New Mexico bishops blast cockfighting

by John L. Allen Jr.

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In his famous address at the United Nations in October 1965, Pope Paul VI said that Catholics are “experts in humanity.” His point was that no area of human concern, however seemingly remote from traditional “religious” matters, can fail to engage the interest of the church.

For the latest bit of proof, consider a January 18 declaration from the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued to State Senator Mary Jane Garcia, in support of her bill to ban cockfighting. It’s the first time a Catholic body has ever taken an official position on the subject.

The conference is composed of New Mexico’s three bishops – Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, and Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup.

Allen Sanchez, executive director of the conference, said in a prepared statement: “The church teaches that we are called to a stewardship of God’s creatures, and there are principles in how to care for animals. … The bishops recognize that cockfighting is abusive of God’s good creation … Cockfighting promotes violence.”

Proponents of cockfights have argued that it’s part of traditional Hispanic culture, with some insisting that the practice is actually covered by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War in 1848. (A 2003 opinion from the state’s Attorney General disagreed).

In their statement, the bishops declared, “It is not a cultural treasure.”

Polling suggests that many New Mexicans agree. A 2004 Albuquerque Journal poll found that 66 percent of the state’s residents, including 59 percent of Hispanics, support a ban.

Garcia was delighted with the church’s position.

“It seems appropriate that in a state whose patron is St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, the church should take a stance against this cruelty,” she said. “I am particularly pleased by their recognition that so-called ‘cultural’ argument is not valid.”

Currently, only New Mexico and Louisiana permit cockfights. Massachusetts became the first American state to enact a ban in 1836.

A group called “Animal Protection Voters” in New Mexico, which advocates a ban, has described cockfighting as “nothing more than a knife fight between two chickens.”

“The birds’ natural spurs are replaced with razor-sharp knives or ice pick-like gaffs. They fight until one bird is no longer “game” or dies, while spectators place bets. There’s big money in cockfighting and winners can take home many thousands of dollars,” the group’s website states.

Sanchez said he hopes the ban will pass, so that the New Mexico legislature can address “more important” issues, including the church’s call for an end to the death penalty and its opposition to Governor Bill Richardson’s proposal for stem cell research.

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