Catholic Law on Bullfighting

Authored by: Margarita Carretero-González

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


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Every year in Spain, thousands of bulls are tortured to death in corridas and other events as part of the celebrations held during religious festivals associated with the liturgy of the Catholic ChurCh. Despite the clear resonances of fertility rites connected to ancient bull worshipping found all over the Mediterranean, bullfighting not only has been transformed into a strong symbol of Spanish national identity, but has also become associated with devout Catholic fervour, most bullfighters expressing openly their devotion for a particular avatar of the Virgin Mary or a patron saint. In view of this paradoxical association between Christian zeal and torture, animal associations in countries where bullfighting is common constantly urge their ecclesiastical authorities to voice their opposition to this sort of practices. Unfortunately, the answer is always the same: silence. The Spanish Episcopal Conference, for instance, very active in denouncing any political reform that directly affects their doctrine, have yet to pronounce themselves on this matter. However, this was not always the case. In the past, representatives of the Catholic Church joined the ranks of intellectuals against bullfighting, the most important expression being Pope Pius V’s bull De Salutis Gregis Dominici (1567), which condemned and forbade any blood sports, including bullfighting, and threatened excommunication for anyone supporting or participating in them. Shouldn’t we have seen a movement forward rather than retrogression in the last five hundred years? My aim in this paper is to examine the different shapes the cult of the bull took in ancient cultures of the Mediterranean and the progressive reification of the animal which has rendered individuals mere objects to exalt human superiority. I will also be looking at the different attitudes exposed by the Catholic Church throughout history, ranging from threat of excommunication to the perplexing silence that characterises the institution at present.

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