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St. James Church starving cats: please send letter

March 19, 2012

Luis García


Church Groundskeeper Threatens Poisoning as Next Step

New York, NY – Monday, March 19, 2012 – The small colony of eight feral cats has not been fed for almost two weeks at historic St. James Church in lower Manhattan. Father Lino Gonsalves and Father Walter Tonelotto have locked out caretakers there in an effort to starve the cats off church property. The priests refuse to meet with the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals to discuss any plan for cat care, though caretakers are willing to address any concerns the church may have for security or hygiene. Where will the cats be welcomed if even a church is throwing them out?


Historic Manhattan church in catfight over feral colony

A historic Manhattan church that has served as a sanctuary for eight stray cats wants to evict its four-legged squatters — handing them a death sentence, says an animal rescue group that manages the colony.

Officials at St. James & St. Joseph’s Parish in Chinatown have stopped allowing rescuers to enter its property to feed the feral cat colony they have tended to for years.

The situation has grown increasingly tense in recent weeks, with one groundskeeper hinting the cats would be poisoned and rescuers threatened with arrest for trespassing.

Mike Phillips, community outreach coordinator of the Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, fired off a letter to Cardinal Dolan this week and begged him to intervene.

“That area near St. James is besieged with rodents, but none can be found anywhere in that tiny strip of the neighborhood thanks to the presence of the very healthy and well cared for cats” he wrote. “We are worried for their safety and would simply ask permission to access the inner courtyard to clean and offer daily sustenance to the cats.”

The Rev. Lino Gonsalves, who was recently named pastor of the church, said there was never a plan to poison the cats.

“If they want, they can take the cats,” he said. “These people are destroying our property by putting food all around.”

He said rescuers are free to place food outside the church grounds for the felines.

“The cats have the freedom to do whatever they like,” he said. “People are coming in and trying to make it as if they are helping the cats.”

But the caretakers of the colony said it’s not that simple. Feral cats are extremely territorial and will continue to return to the same location expecting to be fed.

Relocating them is a long and tricky process.

“There aren’t any ‘sanctuaries’ or horse barns where they can go,” said Elizabeth Eller, a 20-year trap-neuter-return (TNR) volunteer, who has been managing the colony since 2009.

All the cats were vaccinated for rabies and spayed or neutered, which controls the population and keeps catfighting and howling at bay.

It also keeps the rats away.

“If they are retrapped and released in another part of Chinatown or on the next block, they will return to the back of the rectory,” Eller said, noting that once they are removed, another group of stray cats — which have not yet been spayed or neutered — will move in to replace them.

“It’s just the law of their particular jungle,” she said.

She urged the church to follow in the path of Pope Benedict, a known lover of felines, who has shown great kindness toward the strays of Rome.

Ousting the cats, Eller said, “is not a very Christian thing to do.”


Those who wish to comment directly to St. James Church officials can e-mail Father Lino Gonsalves at (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 x2997.
You may use the sample letter provided below, but it would be best for you to write brief statements in your own words.


Dear Father Gonsalves,

I am gravely disturbed to learn of the deliberate starving of a cat colony on the grounds of St. James Church and I am writing to respectfully request that access to that these innocent creatures, God’s own creation, be granted so they can be fed and cared for immediately. This is TNR colony and should be respected for its sentience, one, and for its success, two. It is obvious that approval has been extended to kill these animals, and as such, I am demanding immediate intervention to protect them; even The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is widely known to adore and care for feral cats.

Allow me this moment to elaborate. Animals are sentient creatures who, as humans, experience joy, loneliness, fear, and pain. As humans, we unethically elevate ourselves to a status of superiority over all other beings, thereby rationalizing the brutality to which we subject them. We embrace this position as an elite class of six billion individuals, adopting euphemistic descriptions and apathetic banalities to justify this inequity. Speciesism, the discrimination of other beings, is a dangerous precept on which to stand, as immoral as sexism and racism; when human animals allow the exploitation and killing of 60 billion non-human animals globally and annually, we have become a group willingly complicit in such brutality, apathetic and selfish, disguising such maliciousness as excusable necessity, which is not only grossly unjust and immoral, but it is also exceedingly wrong.

Ours is not a challenge to be regarded as humans against humans but rather as a welcomed obligation, indeed privilege, to maintain an international attitude of compassion and justice to our non-human animal friends. We do not gain power or control by degrading animals but rather we desensitize ourselves to all cruelty and victims become mere numbers, statistics, or unethical financial means. Objectifying animals by condoning their abusers’ violent acts or rejecting animals as undeserving of empathy and respect only erodes our capacity for humaneness towards all living creatures.

It is impossible to contemplate supporting any church that excuses such blatant animal cruelty; as a direct consequence, I will condemn any further exploitation through a personal boycott. As such, please provide immediate relief for these innocent animals, allow access to them, and be a representation of animal compassion and strive to foster an ideal whereby animals are respected and empathized by your citizens.

I hope this letter finds you willing to scrutinize both your own involvement in the intentional exploitation of animals and your desire to therefore protect, rather than harm, them. I know your time is limited and I thank you for your attention to this urgent issue.


these cats only home
is a house of the lord.
where prayers are made
there should be no
acts untoward.
and yet on this holy
sacred ground,
you will not let
people feed these
cats who come around.
think of st francis
and what he would say
and change your

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

13 Comments leave one →
  1. karenlyonskalmenson permalink
    March 19, 2012 12:24 pm

    these cats only home
    is a house of the lord.
    where prayers are made
    there should be no
    acts untoward.
    and yet on this holy
    sacred ground,
    you will not let
    people feed these
    cats who come around.
    think of st francis
    and what he would say
    and change your


  2. Debs permalink
    March 19, 2012 2:02 pm

    If the church won’t let anyone in to feed the cats then they are the reason for their starvation, charge them with cruelty. And if the groundskeeper does go thru with his poisoning that is illegal, he can be brought up on charges too.


  3. March 19, 2012 4:52 pm

    And they call themselves Christians? Yeah, right! This is why religious and Christianity is getting a bad name and people are pulling away from it! I don’t get it – they won’t feed starving cats, but, they will molest little boys! That is what I think of the Catholic Church and it is their doing that many others also see them in this light!


  4. March 19, 2012 8:47 pm

    i am not surprised by anything heartless the catholic church does, they are hypocrites….has anyone gone there to rescue or feed these ferals? WTF, why are we writing about it when something should be done!!!!!


    • March 20, 2012 10:47 am

      I agree, and am hoping that all the publicity will force them to allow access to the cats. That group is willing, thanks, Debbie.


  5. vickie permalink
    March 19, 2012 9:26 pm

    the beggar at the door might be God…


  6. vickie permalink
    March 19, 2012 9:28 pm

    please .anyone…8 cats is not hard to find homes for..if You have an empty room to keep them just to get started…Go from there will find homes for them…


    • March 20, 2012 10:45 am

      They are all spayed/neutered, so I am hoping someone who reads the article will open their home if possible. Thanks, Vickie, and thanks for the quote – too true.


  7. March 20, 2012 12:03 am

    This is home for these cats. They are God’s creatures. They won’t be happy if they are relocated and bad things can happen. The deserve to stay at the only home they know. I have sent my letter, and I am praying God will touch their hearts and change their mind to allow the cats to stay and be fed as they are used to.


  8. christelle phoenix permalink
    March 21, 2012 6:05 am

    Help the cats.


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