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Catholic parish accused of animal cruelty, remains silent
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An incredible commotion is brewing around a parish church in Stephensville, Wisconsin where activists have targeted a 44-year-old event that they say is cruel to animals. St. Patrick's Church holds an annual pig wrestling event were pigs are allegedly wrestled and placed into a bucket.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St. Patrick's parish church in Stephensville, WI has become the target of animal activists over an annual pig wrestling event which has been held for 44 years. The event has come to the attention of activists who claim the event is cruel to animals and inconsistent with Christian values.
The event is planned for this weekend, and it involves a muddy fenced pen, into which several wrestlers may enter to face off against a chosen pig. According to the local NBC affiliate, which interviewed event organizer, Glenn Handel, "Anywhere from two to five or six people will get into the ring. We'll size a hog accordingly."
Catholic Online wanted to reach out to the parish for comment by calling the parish office, however an initial call was immediately disconnected and subsequent calls were to a busy line. The parish priest, who must be fully aware of the controversy, has reportedly dodged all requests for comment at a time when comment and leadership are critical.
Other contacts we have networked with on the story report similar results.
This is unacceptable behavior for a parish priest. Period.
The brief comments made by Handel and shared via a local report are insufficient and do not explain the Church's position on this issue.
Regardless of the legal nature of the activity, or the moral implications, the fact that this has created such a public controversy is a leadership moment for the priest and the diocese. Why not accept questions or issue a statement?
Catholic Online also contacted the office of the diocese of Green Bay and left a voicemail message with their department of communications requesting a statement.
Our questions include:
What does the event fund or support?
How does it work?
What happens to the animals?
Has a participant, or animal ever been injured?
Another question, one which will probably go unanswered, why is the parish being singled out for an event that happens regularly across the country at county fairs and other public venues?
An answer to these questions, as well as a brief discussion of how this event fits into overall Catholic instruction, is an opportunity for the Church to demonstrate moral leadership. A non-statement simply makes the parish appear as if it is shirking its responsibility to the public, which has legitimate questions.
Catholic moral teaching on the subject may be narrow, although there may be additional instruction on the issue of which we have not been informed (comments are welcome).
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There is no clear teaching on the issue of animal cruelty, or how animals should be treated in general. Certainly Pope Francis has critiqued the decision of some people to keep pets rather than children. So what is clear is that humans outrank animals in the order of things, but this is not to say that animal abuse should be tolerated.
Although animals do not have rights as humans do, cruelty to animals should be avoided, especially when it is senseless. The 19th century Catholic theologian, Cardinal Tommaso Zigliara explained, "When, therefore, man, with no reasonable purpose, treats the brute cruelly he does wrong, not because he violates the right of the brute, but because his action conflicts with the order and the design of the Creator (Philosophia Moralis, 9th ed., Rome, p. 136 - via New Advent)."
Medieval theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas previously expressed concern that people who treat animals cruelly would be more inclined to do the same to humans.
Without a statement from the parish, it is difficult to fully assess the event and its moral implications, however the complete silence on the issue via the parish priest is worthy of criticism, even if the event were fully consistent with the law and Catholic moral instruction.
It must be noted that the essence of such an event --what makes an event entertaining for the public, is the distress that the animal feels at being pursued and manhandled into a bucket. Although the event has been enjoyed for 44 years, this is not justification that it is without cruelty.
Presently, Jordan Turner, President of Global Conservation Group Inc., has urged the public to sign a petition against the event which has over 8,000 signatures. The petition suggests that such an event in inconsistent with Christian values and ethics. His organization is asking the church to find more humane activities that don't involve harming animals.
Turner explained in an Examiner.com article that the event may violate Wisconsin's law against cruelty to animals and that, "pigs are punched in the face, kicked, body-slammed, jumped on, yelled at and thrown into a bucket."
Unfortunately, it is impossible, from a Catholic perspective to fully evaluate the activity without more information, particularly from those involved in it. Of course what the pigs face this weekend may not be much worse than what we subject pigs to on a regular basis, given their use in our diet, which many also claim is a use fraught with cruelty. Given this likely fact, is the St. Patrick's event that much worse?
Well, one answer is to say that one cruelty never justifies another.
Catholic Online is still awaiting responses from the Diocese of Green Bay as well as St. Patrick's parish. We will update you when those responses arrive.
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