The controversy was sparked on Sunday when the white birds, a symbol of peace, were released onto St Peter’s Square by Pope Francis. The doves were swiftly attacked by a crow and a seagull, in front of tens of thousands of people attending the Pope’s weekly prayer service.
Responding to the incident, animal rights group Enpa (the National Authority for the Protection of Animals) called on the pontiff to modernize the Catholic Church’s treatment of animals.
“Do not use animals and their lives anymore, for these already outdated traditions,” Enpa was quoted in La Stampa as saying.
“Animals that are born in captivity…are not to the same extent able to recognize predators and are therefore unable to escape from dangerous situations,” the organization said.
Reports of the attack said that the crow pecked at one of the Pope’s doves while the other lost feathers. It is unknown whether the pontiff’s feathered friends survived their ordeal, but Enpa said it was unlikely they lived.
“Reintroducing them into the unknown environment exposes them to needless danger, condemning them to certain death,” Enpa said.
It deemed the Vatican’s actions “unacceptable” and pushed for the Catholic Church to adopted a more humane approach to its peace rallies.