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An encyclical filled with tensions and omissions

While some have defined Fratelli Tutti as “Francis’ legacy” for the future world, time will ultimately tell what sort of impact it will really have.

The front page of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano shows Pope Francis with his latest encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship," at the Vatican Oct. 4, 2020. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

It is newsworthy that Pope Francis signed Fratelli Tutti on Saturday, October 3, at the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, despite popes usually signing their encyclical letters—the most authoritative form of papal writing—in the Vatican. It is also newsworthy that Pope Francis, in stating who inspired him most to write this text, after crediting St. Francis cites Grand Imam Al Tayeb of the prestigious University of Al Ahzar in Cairo, Egypt.

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Trip to the United Arab Emirates, in February 2019, was when Francis and Al Tayeb signed the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” (Feb. 4, 2019). According to that document, “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters.” While Islam is not a religion with a hierarchical structure like Catholicism, the Imam of Al Ahzar is considered the most authoritative voice of the Islamic world. Therefore, his agreeing to sign such a declaration raises some questions.

According to Aid to the Church in Need, a papal foundation which every two years publishes a detailed report on religious freedom, one in seven Christians in the world suffers from restrictions on his religious freedom and persecution too. And among the 21 classified as ‘persecution countries,” seventeen are Islamic. Fratelli Tutti devotes just one full paragraph to religious freedom, stating:

We Christians ask that, in those countries where we are a minority, we be guaranteed freedom, even as we ourselves promote that freedom for non-Christians in places where they are a minority. One fundamental human right must not be forgotten in the journey towards fraternity and peace. It is religious freedom for believers of all religions. (par 279)

But in the introduction, the pope does not hesitate to praises the example of St. Francis, when he “urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal ‘subjection’ be shown to those who did not share his faith” (par 3).

Above all, the Pontiff is worried because history, as he expresses in the document’s start, “seem to be showing signs of a certain regression. Ancient conflicts thought long buried are breaking out anew, while instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise…” He also warns again about the dangers of populism (pars 155ff), a now familiar theme.

Among the eight chapters, the sixth on the theme “dialogue and friendship in society” is particularly dense. But Francis’ view of ‘dialogue’ seems to oscillate between two opposites. “Relativism,” he says, “ultimately leaves the interpretation of moral values to those in power, to be defined as they see fit” (par 206). Then, shortly after, he says dialogue does not “exclude the conviction that it is possible to arrive at certain fundamental truths always to be upheld” (par 211). Thus, Francis recognizes the existence of “basic and non-negotiable ethical principles,” but in the same paragraph observes that “fundamental and universally valid moral principles can be embodied in different practical rules. Thus, room for dialogue will always exist.”

Nevertheless, this “room for dialogue” seems very narrow when it comes to migration, a theme the Pope addresses forcefully, starting with some reflections on private property. Given that the right to private property is not an “absolute or inviolable” (par 120), Francis consequently affirms that “we can then say that each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere” (par 124).

With this affirmation, Pope Francis apparently nullifies more cautious statements previously made by himself, according to which “a people that can accept but does not have the possibility of integrating, [is] better not accepting”, as he stated on the return flight from Dublin to Rome in August 2018. In addition, discussing migration, Fratelli Tutti blames the “way of thinking and acting” that “sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion.”

Thus, a contradiction with traditional Catholic Social Teaching emerges. Pope St. John Paul II wrote that “the challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life.” In the same text, the message for the World Peace Day in 2001, he defended the “cultural equilibrium” that “even while welcoming minorities and respecting their basic rights, would allow the continued existence and development of a particular ‘cultural profile’, by which I mean that basic heritage of language, traditions and values which are inextricably part of a nation’s history and its national identity.”

Looking at economic inequalities, Fratelli Tutti states “the fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom,” expressing the Pontiff’s well-known skepticism of the virtues and the capabilities of the free market.

It is not easy, of course, to summarize such a complex text. To define it in one word, some have spoken of a seven-year “recapitulation” of the pontificate’s teachings. No surprise, therefore, if Francis goes on, as usual, branding the liberal vision of society as “dogmatic” and disqualifying it as a “sum of coexisting interests”; or addressing migration in such a unilateral way, compared to the previous popes; or giving to interlocutors of other religions a credit that weakens the reasons for claiming the right to religious freedom.

Fratelli Tutti marks the latest chapter in a seven-year pontificate that has been full of novelties and controversy. While some have defined this encyclical as “Francis’ legacy” for the future world, time will ultimately tell what sort of impact it will really have. In the meantime, commentators will continue to try to make sense of the various tensions and difficulties contained within. 

Editor’s note: This is the second of several CWR essays on Fratelli Tutti and related topics. The other essays are:
• “Fratelli Tutti is a familiar mixture of dubious claims, strawmen, genuine insights” (Oct. 5, 2020) by Samuel Gregg
Fratelli Tutti and its critics” (Oct. 9, 2020) by Larry Chapp
“Culture, dialogue, religion, and truth in Fratelli Tutti (Oct. 9, 2020) by Eduardo Echeverria
“Brothers without Borders: Pope Francis’s Quasi-Humanitarian Manifesto” (Oct. 10, 2020) by Daniel J. Mahoney

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About Paolo Fucili 8 Articles
Paolo Fucili is a journalist writing from Italy.


  1. We read: “Above all, the Pontiff is worried because history […] ‘seem to be showing signs of a certain REGRESSION. Ancient conflicts thought long buried are breaking out anew, while instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise…’”

    Western “nationalism” only? On such “regression” Pope Benedict XVI offered a broader perspective: “…perhaps we shall have to rethink the entire PERIODIZATION [of history: Classical, Dark Ages, Modern], which, of course, is also essentially Western. For Indian and Chinese history is hard to fit into this periodization, even though there are parallels” (Salt of the Earth, 1997). LIKEWISE, for the ahistorical House of Islam…

    What we have here is a direct collision between an obsolete 21st secularist MINDSET (now with only a muted Christian residual) and a 7th-century engulfing CULTURE—both tossed onto the same shores in full view of a CHURCH. A Church that has lost its voice about the singular INCARNATION—within and even as the CENTER of human history (NOT as an episode within a timeline of periodization!).

    Today, an incoherent encounter just as it was when Muhammed fled from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D., and found that the Christian monks also had a loose grip when only a Creator REPLACES the Triune Oneness of the Father (not mentioned in the Qur’an!) and a co-equal Son and Holy Spirit—in the name of, say, a “pluralism” of religions:

    “Strongest among men in enmity to the Believers [Muslims] wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them I love to the Believers wilt thou find those who say ‘we are Christians’: Because amongst these are Men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. And when they listen to the revelation [Islam] received by the Apostle [Muhammed], thou wilt see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth [!]: They pray: ‘Our Lord! We believe; WRITE US DOWN AMONG THE WITNESSES (Qur’an 5:82,83; in Abdulla Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text and Commentary, Lahore, Pakistan, 1938/1983).

    Witnesses to what? After 1,400 years are today’s Christians simply time-machine clones of our naive ancestors at the Medina watering hole?

    Just as an “integral ecology. . . which by definition does not exclude human beings” (Laudato Si), SO ALSO a well-grounded Fraternity cannot exclude Christ as essential to “integral humanism” and real fraternity: “Your inmost being must be renewed, and you must put on the new man” (Eph 4:23-4). In Fratelli Tutti: YES, YES, YES, elementary “kindness” would be a breath of fresh air all around.

    But, WHY could the clerical ghostwriter find no space (in 43,000 words) to also breathe the following 57 words, if only in an inoffensive footnote? LUMEN GENTIUM: “The Christian dispensation, therefore, is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and we now await NO FURTHER new public revelation [within periodization, now “pluralism?”] before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” GAUDIUM ET SPES: “Christ the Lord…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, FULLY reveals man to himself [graced fraternity] and makes his supreme calling clear.”

    Happy coincidence that Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of October is a greater role for the Laity. Just as during the Arian Crisis.

    • Mr. Beaulieu,

      I purchased your timely book ” Beyond Secularism and Jihad? ” published in 2012. You are a Catholic treasure of courage, clarity, charity, commitment, and sacrifice.

      God Bless,
      Jim Gill

      • Jim,

        I am heartened by your remark. The book was a labor of love and discovery for five years, every day. The meaning is in the subtitle: “A Triangular Inquiry into the Mosque, the Manger & Modernity.” This, rather than the contemporary and superficial dualism of secularism versus Islam.

        The book is vastly overpriced (but what can one do about financially stressed academic publishers?). I am deeply in the hole financially, and quite sure that sales will never cross the threshold for the start of offsetting royalties. Knew that from the start.

    • If in fact, the Christian world is seeking yet another “New World Order” stressing only fraternity and beseeching a beleaguered planet with the eternally frustrating lament, “Peace, peace…”, I must make note of the follow-up…”But there will be no peace.” God’s Word, not mine…To continually stress the indeed noble virtues of equality and Friendship, without mention of the truly unique Faith Christianity is, was and always shall be, and it’s extraordinarily miraculous ability to transform Lives through the individual’s following of Jesus Christ, is to squarely face the humanistic issues of our day, with quite literally a hand tied behind a back.

  2. God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
    — 1 Corinthians 14:33

    Bergoglio’s “legacy for the future world” will be one of sowing confusion and ambiguity when clarity was desperately needed,
    and that he and his clerical minions’ commitment to leftist causes instead of to preserving the orthodox Catholic faith created the most grave crisis in the Church since the Arian heresy.

  3. It is perhaps a bit awkward for the Pope that the Grand Imam and the religion he represents unequivocally uphold the legitimacy (or admissibility?) of capital punishment. He credits Al Tayeb as being one of the inspirations of his encyclical, but callously refuses to meet with Cardinal Zen to discuss the plight of the Church in China which the Vatican has betrayed. The line about nations belonging to foreigners as much as their own citizens could be incorporated into a manifesto for Davos or Antifa. The only value of the Francis’ encyclicals is to illustrate the limits of papal infallibility.

  4. “Trust in the Lord and keep His WORD and He and God, the Father will love and lead you.”

    The Holy Spirit will renew the Church one person at a time and eventually renew the face of the earth.

  5. FT contains outright error and as such is NOT Catholic social teaching. Phillip Lawler has exposed this, noting that Leo XIII in “Rerum Novarum” had correctly declared that “the right to private property is…INVIOLABLE.”

    FT outright contradicts RN, stating that “the Christian tradition has never taught that the right to private property is…inviolable.”

    Read Lawler here:

    All credit to Lawler. Thus, the Pontiff Francis has published his very own “un-Catholic” social teaching.

    He has taught error, as he did in about sexual morality in AL, and about capital punishment, and now, pathetically, even about Catholic social teaching, thus compounding the evidence that his reign as Pontiff is a “suspension of the Magisterium if the Church,” as describe John Henry Newman.

    • Rerum Novarum alludes to “the inviolability of private property’ (n. 12), but also reads that “the State has only the right to regulate its use in the interests of the public good, but by no means to abolish it altogether” (n. 35).

      This real issue of moral theology and public policy,then, is both the inviolable right to OWNERSHIP and/versus the actual USE in light of the common good. While clerics and others can be flatfooted in focusing on this dualism or conundrum (not necessarily a “contradiction”), if done right (pun intended), perhaps ecological interconnectedness (e.g., everyone lives downstream of everyone else) can still mean something other than Socialism.

  6. Following on what Harry posted, it is not clear why Francis adopts the left-wing / progressive interpretation of the word “populism”. Those who adopt the label for themselves stand opposed to an elitism that brands ordinary people as rabble, “deplorables”. If Francis and his minions were to read the works of self-proclaimed “populists”, he would find that they are pro-religion and pro-individual freedoms – and peace. The populist theory started with Ernst Cassirer – an anti-fascist in the extreme. Populism is now under relentless elitist attack from ultra capitalists (who like to call themselves globalists) and ‘despots in spirit’ in the press and in academia. Populists are clear in their writings that they are not ‘nationalists’ (in allusion to Nazis) but, as with Pope John Paul, they understand the need of all nations to proceed prudently in welcoming others. Personally, I would not label myself with any groupism, populism included, but I believe that if you are out to attack someone then you should be sure that the attack is justly placed.

  7. Wow. All previous popes gave denied collectivism in all it’s forms, be it socialism, fascism, communism, or national socialism. This one does not…one of these guys is not like the others…

    I’ll stick with what previous popes taught, thank you very much.

  8. The fact that every dissident priest, bishop, cardinal, freemason, and liberation theology support is praising this document tells us all we need to know about the document’s “legacy” and “validity”.

    By looking at who is praising this document we have a pretty good idea if it is coincides with the TRUTH of the gospel which is Jesus Christ. At this point we can arguably give it a 5/100 rating of holding true to what the Catholic church proclaims.

  9. I will choose Christ, the true Word of God. Others have chosen others as reflected in their historical actions. There are still some that seek Him. His Love will endure forever, whatever army or sectarian rises up. It is truly Jesus Christ who really rose again.

  10. Are encyclical letters the most authoritative? I don’t think so — is not the most authoritative an apostolic constitution, e.g. Fidei Depositum or Dei Verbum, etc.?

    • Those documents are conciliar texts; encyclicals are papal documents, and are considered the most “weighty” and authoritative of such texts.

      • Let me see if I understand properly–this encyclical appears to be, um, hoo-haa, or something close, but the Pope wrote it, signed his name to it, and it is an authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, and I am basically required to believe it?

  11. The Holy Spirit , in the Divine Will, that moves the earth at 18 miles a second .. and ever at work , desiring to move hearts with responsibility to move The Church deeper into the Reign ..

    ? Pope Leo , having rightly perceived the signs of the times , with the revolutionary fever that was to break out in Russia , speaking to those who wanted to uplift the masses , telling them that falling for the liar and his way of amassing power at the expense of denying the rights of the ordinary people is not the way ..

    The need of our times , with massive migrations and ? the Holy Father desiring to bless those nations that allow visiting workers to come and earn a living , yet no ownership of property in those lands .., desiring one more step of sharing the goods with neighbors , such as the need for oil in Israel ..

    and other countries too , when see the need to open the borders for others to come and earn a living , taking similar steps whereby persons would return to own homelands later , thus be invested in making same better ..

    Thank God that there are such measures already in place in many places and benefitting many , thus asking others to look more into such means .
    The deep trust that each of us exist because The Father has willed so, willed all that is good for each of us ..and the measures needed to help each other to recognize that truth – seems the blessing and words are about same , in the laborious means needed as from the Good Samaritan and the innkeeper , for the healing of the wounded man , the wounded earth ..

    May The Spirit move all the hearts to hear the breeze , through the prayers and blessing of The Mother of God , in whom The Divine Will takes flesh , to bring us into same as well .

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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