Commentary

Who Are We to Judge Walter Palmer, Cecil the Lion’s Killer?

By Matt Abbott | September 10, 2015 | 10:12am EDT
Walter Palmer, left, poses with a lion he killed (not Cecil). (AP Photo)

The now-infamous dentist who “hunted” and killed the apparently-beloved Cecil the lion, is going back to work.

From the website of The Wall Street Journal:

“Walter Palmer, who has spent more than a month out of sight after becoming the target of protests and threats, intends to return to his suburban Minneapolis dental practice Tuesday.

“In an interview Sunday evening conducted jointly by the Associated Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune that advisers said would be the only one granted, Palmer said again that he believes he acted legally and that he was stunned to find out his hunting party had killed one of Zimbabwe’s treasured animals.”

(Check out some of the vociferous comments about this man on The Wall Street Journal’s website. For example, commenter Bob Shields wrote: “Palmer is a scumbag. He is quite correct to fear for family's [sic] safety. Better get them into the witness protection program.”)

If Palmer did in fact commit a crime, or crimes, during the hunt, he hasn’t been charged as of yet — and there's no indication that his arrest is imminent. That’s important to note.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never hunted, I have no desire to hunt, and, for what it’s worth, I’ve never owned a gun.

But is it immoral to hunt purely for sport? Some say yes; others say no.

As a Catholic commentator, and in light of Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S., I’m very interested in what the Catholic Church teaches on this subject. The thing is, there really is no “official” teaching on the morality of hunting. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes no mention of it.

Dentist Walter Palmer and Cecil the lion (AP Photo)

However, there is the following item from Catholic Answers, a reputable and orthodox/conservative Catholic apologetics organization located in California:

“God gave man stewardship over animals, and that includes using them for just purposes. Examples of just purposes that the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out are food, clothing, medical and scientific experimentation, and the work and leisure of man (CCC 2417–8). But man must not deliberately cause animals to suffer and die needlessly, because to do so would be contrary to man’s own dignity. Animals, properly speaking, do not have ‘rights’ because they are not human. But man does have the human responsibility to treat them with reasonable care.

“Does this exclude sport hunting? If a hunter were merely shooting an animal for the purpose of watching it suffer and die, yes. But the vast majority of hunters don’t do that. Some use the meat and skins of the animals. Others are helping to preserve the balance of nature by using carefully regulated licensing procedures to thin out animal overpopulation. Some hunt for sport, but the sport is in the tracking, gun skills, and trophy hunting, not in causing suffering and death to animals. All responsible hunters take care not to leave a wounded animal injured by a badly aimed shot to suffer; they make sure to track it down and end its suffering.

“In short, the Church does not oppose sport hunting.”

Thus, regarding Palmer, I suppose I (and everyone else, for that matter) should conclude: “Who am I to judge?”

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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