The news last week concerning the killing of Cecil the lion by U.S. citizen Walter Palmer is troubling and tragic to say the least.
And yes, we can join our voices to the obvious inconsistency that more people are outraged by the murder of an animal than by the slaughter of the innocent unborn in the womb, by the horrors of human trafficking and sexual slavery, by the abuse of children and elderly, by massive homelessness and poverty – locally, nationally and internationally – and by the myriad of other problems running rampant in our fallen world today.
Yes, human life is more important in the hierarchy of things; we know this. However, this example of cruelty to animals is serious as well, and it demands that we, as Catholics, give a proper moral response.
We don’t wish to get into the morality of big game hunting. Instead, in light of the teachings of our faith, we’d like to briefly address how we, as believers, can respond to this situation.
Different Types of Souls
St. Thomas Aquinas (who developed the idea from Aristotle) said that there are different types of souls found present in living things – vegetative, animal and human. The vegetive soul, like plants, is capable of growth; the animal soul is capable of growth and sensation; the human soul is capable of growth, sensation and reason.
Of course, only the human soul is capable of immortality, and only the human being is created in the image and likeness of God.
But the animal is a precious gift that is given to the world, coming into being from the very breath of God. And we know that everything God creates is not only good, but also has purpose and is worthy of our respect.
Regarding the birds of the air, Jesus even states that none of them is forgotten before God.
Dominion over creation, as we read in the Book of Genesis, is given to human beings, which puts us in the role of guardian, or caretaker, of the lesser creations of God. It does not give us free reign to do as we please with animals and with the environment.
Preserved and Protected
Thus, animals are gifts from God and as such, they must be preserved and protected. To the extent that we are obliged to care for our own needs, like food or protection, or for the good of the animals themselves, we can ethically kill or hunt.
However, none of these reasons fit the reasons why this lion, which was living on a protected preserve, was killed. This is why people around the world are so outraged by Cecil’s demise.
Pope Francis, in “Laudato si’,” speaks of an “integral ecology,” one in which we recognize the interconnectedness of all creation. Everything and everybody affects every other thing and every other person.
Like St. Thomas Aquinas before him, Pope Francis reminds us “our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. … Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.’”
If we wish to be the people the Lord has truly created us to be, to live as the highest of His creations, to reflect in our lives the dignity in which we were made by God, we need to be better caretakers of the earth, and this includes animals.