"Unclean" Animals?

Q. What does the Catholic Church teach about the “unclean” animals named in the Old Testament that were not to be eaten? (See Leviticus 11:1–47; Deuteronomy 14:3–21.)

A. The Old Testament dietary laws had important functions. Among other things, they limited the social interaction of the ancient Jews with pagan peoples, which would typically have taken place around the meal table. Those who didn’t observe the laws served “unclean” dishes in their homes, so the Jews couldn’t share meals with them.

As a result, following these laws provided at least a partial shield against the bad influences of pagan neighbors who practiced idolatry and certain immoral practices connected to such worship, such as child sacrifice and ritual prostitution in pagan temples.

Once the Son of God became Man, however, the rationale for this social separation ended among Christians. Christ’s Church was to be universal, including both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). As St. Paul observed: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon Him” (Romans 10:12).

For this reason, Jesus Himself declared all foods to be clean (that is, permitted for human consumption; see Mark 7:14–23). The Church later did the same (see Acts chapter 10).