Effects of the Fall

Question: Why do animals suffer? It is apparent that nature has always featured death even before the Fall of Man. Therefore, I don’t see how the Fall could explain why animals suffer. 

— Pat

Answer: If one draws simply from the Book of Genesis, then the answer is that death, violence and chaos in nature all resulted from the Original Sin. Not only were Adam and Eve affected by what they did, but so was all of creation. God told Adam, “Cursed be the ground because of you … ” (Gn 3:17). In other words: Paradise is no longer; death has entered the world and sin is its cause.

Scripture links suffering in creation to sin, but the relationship may not be as simple as cause and effect. Perhaps it is enough to say that our sin intensified the chaos of creation, but was not its only cause. Scientific evidence is strong that long before man or sin, there were upheavals in creation ­— animals, such as dinosaurs, killed each other for food, and there was death, even mass extinctions.

Thus, the suffering of animals is linked to sin, but mysteriously to other things too. Consider that there is a circle of life that seems apt for the world. Last year’s leaves serve as nutrients in the soil for this year’s growth. Hurricanes distribute heat from the equator toward the poles. Animals feed upon each other, but also keep their populations in proper balance. There is a genius in the system, even if it shocks some of our sensibilities.

While it does seem clear that animals do suffer physical pain and experience fear, a lot of the suffering we impute to them may be a projection. Much of human suffering is rooted in our sense of self and our awareness of death. An animal may have an instinctual response to danger and have little or no emotional feelings other than the fear that stimulates fight or flight. It is hard to say.

Ultimately in matters like these, it may be best to admit and revere that we do not have all the answers. Suffering, be it human or animal, is a great mystery. 

Homosexuality

Question: I have been a Catholic all my 35 years. But I am becoming increasingly angry at how the Church abuses its power and, among many things, excludes gay people from getting married. I pretty much know you won’t agree, but I have to speak out.

Name withheld

Answer: You exemplify an interesting phenomenon wherein the modern world, which is often disdainful of Church “power,” then turns and expresses exaggerated notions of Church power.

In terms of divine moral law, the Church has no authority whatsoever to overturn the biblical teaching against homosexual acts, or to redefine the parameters of marriage as given by God in the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. The Church is the servant of the Word of God (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 86), not an all-powerful entity that is able to tear pages from the Bible, cross out lines or overrule it. The sinfulness of homosexual acts (and also illicit heterosexual acts such as fornication and adultery) is consistently taught at every stage of biblical revelation, to the last books.

Hence, I would urge you to reconsider that what you call an abuse of power, is actually, a humble recognition of the limits of her power by the Church.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.