To the editor:
Pope John Paul II proclaimed "animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with them." He directed a catechism that "animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence, they bless Him and give Him glory. Thus men owe them kindness."
However, animal protection organizations along with some Catholic clergy unsuccessfully tried to persuade John Paul to condemn bullfighting — a popular "sport" in Spain and Mexico that involves smearing Vaseline in bulls’ eyes, stabbing them, and when they have fallen but are still conscious, cutting off their ears, hooves and tails — and Spanish patron saints’ celebrations that sometimes include setting live bulls’ horns afire and tossing live goats from high towers.
Sixteenth century Pope Pius V threatened excommunication for those who participated in or supported bullfights or religious celebrations involving animal abuse.
In the 1930s, Pope Pius XII forbade priests from attending bullfights, and refused a gift from the bullfighters’ union.
John Paul deviated from such precedents. He sometimes honored bullfighters by granting them private audiences. He never formally responded to any petitions urging him to address specific animal cruelty issues. John Paul, who could have stopped some of the cruelty, did not do so.
Pope Benedict XVI, who beautified John Paul, has also been largely unresponsive to these issues. As a cardinal, however, Benedict criticized the cruelty of force feeding birds for foie gras and confining hens in cramped wire cages.
While I believe John Paul advanced human welfare in some ways, his failure to implement his own teachings about animal welfare should disqualify him from sainthood. But his proclamations about kindness to animals should inspire all of us to apply the Golden Rule — "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" — to our relationships with all living beings.