Click here to view article titled, "Turtle Races out at Cincinnati Festivals."

The Good News of the Gospel Applies To the Animals As Archbishop Speaks Out for the Animals at Church Festivals

Pictures of Recent APE Protest
Photographs by Duane Shaw

Animals like rats, gold fish and turtles heard good news when The Most Reverend Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Archbishop of Cincinnati, advised his clergy to encourage their parishioners to mirror the “compassion of Jesus”. He said, “It is counterproductive to elicit support for our churches and schools by inflicting terror and pain on animals”. In their campaign to stop church festivals from using live animals at gaming booths, animal rights activists were delighted when they were able to get the Archbishop to speak out on behalf of the animals. Such animal exploitation as rat roulette*, turtle races and ping pong gold fish, used to abound at Catholic parish summer festivals in Cincinnati until local activists took on the task of getting the abuse stopped.

The remarkable statement by Archbishop Pilarczyk is groundbreaking news for the animals because very little has ever been done by the church in practice, preaching or teaching to help them. That’s why so many animal rights activists have turned off Christianity. And yet many animal rights theorists are pointing out that Christianity has within it many themes that could be powerful for animal liberation. Besides, there is a large segment of the population that might be able to be won over if a true Christianity were to be made available to them. This has been the goal of the campaign to get live animals out of church festivals.

The campaign has been on going for a number of years.  First, well in advance of the festival date, the animal rightists contact the parish pastor and festival committee chairperson and ask them not to have the animal event. If cancellation is not promised, a picket is announced and the media, informed. Everything is done in an above board, courteous manner with examples of all literature given to parish administrators. Needless to say, all protests are carried out in a legal way. Often a picket or the threat of a picket is sufficient to get the parish to cancel the animal act.

Most of the festival organizers had never given a thought to the animal acts they were using. The festivals are big business for the parishes and they are always looking for some way to add to the excitement. Animal games seemed like an easy way to “enhance” the festival. They were surprised when animal rights people objected. The festival organizers denied that any cruelty was involved. They claimed they took good care of the animals. The activists constantly had to point out that the animals were not volunteers; that it was wrong to interfere in the life of the animals; that the animals were often “hurt” in their procurement, that the animals were “hurt” in the activity itself because, at the very least, they were terrified, and even though they did not cry out in pain, the animals were forced to do an activity not natural to them. The animals also were “hurt” when they were disposed of after they were no longer wanted by their exploiters.

To their credit none of the festival organizers wanted to be associated with causing pain to the animals. Getting them to realize that they were harming the animals was the biggest hurdle in getting the abuse stopped which is probably true in all cases of using animals in entertainment. Even when the bishop stepped in and announced that he did not think it appropriate “ use or abuse” animals at the festivals, some of the parishes decided to continue the animal events because they claimed they did not abuse the animals.

The other big difficulty in getting the animal acts stopped was the criticism of triviality. Nearly everyone, even some animal rights people, thought that turtle races, etc, at parish festivals, were just too trivial to bother with compared to the animal abuse of the circus, rodeo, factory farm and so on. What had to be pointed out is that using live animals at the parish festival was abusing animals on the church grounds, the very place where compassion and respect for all sentient beings should be taught. It was giving religious approval to the exploitation of animals. Turtle races or rat roulette are like a miniature circus: the same kind of problems exist. Our literature asks: “What would Jesus say if he came to a parish festival and found people yelling and screaming at helpless little animals being used for entertainment and money making at a game booth?”

Because there are so many parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati it was difficult to deal with more than a few each season. Finally we decided we had to get some way to speed up the process. Luckily we discovered that there were several Ohio laws that  could help. First, it is against Ohio law to receive a wild animal without a permit. Second, it is against Ohio law to release a wild animal into the wild. These two laws could be used to stop the turtle races. Third, it is against Ohio tax law for a non-profit organization to employ some one to run a game booth. This meant that the paid “rat man” could not be used to run the rat roulette game. More than likely the parish could not run the rat game without such outside help.

We also asked the bishop to oppose the use of animals at the festivals. Very fortunately the bishop complied. That meant we had what we needed to get the abuse stopped.

We are hoping that the campaign will be carried on in other dioceses. Other bishops might make statements, following the one we already have, and other states probably have laws similar to those of Ohio that could help. Our goal, though, was to get the games stopped on moral grounds. Going after animal abuse at such a grassroots level has made a lot of people think about the animals. It is a campaign that can be won and it is worth doing. Please note also, that there are many other festivals, like the fireman, the VFW, etc., etc. Moral persuasion can help here too. The law may also be available.

 The Archbishop’s statements follow.




 “I have been approached by some persons who find the use of animals (e.g., turtles, gold fish and rats) in gambling at festivals to be offensive. I do not intend to make a major issue of this, but I want to share with you the opinion that these people are correct, I do not believe it is appropriate to misuse animals in that way. Please give the matter some thought before you finalize the arrangements for your next festival”.

Clergy Communications Jan., 2000


A Reminder About Festivals

Last year, I observed that is was not appropriate to use live animals in gambling at our festivals and suggested that you give the matter some thought before finalizing arrangements for your next festival. At a time when we ask our parishioners to resist the power of the Culture of Death and encourage them to mirror the compassion of Jesus, it is counterproductive to elicit support for our churches and schools by inflicting terror and pain on animals.     

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

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 or St. Philip Nuri treated animals. (2416)


It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. (2418)

Clergy Communications, March,  2001.


Our flyer follows and may be used.


What would Jesus say if he came to a parish festival and found people yelling and screaming at helpless little animals being used for entertainment and money making at a game booth?  The animals are terrified and the people are laughing at the bewildered little creatures.  This is exploitation of innocent and helpless sentient beings.  It is a distressingly sad sight.

A game of betting on any animal may seem like innocent fun to some people, and concern for the animals involved may even seem trivial.  Many people probably never have given it a thought.  But these activities show a basic disrespect and disregard for other sentient beings that St. Francis called our brothers and sisters.

Animals exist in their own right and are not ours to use in any way we wish.  Each animal is the subject of a life and has a sense of itself with a feeling of well-being and a feeling of wariness.  Animals feel pain and they know when they are being abused. Besides hurting the animal, how we treat animals has an effect in the larger scheme of things.  Our attitudes toward each other, the animals, the earth and indeed, to life itself are all interconnected. 

The cruelty to which these little creatures are subjected at a gaming booth may not be readily apparent but it happens in several ways: in the procurement, in the shipping, in the event itself and in the disposal of the animals after the event.  To each being, its life is precious and we do not have the right to disrupt that life, especially for such unnecessary purposes and when many alternatives are available.  Clearly, live animals need not be used in this way.

All major religions teach compassion and kindness to animals. In the Genesis creation story found in the Judeo-Christian scripture, humankind is exhorted by God to be the steward of all the animals. The Hebrew text states that when the animals were created, God blessed them and “saw that they were good”.

To have a game booth with live animals at a parish-sponsored affair therefore seems to condone a disregard for the divine instruction as well as showing a disregard for the welfare of the animals involved. This is particularly odious because the parish is the very institution that should be teaching respect for both.

Why would anyone try to make money by exploiting these little creatures?  By capturing and selling them?  By displaying them in a booth for money making?  By betting on them for excitement? And why would anyone want to support the immoral companies that supply these animals?  Trafficking in animals is always abusive, no matter who the traffickers are, whether a far away company or a local procurer. Trafficking in animals is not a worthy activity and it is not good for animals or for people.

Also, consider the image that is conveyed regarding the integrity of the festival promoters and the lack of respect for the religious message that is preached by the parish. What example is given to children or other onlookers?  Could persons of other religious persuasions be scandalized?  Surely it is time to reevaluate our attitude toward animals, our fellow sentient beings on the earth.

We hope the people of the parish will discuss this matter and discontinue the use of live animals at the parish festival.  If you share these concerns, please call the pastor, the festival chairperson or the parish council and express your opinion.

APE :  Animals, People and the Earth

Elizabeth Farians