On 28th July 2023, animal rights activists of the organisations PETA, Animalisti Italia, and Ente Nazionale Protezione Animale, staged a publicity stunt near the Vatican City, dressed in red capes and fake horns to urge the Catholic Pope Francis to denounce the barbaric practice of bullfighting. They carried a banner with the words “Catholic Church: Silence is Violence! Denounce bullfighting” held up near the ancient Roman Castel Sant’Angelo fortress on the banks of the River Tiber, in view of St Peter’s Basilica.

The barbaric bullfighting events are often held in honour of Catholic saints or during holy Christian celebrations, as is the case of the infamous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona as part of the Saint Fermin festival. 

Mimi Bekhechi, PETA U.K. Vice President, said, “The Bible asks us to be merciful to all God’s creations, yet bulls are tortured in the name of saints at some Catholic celebrations. Pope Francis is widely revered for his kindness to animals, so PETA U.K. is asking him to communicate to the world’s 1 billion Catholics that bullfights violate Christian virtues.” The Vatican’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In 1567, Pope Pius V banned bullfighting and wrote in his encyclical Laudato Si’ that “every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity.” However, despite Popes cannot annul de edicts of previous Popes, bishops under his successor ignored the ban—and they have been doing ever since. 

Despite being a Franciscan and Saint Francis of Assisi being the patron of animals, Pope Francis has been a disappointment to many vegans as he has not made much of a difference regarding how some Catholics treat animals. For instance, last year he stated that it would be prudent for some parts of the world to “consume less meat”, but it did not go as far as suggesting those who became vegan are doing a good thing. In 2019, the organization Million Dollar Vegan (now called Gen V) urged him to give up meat for Lent, but he refused (even if Lent was supposed to be a short period of abstinence). He also failed to encourage Christians to choose vegan food for their Easter feasts in 2021, as PETA’s petition asked him to do.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.