The following comes from a July 10 LA Times article by Bruce Friedrich. Friedrich is director of policy for Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal protection organization that runs two farm animal shelters in California.

Does Catholicism require opposition to animal cruelty, including industrial farming?

For two years I taught social studies at an inner-city high school; for six years I ran a Catholic Worker shelter for homeless families. Then, almost 20 years ago, I became a full-time animal advocate, confident that such labor is integral to Catholicism.

As one might expect, I received plaudits from fellow Catholics for my anti-poverty and educational work but less support for my animal protection work. Most Catholics I’ve encountered seem to think of such do-gooding as fundamentally removed from religious imperatives.

Yet Pope Francis begs to differ.
“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork,” Francis wrote in his latest encyclical, “is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

On the day Francis released the encyclical, he tweeted, “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. #LaudatoSi.”

Leaving aside the modern method of transmission, this statement is not actually remarkable. It’s a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

But what does it mean that we should not cause animals to suffer or die needlessly? Surely this admonition demands more of us than that we not personally injure and kill animals. I’m convinced that we are also obligated as Catholics to avoid paying others to kill or harm animals, absent some exceedingly compelling justification.

Put another way, “purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act.” That line also comes from the encyclical, in a paragraph in which Francis applauds consumer boycotts focused on pushing corporations to engage in more ethical practices.

Thinking about consumer choices in the context of animal rights, consider that by far the most needless suffering comes at the hands of the meat industry, which kills about 9 billion land animals annually. These creatures are treated in ways that would warrant cruelty-to-animals charges were dogs or cats similarly abused.


No less a moral authority than Pope Benedict XVI denounced society’s “industrial use of creatures” on farms as a violation of “the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” Or as Francis put it, “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”
In arguing that there is no difference between cruelty to a farm animal and cruelty to a dog or cat, primatologist (and proud vegetarian) Jane Goodall declared that “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain … they are individual beings in their own right. Who will plead for them if we are silent?”

Francis could not have said it better, and those of us who take these concepts seriously should see them as a call to action.

For me, not only opposition to factory farming but also a vegetarian diet is a requirement of my faith. Since I don’t need to eat animals to survive, I believe Catholicism dictates that I must not.