“Ask a Priest: Doesn’t ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ Include Animals?”

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Q:  I am striving to become vegan, and all my friends aren’t as supportive, since this society has portrayed meat as being the only food we have to live off. Did God want us to eat animals and abuse them? Would God be happy with this? It says in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shall not kill.” Then why are we killing animals? Doesn’t it include animals as well? They’re living creatures. I don’t find any justification to kill animals that God created. – S.H.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The short answer is that it is morally OK to use animals for food. They are part of the creation that God gives us to sustain us. Many of the rituals of the Old Testament, in fact, centered on the sacrificing (killing) of animals, which God certainly condoned.

The killing of animals for food doesn’t violate the Fifth Commandment. That commandment applies to human life. Nevertheless, people shouldn’t abuse animals.

A few numbers dealing the Seventh Commandment, which put things in perspective, are worth quoting from the Catechism:

Respect for the integrity of creation

2415. The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

2416. 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. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

2417. God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

2418. It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. … [end quoted material]

It is fine if you want to refrain from eating meat (though I hope it doesn’t compromise your health). But it is certainly morally acceptable to eat the meat of animals.

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