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Religious Testimony Regarding Animals

U.S. House of Representatives
June 29, 2006

Brother David Andrews, CSC
Executive Director
National Catholic Rural Life Conference

Thank you for giving me this time to speak at the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus. I am Brother David Andrews, CSC, the Executive Director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, an 83-year-old national faith based organization. I am a consultant to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops on Domestic Policy. I have been a consultant to the Vatican's Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace on rural life concerns and serve as a member of the Vatican based International Catholic Rural Association. I also have served on the recent Farm Foundation's Future of Animal Agriculture Task Force and currently serve on the Pew Commission on Industrial Animals.

The current Holy Father, Benedict the XVI said the following about animal welfare: When he was asked about cruelty to animals in a 2002 interview, he said, "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... 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."

Then Cardinal Ratzinger was echoing official church teachings laid out in the Catholic Catechism, which states clearly that "Animals are God's creatures. He 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. . . . It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly."

The late Pope, John Paul II previously articulated a similar view: (John Paul II: Respect for Nature On Social Concerns (p. 64, #34)) "(O)ne cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate -- animals, plants, the natural elements -- simply as one wishes according to one's own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely "the cosmos."

The most recent letter of the Catholic Bishops of the United States, "For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food" states the following: "Catholic teaching about the stewardship of creation leads us to question certain farming practices, such as the operation of massive confined animal feeding operations. We believe that these operations should be carefully regulated and monitored so that environmental risks are minimized and animals are treated as creatures of God."

In 2000 in Marie Hendrickx, a longtime official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (her boss was Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote on December 7, 2000 in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano about animal welfare raising the following rhetorical questions: "does the right to use animals for food imply the right to raise chickens in tiny cages where they live in a space smaller than a notebook? Or calves in compartments where they can never move about or see the light? Or to keep sows pinned by iron rings in a feeding position to allow a series of piglets to suck milk constantly and thus grow faster? Does the right to use animals for clothing mean letting those with valuable pelts slowly die of hunger, thirst, cold or hemorrhage in traps? Does the right to use animals for our leisure mean the right to stab bulls with bandilleras after tormenting them at length? Does it mean letting horses be disemboweled? Does it mean throwing cats or goats from the top of bell towers?"

Her questioning moves logically that the answer to each question is a strong no! And so Archbishop Pilarczcyk of Cincinnati banned the rat and goldfish and turtle races popular at some parish festivals in his Archdiocese due to the unnecessary suffering imposed on these animals. Similarly, The University of Georgetown has banned battery caged egg production as a method of securing eggs for the students at that Catholic University. Many Catholic dioceses from across the country have condemned factory farms for their ecological impacts, social impacts for the abuse of antibiotics in caging and fattening animals, and of the wrong and inhumane treatment of animals. John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution on Higher Education issued as "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" called Catholic Universities to a "defense of nature." (August 15, 1990, #37)

My own Board of Directors called for a halt in CAFO construction in 1997. In that statement my Board of Directors said: "The National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) has for 75 years been a voice for participative democracy, widespread ownership of land, the defense of nature, animal welfare, support for small and moderate-sized independent family farms, economic justice, rural and urban interdependence. Such values are drawn from the message of the Gospel and the social teachings of our Church. Furthermore, we see such values best represented in the agricultural arena by what is called sustainable agriculture."

At NCRLC we believe that eating is a moral act. The way we humans treat animals has moral significance. In theological words used by the late John Paul II, the institutionalized and industrialized mode of treating animals that ignores their being a creature of God can be considered "a structure of sin".

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