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Letter to Pope Francis re Laudato Deum

From Virginia Bell
October 2023

October 30, 2023

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Casa Santa Marta,
00120 Città del Vaticano

Dear Pope Francis,

We, a group of faithful Catholics, both lay and ordained, are immensely grateful to you for the Laudato Si’ Encyclical, and for its recent update, published on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi 2023 (Laudate Deum).

Whilst expressing our deep gratitude to you for raising so many important issues concerning the climate crisis, we wonder if there is a question that is not yet adequately resolved, and which needs more consideration? Crucially, we would ask that you consider the concept that animals, indeed all creatures, are created and beloved by God, in and of themselves, and were not made for humans to use. Rather, we would draw attention to the truth that people everywhere—and Christians in particular—have a duty of care to all nonhuman animals, as set down, for example, in Genesis 1: 29-30 and 2: 19-20, and confirmed in Isaiah 11: 6, 65: 25 and 66: 3, where a loving rule or stewardship is called for.

We are reminded that the Hebrew word usually translated as ‘till’, when relating to the earth, can equally be translated as ‘serve’ (Genesis 2: 15). There is a sense in which human beings are called, we would suggest, to be responsible stewards of the planet, in a spirit of service. Sadly, as you know so well, unconscious bias allows us to think that we humans are doing no wrong in, for example, farming livestock, if we appear to do it ‘kindly’. We ask, with some passion and urgency in our voices, ‘But how can enslavement and exploitation be kind? How can killing the innocent ever be kind?’

We would ask you to consider too, and perhaps bring to your prayer, the real question of whether humans should be using animals at all, if our use of them causes them suffering? Shouldn’t we rather be treating them as neighbours, not as commodities? The crux of the matter is that animals, like humans, can suffer. Surely, in the name of Jesus Christ and at the service of the earth created by God, we have a duty not to cause suffering, whatever the species that suffers, if we can avoid it?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 2457 that,“Animals are entrusted to man’s stewardship; he must show them kindness”. You also state in Laudato Si’, paragraph 221, “We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God’. How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?”. Once again, we ask you to consider how that accords with the enslavement, mutilation and killing of trillions of birds, mammals and other creatures, for unnecessary food, or for our self-interest?

The reason we use animals for food, clothes, sport, entertainment, experimentation and exploitation in general is because we have the power to do so and is very rarely for survival. We would ask you to speak out against the widely normalised prodigal use of animals, and to call for a change of heart in all humans towards animals—and especially among the Catholic faithful and all people of goodwill. We believe, too, that this change of heart can best be expressed by following a vegan lifestyle. Please promote a vegan lifestyle as one for which to aim—a lifestyle that respects the autonomy and freedom of those nonhuman creatures brought into being for a purpose by God himself, out of love and for love.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Virginia Bell, Laudato Si’ Movement (LSM) Animator/St Barnabas parish Laudato Si’ Group, Northampton Diocese UK

Fr Robert Culat, Catholic Parish Priest, Saint-Didier, France

Fr Donatello Iocco, Catholic Parish Priest, St Ambrose Parish, Toronto, Canada

Fr Terry Martin, Catholic Parish Priest, Worthing & Lancing Parish, UK/Trustee, Catholic Concern for Animals UK

Janet Parsons MBE, LSM Animator. Clifton Diocese UK

Giovanna Payne, LSM Animator/St Barnabas parish Laudato Si’ Group. Northampton Diocese, UK

Derek Reeve, retired Catholic priest, Portsmouth diocese, UK

John Woodhouse, Co-ordinator LSM Animators UK/Organiser, Westminster Cathedral Interfaith Group. Archdiocese of Southwark UK

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