Matt C. Abbott
Priest-author: humans trump animals--including Harambe
By Matt C. Abbott
June 5, 2016

Many people are familiar with the recent incident involving Harambe, a gorilla that was shot and killed by a zoo employee when a young boy got through a barrier and fell into the gorilla enclosure. Some expressed anger that the zoo killed the animal.

The Catholic news and commentary website Crux recently ran a piece by Charles C. Camosy in which he argues that "non-human animals like Harambe have a moral status approaching that of personhood." Click here to read it.

I asked Father John Trigilio Jr., author, theologian and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, to critique Professor Camosy's commentary.

Father Trigilio's analysis is as follows (slightly edited):
    The article is a precise example of the logical fallacy of reductio ad absurdam. Yes, popes and the Catechism have consistently taught that human beings should not abuse animals, but they always have dominion over them nevertheless. Animals are not equal to humans. Pets cannot be replacements for children and friends.

    As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI always says, it's not a question of either/or; rather, Catholicism is the great religion of both/and. We can have and cherish pets while at the same time giving higher respect and dignity to human beings. Animals are creatures of God, as are human beings and angels. Only creatures with an intellect and will are persons, however.

    Human beings and angels are persons. Only beings with a free will can make moral decisions and commit moral acts. Animals have neither a rational intellect nor a free will. Animals act out of instinct. When frightened or angered, they attack. When hungry, they eat. When tired, they sleep.

    Ever see a dog or cat go on a diet? Pooch or kitty cannot see themselves in a mirror and say to themselves 'Oh my, those crunchy treats have put too many pounds on me. I have to diet!' Animals are incapable of ignoring their instinct. Hungry animals do not refuse food so they can lose weight and look better to fellow animals.

    Aquinas did teach that animals have souls, but they are not rational souls, nor are they immortal souls. Any living being has a soul (principle of life). They most basic soul is vegetative, which allows a plant to have nutrition, growth and reproduction. The vegetative soul dies (ceases to exist) when the plant dies. Inanimate matter is precisely that: matter without soul (anima). Rocks are not alive and they do not die. Plants are alive, but they eventually die (body and soul).

    Animals also have souls, which make them alive. They have sentient souls, which, in addition to vegetative souls, have nutrition, growth and reproduction. They also possess sense knowledge. They can see, taste, hear, touch and smell. Like plant souls, animal souls are mortal. They die when the animal body dies.

    Human souls have both qualities of plant (vegetative) and animal (sentient) souls, but they also possess reason; hence, they are called rational souls. Rational souls have a rational intellect and a free will. Human souls are also immortal. Human bodies are not immortal and therefore die, but the human soul lives forever. Angelic souls are higher than human souls; they possess an angelic intellect (infused) and angelic will but have no body since they are pure spirit.

    Harambe was a gorilla and thus an animal. He was not human. He had an animal (sentient) soul. No free will, only instinct. We cannot and should not raise animals above, nor equal to, human beings.

    That said, it's inhumane to torture or abuse animals. Man is assigned stewardship over creation as well as dominion. Natural resources must be preserved for future generations, but human beings have a right to life and have a right to access of earthly necessities of life. Thus, humans do trump animals, plants and rocks. All the church is saying is that we do not cheapen animal life to the level of being casually disposable. Killing animals just for the sake of killing is wrong, but it's not murder. Murder is the unjust taking of an innocent human life – like the unborn who are murdered by abortion.

    The article goes off the deep end when it hypothesizes:

      Regardless of whether this technically qualifies as personhood, non-human animals like Harambe have a moral status approaching that of personhood. This is a high moral status, worthy of significant attention, especially given the fact that we often treat such animals as mere things to be used and thrown-away.

    Animals are incapable of moral acts since they have no free will. They are not approaching personhood. We can use animals for work and food. Hunting for sport is also allowed since it prevents overpopulation in the herd that can cause starvation.

    No one was 'throwing away' Harambe. They were prioritizing human life over animal life. They boy was being tossed around by the gorilla. It should be a no brainer: human life trumps animal life. It's insane and immoral to spend more time, money and effort to save whales while doing less or nothing to save innocent unborn children from being murdered by abortion every day.

    Yes, the gorilla had to be killed to save the child, just as a vicious dog must be when in the process of mauling a human being. That's the hierarchy and priority line of life: only when necessary, but it must never be avoided to opt for the lower being.
© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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