my mission with impunity.

There are many more examples of the slings and arrows of slights that Iíve received from priests, but I must move on to the second main reason why I have got nowhere, which is the excessive deference that the Catholic laity feels towards the clergy.

As I said previously, the Pope is strongly against clericalism and strongly for consultation, and states that by receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism we all have the right to be involved in the decision-making processes of the Church. Unfortunately, his views are not being promoted by the bishops. Catholics take their lead from the clergy. ĎIf priests donít care about animals, why should we?í is the attitude of parishioners. Iíve spoken to many parishioners, and the only consideration they give to animals in general is what they taste like.

This I feel is the elephantine reason in the room why people donít want to raise the status of animals:- they wonít give up eating meat. Any consideration about the moral treatment of animals may, they feel, constrain them to rethink their justification for killing animals to eat them. They may find that they would be healthier without meat/dairy products. The planet may benefit. The starving human population may benefit. This challenge to their eating preferences cannot be risked. I feel that behind the posturing, this is the deep down reason why bishops, priests and parishioners donít want to raise the status of animals. The posture that is adopted is that people are superior to other animals and that means we can kill and eat them (and wear them and capture them and hunt them etc..)

I have a lot of sympathy with this. Not with the human superiority argument, but with the desire to eat meat. Pleasure in eating is deeply part of an animalís (and we are animals) being, as survival is dependent on eating. For some people, giving up meat/dairy for say 2 days a week takes more sacrifice than my being a strict vegan. That is why we should not judge without the relevant information. My criticism is aimed at the leaders of ethical institutions, namely the Catholic Church, who are not adequately teaching us right from wrong. I donít expect our bishops and priests to be less sinful than I am. That would be hypocritical of me. I do expect them to teach us the right way to live a good Christian life, not to dilute what is morally right to suit the selfish demands of the dominant species.

Iím going to leave this elephant in the room and return to the second main reason why I have got nowhere. 1st reason Ė clergy / 2nd reason Ė laity. That seems to cover everything. Itís a vicious circle. Unless the bishops instruct the priests to include respect for animals in sermons, the priests will continue to ignore the matter. And unless the priests include respect for animals in their sermons, the laity will continue to ignore the matter.

So although I have been encouraging people to set up St. Francis Groups for some time now, using website (, Facebook and endless emails to publications, organisations, press etc.. locally, nationally and globally, I have had no success.

Why do the few practicing Catholics who care about our treatment of animals do nothing about it within the parish? The answer I think is because it is such an unpleasant struggle. You need to be very hard skinned to be able to bear the feeling of exclusion which lands heavily on you when you bring animal rights forward. The stress is enough to put people off. No-one wants to be put down by the priest. Me Ė Iím a weird combination of soft centre and hard skin. Thereís also the consideration that people are busy Ė they have children, spouses, jobs. Many people canít find the time to start / join a group.

What this mission needs is someone charismatic with loads of energy. But there seems to be only myself who feels the mission to establish an animal rights group within the parish, as a means of ďcalling on the Catholic Church to do more for animalsĒ.

Please let me be wrong. Is there anyone out there who will join me? Anyone who wants to turn concern for animals into ACTION? This is V. Bell calling... calling... helpÖ

Return to Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion