Pope Benedict XVI is a prominent cat lover who has lovingly tended to feral colonies in his day and has defended the care of feral cats on Vatican property.
He’d be appalled at what’s happening right now at St James Church in lower Manhattan.
Father Lino Gonsalves and Father Walter Tonelotto have locked out caretakers who have tended to the church’s feral cat colony for years in an effort to starve the cats off church property.
Every cat in the colony is neutered and vaccinated per Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) guidelines, the only proven effective and humane method for managing feral cat populations. The priests refuse to meet with the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals to discuss any plans for the cats’ care even though caretakers have expressed their willingness to address concerns the priests may have for hygiene or security.
In recent weeks the incendiary situation has heated up, with one groundskeeper hinting that the cats would be poisoned and rescuers arrested for trespassing. The cats have gone more than two weeks without food.
According to the New York Daily News, Father Gonsalves denied the poisoning allegations, saying “The cats will not be poisoned, but we don’t want the people to feed them on church property.” The church owns all property in the vicinty.
St. James’ feral colony has been touted previously as “a model TNR project for which the church could be credited with humane leadership by example.” Starving the cats sets a cruel precedent for others pondering how to manage their own feral colonies.
Mike Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance, said, “The church is missing a fantastic teaching opportunity for compassion and kindheartedness. Parishioners in New York City and around the world are looking for a humane and effective way to address free-roaming cats on their property. The best service to the community would be to support TNR, which is proven to be effective, stops reproduction, controls nuisance behaviors and the spread of disease, but above all, is humane and compassionate.”
So it sounds like Frs. Lino Gonsalves and Walter Tonelotto need some remedial catechism courses. Paragraph 2416 of the Catholic Catechism states: 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 of Assisi or St Philip Neri treated animals.
How to Save the St James Cats
Those who wish to comment directly to St. James Church officials can e-mail Father Lino Gonsalves at firstname.lastname@example.org. (The Archdiocese of New York and the Vatican will be copied on your e-mail.) You may also call Father Lino Gonsalves of St. James Church at (212) 267-8376 or Joseph Zwilling, Communications Director for the Archdiocese of New York, at (212) 371-1011 ×2997.
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