HVS Conference on Non-Human Sentience

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Description of the Conference

The Conference on Non-Human Sentience, was called by Leo XIV in the Apostolic Letter "Sapientum Concilium". In the Letter, Leo explains his reasons, among them "We have been requested to issue Decretals upon these matters, and upon our desk are more than a dozen solicitations for rescripts with respect to individual Bishops and Ordinaries’ decisions relating to non-humans. Suggestions have been made that a full Apostolic Constitution is required to guide the Church in this matter. In this we concur. Yet we would not proceed in such a momentous matter without the assistance and wisdom of the Church’s Bishops, scholars, and theologians."

He also refers, in relatively dry terms, to the last Vatican attempt to deal with the matter. A juicier description can be found in the account of journalist David Tedeschi, who was present at that Sixtus' Council.

A General Overview of the Conference:

  • The Conference will take place at the newly-renovated and expanded Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, in Rome.
  • The Conference will be scheduled over three consecutive years, with General Sessions interspersed with Committee work, and recesses for Delegates to return to their diocese and institutions for consultation and visitation.
  • Conference attendees will each be assigned status according to their role as approved by the Conference Committee:
    • Delegates will be seated on the floor during Plenary Sessions, will be permitted to vote, and will be permitted to formally submit reports, recommendations and requests for consideration by the Conference.
    • Advisors will be provided gallery seating, will be permitted to serve on Committees as requested, and can request the privilege of addressing the Conference at the discretion of the President, Proctor, and Convenor. They are empowered to vote or to make recommendations, reports, or requests.
    • Observers will be provided gallery seating, and can be requested by Committee Convenors or the Conference Convenor to comment upon matters under discussion at the Convenor's discretion.
  • Only Catholic Ordinaries (Bishops, Archbishops, Abbots/Abbesses, Presidents of Orders, Congregations, or Catholic Universities) are eligible to have their qualifications and requests for Delegate status reviewed.
  • The strictest formal protocol will obtain during all General Sessions, with the Holy Father present both for the Opening and the Final Report of the Conference. A less-formal but strictly-enforced protocol will prevail in Committees.
  • Committees have been established in advance of the Conference by the Conference Organizing Committee, and Convenors would be selected from among Delegates expressing an interest in the Committee by the Holy Father.
  • All Recommendations, and the Final Report of the Conference, will be formally submitted to the Holy Father under the Seal of the Conference, by supermajority vote of the Plenary Session. Minority and dissenting reports could be submitted, but without the Seal of the Conference.

Constitution and Rules

In order to ensure smooth running of the Conference, all attendees and delegates should read the Constitution and the Rules.


Proctor: Vicente Cardinal Ilundain y Esteban

The Proctor acts as the Pope’s personal representative to the Conference, when the Pope is not present in person, and he has final disposition in all matters of dispute. He is also empowered to accept and transmit questions or requests by the Conference to the Pope, and to convey the Pope’s response to the Conference.

Cardinal Esteban is a retired Cardinal who is held in deep respect by everyone. He is not seen to be a "liberal" or a "conservative" in the doctrinaire sense; he has frequently taken rather unexpected, but always theologically sound, positions on various issues. He was a Vatican bureaucrat for most of his career but managed to avoid many of the pitfalls of such service. He always provided a 'humanizing' face to whatever office he fulfilled, and naturally became a confidant and mentor to many of his colleagues.

President: Jean-Paul Cardinal Renard

The President attends and presides at all General Sessions, opens all sessions of the Conference except those opened by the Pope, conducts all extraordinary business during General Sessions, and acts as Convenor of the Conference Officers acting in Committee. He can designate a President pro tempore to open or preside at any session in the event of his inability to discharge these duties. In the absence of such designation, if the President is incapacitated, the Vice President functions as President pro tempore.

A Cardinal Renard is highly orthodox and considered extremely conservative among the officers of the Curia. He has held the post of President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under two Popes, and his unofficial nickname is "the Blue Pope" (believed to refer to his passion for extreme orthodoxy.) He is a man of intense personal piety, and as a young man became known for his courage and compassion in working in some of the most dangerous of the Church's mission areas.

Vice-President: Michael Stephen Cardinal Hume

The Vice President has custody of all materials, documents, records, and matters submitted to the Conference for consideration, receives all requests from Advisors and other interested parties to address the Conference, and ensures that the Officers of the Conference acting in Committee make appropriate dispositions of all such requests. He also assumes the functions of the President in the event of the President’s inability to discharge his duties.

Cardinal Hume is considered one of the most liberal of the College of Cardinals. Agnostic in his youth, he was imprisoned and tortured for assisting Muslims to escape a genocidal revolutionary regime in his home country. After a counter-revolution freed him, he converted to Catholicism and has become one of the Church's most noted scholars and writers, renowned for his work on the Council for InterReligious Dialogue.

Secretary: Emmanuel Cardinal Thiandoum

The Secretary ensures the accurate recording of all proceedings of the Conference, and has custody of the Conference’s records. He accepts the enrollment of credentialed Delegates and maintains the Conference Roster, and gives or ensures the giving of all required notices. He has custody of the Conference Seal, and is empowered to affix the Conference Seal to any instrument requiring it, attesting the affixing by his signature.

Cardinal Thiandoum is relatively conservative in many areas, but has worked unstintingly to increase Third World participation in the Church's leadership, and to advance acceptance of some of the non-traditional views, rites, and theologies of mission churches, efforts which have sometimes brought him into conflict with fellow-conservatives who might otherwise be his allies. He is currently the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a fairly arduous office but one that gives him a platform to advance the Church's awareness of the achievements of Third World Catholics.


The Convenor conducts all regular business during General Sessions, ensures that business is conducted according to the Rules, and acts as Speaker on behalf of the Conference in correspondence with the Pope and any Church offices. The Pope will appoint a Convenor for each of the six scheduled General Sessions.

  • First General Session: Manuel Graciano Cardinal Marquez
    Cardinal Marquez was a formidable politician before taking Holy Orders in mid-life; he re-organized and reformed the Church in Taneguez, rooting out engrained corruption and ending the long-standing cooperation between the Taneguez Bishops and the fascist military junta that controlled the country for decades. He survived two assassination attempts, one of which left him lame and badly scarred. He is considered conservative in traditional theology but liberal in regard to the Church's social and economic stances.

Conference Schedule

The Conference is scheduled to take place over three years. General Sessions of forty days will alternate with Committee sessions, with a recess at the end of each year. No sessions (of course, on Sundays and holy days.

Conference Facility

The Conference will take place at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, in their newly-remodeled and upgraded conference facility.


Conference Technology

The Conference is facilitated by the use of recent developments in Conference technology. Each Delegate's seat includes a Console that enables them to participate in discussions, propose action items, and vote in an orderly manner, while also giving them full access to the Conference Website and Archives so that they can review materials as needed.

Huge Conference Displays, stationed around the General Session Chamber, enable attendees to keep track of the agenda, speakers, and matters under consideration. Cameras enable everyone, even those at the very back of the Observers' galleries, to see the faces of speakers and track events.

Conference Committees

Each Conference Committee has been given a set of key questions to examine and answer, in the form of a Declaration, with recommendations. Other questions are expected to be proposed and delegated to the Committees during the General Sessions of the Conference

Committee on Science

  • Is there more than one variety or nature of sentience? If so, what is the nature of the differences?
  • Is there an inextricable relationship between sentience and the organic function of DNA? Is any form of organic sentience independent of a mechanism analogous to DNA?
  • What biological conditions or processes must be present for sentience to exist? Are there any biological conditions or processes that preclude the existence of sentience?

Committee on Ontology

  • Based on existing magisterium and doctrine, what can reasonably be inferred about the role of non-human sentience in God’s Plan?
  • What is the role of non-human biology in the Divine Plan? What importance does the nature of specific differences such as reproduction, physical capabilities, lifespan, etc. have in the relationship between humans and non-humans in the Divine Plan? Which differences are significant, and in what nature and degree, and which are not significant?
  • Does non-human sentience share in the dignity of the person? Is Natural Moral Law applicable equally to human and non-human sentience? Are the sources of morality for the acts of non-human sentients the same as the sources for humans? Is the nature of Virtue for non-human sentients the same as for humans?

Committee on Non-human Theology

  • Do the theological and ontological constructs (religions, faiths, etc.,) of non-human sentient species represent valid evidence of Divine Plan? Are such constructs evidence of mutually exclusive tracks of the Divine Plan, or of parallel tracks?
  • Are the theological and ontological constructs of non-human species related to Christian theology? If so, what is the role of such constructs in relationship to the Divine Plan?
  • Are non-human sentient individuals given by Diving Plan the freedom to choose their faith? Are any or all such choices equally valid? Is the desire of non-human sentients for salvation through Christ’s sacrifice and union with the Church evidence of the validity of such a faith for non-human sentient individuals?

Committee on Catholic Doctrine

  • Is it possible for a non-human sentient individual to feel a desire for salvation in Christ and communion with the Church? Is desire for salvation in Christ and communion with the Church sufficient to indicate the working of the Holy Spirit within a sentient individual? If so, may such working provide sufficient justification to receive that individual into the Church through Baptism? How may the actuality of such a desire be manifested?
  • If Baptism is extended to a sentient individual, is the Church required to receive that individual into the other Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Confirmation, and the Eucharist)?
  • May the Sacraments of Healing (Penance and Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick) be extended to non-human sentient individuals? If so, what is required on the part of the individual, and the minister, for Sacramental validity?
  • May the Sacraments at the Service of Communion (Matrimony, Holy Orders,) be extended to non-human sentient individuals? If so, what is required on the part of the individual, and the minister, for Sacramental validity?
  • May the Sacrament of Matrimony be contracted between sentient individuals of differing species, if they are mutually fertile? If they are mutually infertile?

Committee Rules

Members of the Committees are requested to familiarize themselves with the Committee rules.

Committee Convenors

Characters at the Conference


Once Conference Delegates have received their credentials (i.e., a TG from HVS noting that their character has been accepted as a Delegate) they are requested to go to the Attendees page and provide the requested information.

Advisors and Observers

Once advisors and observers have posted to the Conference thread, they are welcome to go to the Attendees page and provide the requested information.

Conference Documents

In Apostolatum Eldari

This document is the only document produced by the first Council on Non-Human Sentience under Sixtus VI. It remains highly controversial.

Sapientum Concilium

This document is the Apostolic Letter from Leo XIV, announcing the calling of this Conference.

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