Synthesis of the Conference Animals and the Church - Jean Gaillard

, par Pierre

While waiting for the publication, Jean Gaillard shares with us a short synthesis of the three conferences. As a complement at the end, we have also included three participants’ reactions.

Synthesis of the Conference Animals and the Church, Centre Sèvres
Jean Gaillard

Our colloquiums dedicated to "The Church and the Animals" have finally been despite the difficulties caused by the epidemic of covid 19. They took place on Saturdays, May 29, October 9, and November 27, in Paris,
in the framework of the activities of the Centre Sèvres, the Parisian Jesuit University. It was also possible to participate online.

I. The first colloquium took place on Saturday, May 29. Entitled : "What place for place for animals in the Church ?", it brought together 45 people, half of them via zoom. Father Eric Charmetant, assisted by Estela Torres directed the smooth running of the meeting.

The morning was dedicated to the Catholic vision of animals

First, Pascaline Turpin looked at the patristic period and the Middle Ages, analyzing the Middle Ages, analyzing the thought of two great theologians :
Saint Augustine (5th century) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (13th century).
To better understand the Christian faith, the Fathers used the
Greek philosophy of their time. The latter, which was very anthropocentric, led them to focus on the destiny of Man, leaving aside the rest of Creation.

Saint Augustine relied above all based on Plato’s theory of the soul to contradict the Gnostics. His influence on the Middle Ages was enormous ; Saint Thomas Aquinas, although following Aristotle more open to the world, preserves his vision of the cosmos : a beautiful pyramid that rises from matter to God, with man the link between the earthly and divine worlds, for he is both matter and spirit.

Eric Baratay then spoke about the attitude of the Church, which has fluctuated in modern times. It spans the 20th century : after a certain openness to animals in the first half, it resolutely rejected them in the second half, to focus only on man and his activities, but a more favorable evolution is manifested nowadays.

The reflections of Fabien Revol and Father Robert Cult on Laudato
Si has illustrated this tendency, even if the encyclical remains very anthropocentric.

In the afternoon, the theme was the current reticence of the Church.
It began with a round table discussion, which brought together Christians committed to the defense of animals. Jean Gaillard started by recalling that
that the Church’s indifference to the fate of animals alienates many
of those who love them. Danielle Raabe, Estela Torres, Benoit Calmels
gave various concrete testimonies, and Olivier Jelen spoke about
Olivier Jelen talked about what he was doing to raise awareness among his parishioners.

Then Olivier Landron and Father Dominique Lang looked for reasons for this attitude of the Church. The desire to simplify the liturgy has
to facilitate the liturgy has led to removing animals from religious ceremonies. Above all, the adoption of the theory of evolution has anchored the idea that animal species have been only a necessary means to man’s appearance and do not have value in itself. Then the admiration of the technical progress reinforced the conviction that he can use all the natural elements and exploit them according to his interest. The replacement of the static vision and hierarchical vision of the universe where each creature occupies its place by an evolutionary concept where the universe’s future depends only on the arrow’s point (i.e., man) could have favored a rapprochement with the animal world. Still, in fact, it has, on the contrary, distanced more humans from other living beings.

In conclusion, Bishop Vuillemin encouraged animal advocates
to continue their efforts of reflection while noting the difficulty for
for bishops to make official statements on complex issues that divide
that divide Christians.

II. The second colloquium was held on Saturday, October 9, on the theme :
"What salvation for animals ?",
again at the Centre Sèvres.

65 people registered, about twenty more than for the first one. Half of them
participated in person on the spot, and another half participated remotely by
Internet on Zoom. Six speakers, French and foreign, presented
2 French, 2 English, 1 Belgian, and 1 Italian. Two bilingual students from the
Center Sèvres were bilingual and provided translation from English to French.
Present were : Eric Charmetant, Florence Burgat, Carmody Grey
and Pietro Chiaranz ; Didier Luciani and David Clough spoke from a distance.
Estela Torres assisted Fr. Charmetant in conducting the conference, and
Benoit Calmels drew the conclusion, from Toulouse. At noon, those who wished to do so shared a vegetarian meal.

The morning session began with a reflection by Fr. Charmetant on animal subjectivity based on neuroscience and ethology.
He shed light on the opposition between the notions of instinct and intelligence and between nature and culture. While avoiding anthropomorphism, animals must be considered as conscious subjects.

Florence Burgat has extended these reflections by examining the part played by the unconscious in the behavior of animals. They are not only subjected to instincts coming from evolution but also possess a real psychic depth.

Afterward, Didier Luciani analyzed biblical verses that speak of animals. He showed the various ways in which the Bible sees the animal world ; and exposed the varied and sometimes opposite ways these verses have been interpreted.

In the afternoon, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians
reviewed the state of research in animal theology in our time to deepen our understanding of the place of animals in God’s plan of salvation.

The following speakers took the floor :

  • For Catholicism, Carmody Grey, who emphasized the change
    brought about by the encyclical Laudato Si.
  • For Protestantism, David Clough noted that to promote respect for animals, the idea of salvation is not necessary.
  • For the orthodoxy Pietro Chiaranz has shown that the closer man gets to God, the closer he gets to the animals.

Their presentations brought to light different but convergent ways of approaching the animal question. In the round table discussion that followed, they answered questions from the participants. In conclusion, each Christian denomination needs to look at its own to deepen it.

  • I was supposed to speak at this round table, but a technical
    incident prevented sound transmission. People could only see my face on the screen without hearing my words.

Finally, Benoit Calmels drew the conclusions of the conference.
We were very satisfied with the way it went. It contributed to making progress of the animal cause in the Christian environment because it was the occasion of interviews on the network of the Christian radios of France(RCF) and the Catholic television KTO.

II. We held the third and last colloquium : "What Christian Ethics for Animals ?" on Saturday, November 27, again at the Centre Sèvres.

The number of participants was the same as the second one, more numerous on the Internet. All speakers were present in Paris, except for Margarita Carretero. She was present remotely, as were Jean Gaillard and Benoit Calmels. The speakers were David Clough, John Berkman, Chris Fegan, but a French translation was provided. This day took place in the same friendly atmosphere as the previous ones.

In the morning, David Clough, assisted by Estela Torres, presented a very
picture, with many figures to support it, of the too-often cruel way
in which humans use animals for a variety of purposes : food, clothing
food, clothing, transportation, research, recreation, research, recreation... Billions of animals are sacrificed every year, mainly for food. Today, domestic animals are much more numerous than wild animals.

Then Father Eric Charmetant, assisted by Alain Cugno, reflected
on the conflict between speciesism and anti-speciesism. After a reminder of these two positions, he showed that they are both unsuited to reality in their extreme form. To overcome the ongoing quarrel, he advocates an intermediate way that unites what each theory has of right : the ecocentric anthropocentrism that extends the moral sphere beyond human life and integrates animal ethics. It is necessary to recognize the particular place of Man in Creation, which imposes on him a specific responsibility towards other creatures. Ecocentrism must renew humanism, for there is no reason to oppose humanism and anti-speciesism, adequately understood.

And finally, John Berkman, with Dominique Coatanea as respondent, exposed an original way of elaborating theological ethology, based on the doctrine of St. Thomas, interpreted differently in the perspective of Laudato Si. This should lead to respect for animals.

In the afternoon, David Clough spoke again on the moral evaluation of raising animals for food becauseeating animals is a matter of religious importance. He concluded that Christians should support changes to reduce the consumption of animals and improve the welfare of farm animals.

After him, three people spoke briefly about the challenges of a Christian ethic applied to animals in three European countries :

  • France : Father Robert Cult lamented that religious leaders often-
    that religious leaders often approach the question of animals only concerning human needs. On the contrary, religious teaching should insist on the duty to love them as creatures of God.
  • Spain : Margarita Carretero deplores the silence of the bishops on
    the cruelties committed on animals during religious festivals, especially bullfighting. This has led her to distance herself from the Church, but she remains, but she remains very attached to her faith in Christ.
  • England : Chris Fegan, director of Catholic Concern for Ani-
    mals recall some of the actions taken by this movement with
    religious authorities and the faithful. He expresses the wish that Christians eat only plant-based products for the Advent season.

Then the various speakers answered questions asked by the participants present or by zoom. Then Benoit Calmels
had the difficult task of summarizing the day’s discussions.

And finally, the three organizers : Fr. Eric Charmetant, Estela
Torres, Jean Gaillard, in turn, expressed their satisfaction
for the excellent progress of the three conferences, described the will and the desire to extend them by other initiatives.

A project of publication about the three conferences is planned for this year. It will contain the essence of the various interventions.

Some reactions

The FRA - Fraternité pour le respect des animaux (Fraternity for the Respect of Animals) organized jointly with the Centre Sèvres (Paris) and Notre Dame de Toute Pitié a colloquium on the animal question approached from a Christian perspective. This is an important initiative because it is pioneering and essential to repair the often damaged links between Christians and animals. We look forward to the proceedings in 2022 !
Christine Kristof, Anima Terra, CUT

I really wanted to thank you for this cycle of 3 conferences. It was very rich for me.
In particular, it gave me points of support to discuss with Christians, other than those of animal protection.
I think that this is the beginning of a great adventure. It will take time to involve French Catholics, but it is really necessary and important to do this work.
Benoît Tomé

Note :Text shared in the Newsletter Our Common Home from the organization CUT Christians United for the Earth by Priscille Poncins of CUT

Priscille recounts... her discovery of animal theology.

On November 27, 2021, I attended a colloquium at the Sèvres Center in Paris in collaboration with Notre Dame de Toute Pitié and the Fraternité pour le Respect Animal on "What Christian ethics for animals ? It closed two days of the colloquium on "Do animals have their place in the Church ?" (May 2021) and "What salvation for animals ?" (October 2021). An observation : changes in our practice are long overdue.

David CLOUGH, professor of theology at the University of Aberdeen (UK), has drawn up a report on what humans do to animals. The use of animals for food is in the majority : "In 1900, the total biomass of farmed land animals was 3.5 times the biomass of wildland mammals, compared to 24 times in 2000. We consume about 6 trillion (billion) per year of fish." Animals are also used for textiles, work in agriculture, scientific experimentation, recreation, or companionship, and the impact of humans on wild animals (hunting, the concretization of nature, etc.) is very strong. Then, the Jesuit philosopher Eric CHARMETANT fascinated me by saying that beyond the conflict between speciesism, which takes into account the preference of humans for their species, and anti-speciesism, notably with Peter SINGER, who highlighted animal suffering, we could draw the contours of an animal ethic that would be a "panentheistic ecocentric anthropocentrism". According to him, biocentrism, by sacralizing life, makes it impossible to think about the human feeding of animals. And "anthropocentrism" because to consider the specific duties of belonging to the human moral community is necessary. It is essential to go beyond the hierarchy of capacities between the monkey and the child or the disabled person of Peter SINGER to think, with Corine PELLUCHON via biomedical ethics, of the abilities of persons who do not express themselves without the intervention of their relatives.
Then John BERKMAN, professor of moral theology at - University of Toronto, invited us to discover the virtues (altruism, ability to give...) observed in chimpanzees by ethologists. These "virtues" have been exposed by Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. These discoveries deserve to revisit moral theology.
Finally, after David CLOUGH who presented the resolutions of the CEFAW* Report, a project he led with 13 partners, including the British Church on Christian ethics of animals, 3 French, Spanish and English witnesses each spoke to us concretely about Christian ethics of animals denouncing hunting, bullfighting or horse racing. Finally, in conclusion, Éric CHARMETANT and Estela TORRES of the Fraternity for Animal Respect hope that French theologians will take up following the example of Anglo-Saxon theologians the question of animals to advance the awareness of Christians in France about animal suffering.
This colloquium allowed me to leave a negative vision of anti-speciesism by honoring our debt to recognize animal suffering while leaving the impasse of judging only on intellectual capacities.

* Christian ethics for farm animals :