[Editor’s note: Founded in 1929, the U.K.-based group “Catholic Concern for Animals” is among the leading advocates for animals rights in Catholicism, and is also a founding member of the Animal Interfaith Alliance. Recently Crux contributor Charles Camosy spoke with Chris Fegan, the Chief Executive of the group.]
Camosy: Tell us a bit about the history of Catholic Concern for Animals. How long has your organization been doing what you’re doing?
Fegan: Catholic Concern for Animals was originally known under the name Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare and has been in existence since the early part of the 20th Century.
Catholic Concern for Animals thus began, and it was made up of Catholics who had been concerned with the problem of animal suffering and the various efforts to mitigate and relieve it, and who felt the need of a deepened attention to this matter among the Catholics of Great Britain.
The first meeting was held in November 1929, with the Reverend WN Roche, Rector of the Church of the Holy Rosary, Marylebone, in the Chair. About fifteen persons were present. The meeting was concerned chiefly with the possibility of a Catholic Society for kindness to animals.
Accordingly, a second meeting was held on December 17th, 1929, and another on February 28th 1930, when a provisional committee was appointed.
The object of the proposed society was declared to be: “To bring our relations with the creatures of God into harmony with His will and purpose for them and us. To try to learn from the Holy Scriptures, the example of the Saints, the rules and customs of the Church how God would have us think of His creatures and treat them.”
It is important to note that the new organization was building on the work of both Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Henry Manning, who had taken an active role in animal welfare matters in Britain during the late 19th Century.
What do you find on your agenda these days as an organization? Where are you putting your energy?
CCA is an educational charity, and our current remit is not very dissimilar to those that were agreed at the meeting in 1930. It’s as follows: “CCA is active in promoting animal welfare and related issues throughout the Catholic world, and educating all Catholics (and others) on Catholic teaching and practice on the issue of animal welfare and compassion in line with published documents such as Pope Francis’s encyclical letter, Laudato Si’. CCA does this through various means, including the ARK Magazine and social media.”
You’ll see that we have kept in close connection with our founding principles, but that we now operate worldwide from our early beginnings in the UK and we use modern technology to try and reach and educate the 1.4 billion Catholics across the globe in animal welfare issues, as well as by using the more traditional methods.
My sense from my students and other young people I meet is that they are very much open to animal protection as an issue, even if on other matters they lean a bit more conservative or traditional. What’s your experience?
It is the case that young people are open to animal welfare/protection/rights matters, and of course what is seen as traditional or “conservative” varies from country to country and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
What I often find is that Catholic people of all ages, both young and old, are often unaware of the strong animal welfare tradition of the Catholic Church to which they belong. For example, they have heard of St Francis, and vaguely know that he loved animals, but that’s often as far as they go.
It’s the role of CCA to fill those gaps in knowledge, and to bring the rich tapestry of the history of the Church in this area to their attention. That includes the lives of the saints with animals, including St Francis, which is important here, as well as the formal teaching of the Church such as Laudato Si’.
How have figures in the Catholic hierarchy reacted to your work?
As I mentioned, we were formed on the back of the work on animals undertaken by such senior Catholic Church figures as Newman and Manning, and we’re closely connected to the senior clergy to this day.
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool is CCA President, and we work with senior clergy throughout the world.
For example, only recently I had a very productive meeting in India with the Archbishop of Goa [in India] and his senior colleagues about how we can work together there for animal protection and welfare. We have a similar relationship with senior Catholic Clergy elsewhere in the world, and we’re building and increasing our strong links with clergy at all levels and in all countries on a regular basis.
We have had support from the very highest level of the Catholic Church, and, in 1967, we were honored to have a delegation received by Pope Paul VI in which he praised our work by saying, “Their lofty goals reflect in a very beautiful way the gentle love which is an important fruit of Christian charity” and what they seek to accomplish “is in conformity with the ends which God had in creating the world.”
This support and endorsement of the work by the pontiff of the work of CCA is of great significance, and his last quote in particular resonates in our work to this day and on an on-going basis.
What is the best way for Crux readers to learn more about and/or support Catholic Concern for Animals?
Crux readers can learn more about CCA from our website, and can also follow us on our Facebook page and via Twitter (@catholicanimal). They can also join CCA as full members from anywhere in the world, and they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our flagship magazine is sent by hard copy to all CCA members as part of their membership package, but can be available in PDF form also via e-mail from us.
We are always in need of funds to help support and continue our work, of course, in the same way as any other charity, and we are always very grateful for donations to support our work. These can also be made via our website, or by direct contact with myself.