accused of animal cruelty, remains silent
August 7, 2014
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
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
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
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
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.
We have also contacted the parish regarding this uncivilized and brutal
activity. It is in violation of Wisconsin Chapter
951, titled "Crimes Against Animals", which outlaws cockfighting, dogfighting,
and any other similar fighting between animals or animals and humans. In
addition, being a spectator of such an event is also in violation of Chapter
951. Those prosecuted could face felony animal fighting charges.
It seems as if any abusive, bullying
activity can somehow be justified under the guise of religion and tradition. Our
moral progress is hindered by such violent and thoughtless activities. St.
Patrick’s parish seems to be blind to the suffering and inhumanity of exploiting
sentient, intelligent beings in such a manner. For shame!