Fr Martin Lintner OSM has called for an urgent re-assessment of our relationship with animals.
The theologian, whose appointment as dean of the Philosophical-Theological University of Bressanone was recently blocked by the Vatican, said that this relationship needed to be based on sound animal ethics but the subject had been sorely neglected.
“We have neglected to ponder more deeply about our relationship with animals in the light of our faith,” he told the Vienna church newspaper Der Sonntag last week.
Since our lifestyle and consumer habits, combined with climate change, were having extreme consequences forthe lives of animals, more and more people felt the need to think more deeply about how we treated them, he said.
“The mass extinction of animals and plants caused by human beings’ actions and decisions calls for a code of animal ethics”, Lintner said, citing the 80 billion animals slaughtered worldwide each year under terrible conditions the destruction of wild animals’ habitat.
He added that a third of the earth’s land surface was needed in order to feed these 80 billion animals, but 80 per cent of this space could be used to produce plant food for human beings.
It was moreover a scandal that “more than a third of the animals bred for meat end up on rubbish dumps, either because animals have to be culled because of diseases or because meat has gone bad due to the lack of refrigerators in poor countries”, he said.
He believed that significantly reducing the consumption of animal food in intensive agriculture would become unavoidable because of the effects of animal husbandry on global warming.
Lintner said he welcomed blessings for animals on the feast day of St Francis of Assissi on 4 October, as it could help to express the Christian meaning of the relationship between humans and animals, but he felt there was still no “really good” liturgy for the blessing service.
He recalled the Alsatian theologian Albert Schweitzer’s (1875-1965) words on reverence for life: “If we interpret life as a gift of God, then we can but see every life as a gift of God’s kindness and love”.
The way in which we treated animals reflected something of our belief in a Creator God, Lintner said.