Here, in brief, is my response: First, I do not take my bearings on such controversial questions from supposed “Catholic teaching” (which regarding animals is highly diverse over centuries); rather, we need to consult experience examined by reason. Second, it is very odd, if not sheerly contradictory, to say that “animals do not have souls.” The priests with whom I was speaking all knew Latin, so they should have known better. “Animal” is derived from the Latin word “anima,” which means “soul.” According to ancient understanding, preserved in Latin, animals are beings having soul (anima). The evidence is that they are self-moving and feeling, and give evidence of some thinking. In the case of dogs, they can reason about cause and effect, and clearly are capable of making choices. To claim that they “have no souls” denies experience.
Now, do dogs and such creatures “go to heaven”? Do human beings “go to heaven”? For the present, let this suffice: All life is in God, who is “not the God of the dead, but of the living.” To live is to share in what we call God. To die is a cessation of biological processes. If any creature lives beyond death--as we surely trust we do--it is not because of some power of their own, but because of God. Each lives by God’s free gift. And consider the words of Pope John Paul: “When God gives life, He gives it forever.” Only to human beings? Why? I put it this way: In God each being lives forever, for God is forever. “Because I live, you will live,” as Jesus said. To exclude non-human creatures from God’s gift seems arrogantly human-centered to me.
As we approach Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, please reflect on the humble wisdom of a beautiful medieval poem, known as the “Magnum Mysterium,” “the great mystery.” I am longing to set this to music:
O great Mystery, and wonderful Sacrament,
that animals should see the LORD
lying in a manger.