Pope Francis on Animal Liberation

Morrison, Jane Gray, Tobias, Michael Charles | July 28, 2015 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

A Parrot Trapped Outdoors in Wintery Warsaw, Poland | © M. C. Tobias

Hence, the great bifurcation, a massive change of heart, that now hinges on a colossally important decision; a choice that rests solely upon us. Our duty of stewardship has been forcefully called into action, and awaiting its outcome are all those trillions of individual sentient beings whose lives depend on our common sense and common commitment.

A Brazilian Black Howler Monkey © M. C. Tobias
A Brazilian Black Howler Monkey © M. C. Tobias

Phenotypic variation, evolutionary quirks, twists and turns do not condemn or free us. Our choices and convictions alone are capable of that: of justice, and of some degree of freedom from pain, if we are lucky.

But common commitment and convictions towards what? We would argue that Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear. A commitment towards enlisting life-saving measures to protect the precious individuals, species, populations and habitats. A decision taken at this time, to provide thorough safety nets for all of those abstruse taxa, identified, unidentified, who (not that, but who –these are biographies, not merely biologies, as philosopher Tom Regan has long pointed out) are members of the greater biologically interdependent community: the vast assemblage of life-forms of which we are but one demonstrably agitated member.

But it is not our aim to simply wish upon a star or greater God for such ethical revivification. Rather, to actively reconstruct, from the ashes of a taxonomic Babel, a true ecological renaissance, a new human nature, whose guide to the ecologically perplexed has been handed down as a gift, as it were: a most lenient, legible, powerfully accessible document in the hands of all our humanity.

It would have added to this tour de force had the Pope also pointed towards the inextricable requirements of family planning within his Encyclical: the liberation of women and their children from unwanted pregnancies; the ecologically-devastating consumerism, pain and mortality associated with unwanted pregnancies. Without access to contraception, any ecological call to worship is a partly muted cry in the wilderness. It reminds us, and the Church, that there is still a looming sequel here. Nonetheless, Pope Francis has begun the job.

And with such a roadmap, however it may be tweaked – the addition of women’s rights, of contraception, of the massive realities of teen and unwanted pregnancies, of the desperate requirements for universal healthcare that firmly encompasses the easily available suite of options empowering women and young people to make informed choices about logical, safe and humane forms of contraception we then shall be in a position to honor a most comprehensive beacon from the Church leading toward a true ecological reconciliation.

To be in favor of saving and protecting the biosphere is, correspondingly, to embrace pro-choice. These are ecological similitudes.

Yes, it will be variously interpreted and re-confirmed, assimilated, rejected, and re-taken up. But, ultimately, this Encyclical will be embraced as basic to the future of our species, and all those we have the critical task of shepherding. We would fail to do so, says the Pope, at our own peril.

We are asked to assess the consequences to the biosphere of our words, our actions, our thoughts and intentions. To protect and safeguard Others. All Others. For they are ourselves.

A Caged Ratel, the Indian Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis), in a Zoo in Yemen © M. C. Tobias
A Caged Ratel, the Indian Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis),
in a Zoo in Yemen © M. C. Tobias

Even if a vast sector of the human community were unwilling to listen to the Pope, for whatever reason, at present one in every six persons on the planet are of a Catholic disposition, which translates into a critical mass of behavioral transformation. A percentage, logic dictates, that might just be sufficient to arrest, or at least slow down the Anthropocene (6th mass extinction) and propagate the preconditions for socioeconomic and political reform with a deep beneficence that might, hopefully, prove to be ecologically irreversible, a pandemic of virtue, if you will: a renaissance of goodness… Continue reading.

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.

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  • Geoffrey,
    We totally agree with all you’ve said, and it is echoed throughout our essay. “How bad does it have to get before we reach a tipping point?” you ask. You know, of course, that this is the essence of ecological relativity, where E (ecological health of the planet) = MC (manhkind’s -humankind’s – consumption) squared; a simplified version of the Ehrlich/Holdren IPAT equation of the mid-1970s.
    By E=MCsquared, of course, “ecological health” is also a relative index of biochemical performance: evapotranspiration, balanced pH, fertility, natural selection over a non-stressed time frame (read: the course of evolution with balance, and flux). Taken together, we can measure tipping points in accordance with the interstices between the known six mass extinction events in biological history. Hence, the Anthropocene now occurring makes it clear that we have hit a tipping point in our lifetimes.

    Whether human beings -and all other individuals of species and populations – can survive the human species, is THE question.

    The Pope is someone with a critical mass of influence to help mitigate this all-out extinction event we are witness to, by embracing family planning with the urgency of the other life-saving measures he pays tribute to in his 3rd Encyclical. It would help trigger other comparable “encyclicals” from all the other critical mass points that influence that drive the human species and its insatiable engines of consumption and consequent destruction.

    Thanks for your important comment.
    Michael Charles Tobias
    Jane Gray Morrison

  • Geoffrey Holland

    This Pope is really pushing the envelope, but not far enough. The United Nations now projects a human population at 9.7 billion by 2050. Humans are already putting way too much pressure on the biosphere’s ability to provide. Adding another 2.5 billion, each one requiring food, water, shelter, and personal security, in the next 35 years is just insane. The population of wild animals has dropped more than 50% just since 1970. Our oceans fisheries are being exhausted. It goes on and on.
    Are we too far down the slippery slope already? Sure, we have a lot of exciting technologies emerging that could make a difference, but population growth remains unchecked.
    The Pope has made a powerful statement about the human obligation to respect and protect the natural world, but the key driver behind the shredding of the biosphere is human population growth. On that issue, Catholic church doctrine is a big part of the problem. The Pope’s Encyclical is a step in the right direction, but his church must get real about reproductive choice. Encouraging people to ‘go forth and multiply’ is absolutely the wrong message.
    I always thought the worst consequences of our human hubris would come after I am dead and gone, but the unraveling seems to be happening a lot faster than I ever imagined. How bad does it have to get before we reach a tipping point?

  • Kris

    I’m very happy to see this article – thanks to the authors for this exploration and to Mahb for publishing. My “new age” channels brought the Encyclical to my attention – those circles are justifiably excited about its progressive slant and are focusing on the message of “oneness” and environmental stewardship. I read the Encyclical with great interest – especially the points about compassion for animals. As an ex-Catholic and mostly vegan-vegetarian, I haven’t yet had the courage to bring it up with my Catholic friends, the brunt of whom are committed meat and dairy eaters. This Pope continues to surprise and impress me and many of my closest friends. I look forward to more inspirational leadership from him.

    • Kris, thanks for commenting. We’re seeing a sea change amongst persons of all “denominations” worldwide who are embracing a common sense, No Kill ethic.

  • jane

    This is a heartfelt plea for us ‘ to do something’ before it is too late.
    However, I really do not think that this encyclical can achieve the importance that the authors attribute to it while the Vatican continues to maintain its frankly nonsensical and illogical stance on birth control and abortion.
    To be fair,the authors discuss this very thing and make the link-essential- between pro-choice and conservation.
    This could be adopted as a slogan to galvanise public opinion via various social networking sites perhaps: think of the Centre For Biological Diversity’s excellent condom campaign.
    I suggest that this be taken up and spread as a direct challenge to the Vatican and the various Greenies who are still in denial about the importance of human population pressure.
    The animal rights movement also needs to gain more acceptance within the mainstream of human concerns,rather than being dismissed as mattering only to ‘tree huggers’.
    For many years I have supported a humane research charity: The Dr Hadwen Trust, but sadly their pioneering work is still not well known.

    • Jane,
      We appreciate your referencing the Dr. Hadwen Trust (http://www.drhadwentrust.org/)
      which we are very happy to note is a strictly non-animal related medical research organization in the UK that also is deeply involved in vegan diets, as we understand it.

      As for your acknowledgment of the “link-essential- between pro-choice and conservation” – we obviously and absolutely concur (and have for our entire professional lives). This is why we’ve propagated the hope that a 4th Encyclical break-through is in the works. One focused on family planning at long last. An Encyclical that unabashedly and with hard-hitting, unambiguous data focuses upon the critical importance of pro-choice, with all of the access to the ingredients of choice that will help make an essential difference for the lives of hundreds-of-millions of women and their children. Without belaboring the vast technical, long understood literature on the subject, it would, at the very least, include subsidized over-the-counter cafeteria-style options for contraception; education for young women; FOOD for everyone, school breakfasts and lunches (not just lunches – but late afternoon nutritious meals would also help); partner counseling; the uplifting of the enormous burden and shadows implicit in well over 40 countries worldwide where oppression of women is altogether counter to what the Pope is trying to accomplish when he speaks about harmonizing with nature, etc. etc.

      The Pope is clearly sincere and abundantly heart-felt in his views on Nature at this point. Now, we would urge him to address what it is really going to take (read: the great work, as one example, of the UNFPA) about voiding all those underpinnings of the human condition that are providing fuel for the bonfire of maladies meted out by humans to most other species and habitat as our numbers continue out-of-control from 7.34 heading towards 9.5, even 10, possibly 11 billion.