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 "Animals and the Church" were finally held despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. They took place on Saturday, May 29, October 9, and November 27, in Paris, in the framework of the activities of the Centre Sèvres, the Parisian university of the Society of Jesus. It was also possible to participate online via Zoom.

I. The first conference took place on Saturday, May 29.
Entitled "What place for animals in the Church ? Father Eric Charmetant, assisted by Estela Torres directed the smooth running of the meeting.

The morning was devoted to how the Catholic vision of animals was elaborated.

First, Pascaline Turpin looked at the patristic period and 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 was very anthropocentric and led them to focus on the destiny of Man, leaving aside the rest of Creation. Saint Augustine relied above all 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, who was more open to the world, kept his vision of the cosmos : a beautiful pyramid rising from matter to God, with Man as the link between the earthly and divine worlds, because he is both matter and spirit.

Eric Baratay then evoked the attitude of the Church, which has been fluctuating in modern times. It extends over the twentieth century : after a certain openness to animals in the first half, it resolutely rejected them in the second half to be interested only in man and his activities, but a more favorable evolution is manifesting itself nowadays.

The reflections of Fabien Revol and Father Robert Culat on Laudato Si illustrated this trend, even if the encyclical is still very anthropocentric.

In the afternoon, the theme was the current reluctance 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 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 Father Olivier Jelen spoke about actions 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 the removal of animals from religious ceremonies. Above all, adopting the theory of evolution has anchored the idea that animal species have only been a necessary means to Man’s appearance but do not have value in itself. Then the admiration of the technical progress reinforced the conviction that he can use all the natural elements at will 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 vision where the universe’s future depends only on the point of the arrow (i.e., the man) could have favored a bringing closer with the animal world. Still, it has, on the contrary, distanced man even more from other living beings.

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

II. The second conference took place on Saturday, October 9, on the theme :
"What salvation for animals ?", again at the Centre Sèvres. Sixty-five people registered, about twenty more than for the first one. Half of them participated in person in Paris, and the other half online via Zoom. Six speakers, French and foreign, gave a presentation : two French, two English, one Belgian, and one Italian. Two bilingual students from the Centre Sèvres ensured the 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 shared a vegetarian meal.

Charmetant’s reflection on animal subjectivity is based on neuroscience and ethology, and 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
world ; and exposed the varied, and sometimes opposite, ways in which these verses have been
interpreted these verses.

In the afternoon, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians reviewed the current state of research in animal theology to deepen the place of animals in God’s plan for the economy of salvation. The following speakers took the floor

  • For Catholicism Dr. Carmody Grey, emphasized the change brought by the encyclical Laudato Si.
  • For Protestantism, David Clough noted that the idea of salvation is not essential to promote respect for animals.
  • For Orthodoxy Pietro Chiaranz showed 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. The conclusion was that each Christian denomination needs to look at its own tradition to deepen it. - I was supposed to intervene in this round table, but a technical incident did not allow the transmission of the sound, and the people only saw 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. We believe that it contributed to the progress of the animal cause in the Christian milieu because it was the occasion of interviews on the network of the Christian radios of France (RCF) and the Catholic television KTO.

III. We held the third and final conference on Saturday, November 27, still at the Centre-Sèvres. The number of participants was the same as the second one, more numerous on the Internet. All the speakers were present in Paris, except Margarita Carretero. She was in remote, 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 the creation, which imposes on him a specific responsibility towards other creatures. Ecocentrism must renew humanism, for there is no reason to. There is no need to oppose humanism and anti-speciesism, adequately understood.

Finally, John Berkman, with Dominique Coatanea as his respondent, presented 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 better respect for animals.

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

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

  • France : Father Robert Culat lamented that religious leaders often address the issue of animals only in relation to human needs. Religious teaching should instead insist on the duty to love them as creatures of God.
  • Spain : Margarita Carretero laments the bishops’ silence on the cruelties committed on animals during religious celebrations, especially bullfighting. This has led her to leave the Church, but she remains very attached to her faith in Christ.
  • England : Chris Fegan, director of Catholic Concern for Animals, recalls some of the actions carried out by this movement with religious authorities and the faithful. He spoke about how Christians could take care of animals in the era of Laudato Si. He also expressed the wish for Christians to make plant-based choices during the Advent season.
    Then the various speakers answered questions asked by the participants by the participants present or by the Internet. 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 with the smooth running of the three conferences and expressed the will and the desire that they be extended 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, Animal Cross

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 :