A Catholic theologian is urging the Church to denounce the “sin” of “animal slavery”.

– “There are very clear parallels in the way slaves were treated and the way we treat animals today”

The Church has forgotten about animals “just as the Church forgot about slaves in past centuries”, professor of dogmatics and systematic theology at the TU Dortmund University, Thomas Ruster, denounced to the epd news agency in an interview October 4, on the occasion of World Animal Day.

“There are very clear parallels in the way slaves were treated and the way we treat animals today”, Ruster decried, adding that slavery and animal mistreatment both consist in “us[ing] the body of another living being for your own purposes and depriv[ing] the other living being of the right to use its own body”.

“Human slavery was abolished, but animal slavery continues”, the theologian went on, urging the Churches not to make the same mistake they made by standing side on when human slavery was as its height.

– Animal welfare is a pro-life issue

As with human slaves in earlier centuries “today we are in a comparable situation with regard to animals”, Ruster went on, explaining that posterity will ask us the same question we ask now of our forebears, as to why we tolerate oppression and violence against our fellow living beings.

The theologian said that it is not so much a question of the thorny issue of whether animals have “rights” in the same way that humans do, but simply the case that “one must not inflict unnecessary suffering on another being”.

As to why the Churches are not known for their animal advocacy in contrast to animal rights groups, Ruster pinned Christian indifference to animals on the theological conviction that “man is something higher, the image of God”.

“Through this attitude we have completely lost sight of animals”, the theologian deplored, asking whether even if we admit a fundamental difference between humans and animals, “does that justify treating animals in the way we treat them?”

“The mission to help the poor, the oppressed and the suffering is basically well-performed by the Churches. But strangely enough, animals are never really included”, Ruster observed.

“If the Church were to stand up for the protection of life universally, then animals, as living beings created by God, would also be the focus of attention just as, for example, unborn life is now”, the theologian highlighted.

– Vegetarian or vegan diets not obligatory for Christians but a “strong prophetic sign”

Ruster told the epd agency that not even Pope Francis’ landmark “green” encyclical of 2015 Laudato si’ directly addresses the plight of animals suffering from human mistreatment. For the theologian, that silence of the Church on the issue is even more serious given that animal abuse is a “clear case of sin”.

“Wherever faith, hope and love are damaged, sin is present”, the theologian explained, pointing out that animals “suffer deeply” from forced isolation, for example.

As for how the Churches can remedy their blind spots over animal cruelty, Ruster suggested that the challenge, in the first place, lies in making the sufferings of animals visible, just as making the sufferings of slaves visible was decisive in ending human slavery.

Just as anti-war campaigners, too, once held services outside of armament depots, so too could Christian animal rights activists hold services outside of slaughterhouses, for example, Ruster proposed, also suggesting that Church charities set up animal welfare teams and homes for abandoned animals, and that parishes and other Church institutions consider a switch to vegetarian meals.

Stressing that he did not mean to say “apodictically” that Christians should not eat meat, Ruster nonetheless called it a “strong prophetic sign” that believers abstain from animal products out of a concern for animal welfare.

On animal rights, the Churches “could really lead the way”, the theologian emphasised, encouraging the faithful to reverse the “burden of proof” such that “not the vegetarian or vegan but rather the meat eater should justify their behaviour”.

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.