POPE FRANCIS has reaffirmed a link between religious faith and human dignity in his new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti: On fraternity and social friendship, and confirmed his Church’s unconditional rejection of war, capital punishment, and excessive wealth. He calls on Christians to back policies that promote justice and the common good.
“For decades, it seemed the world had learned a lesson from its many wars and disasters, and was slowly moving towards various forms of integration,” the encyclical observes.
“Our own days, however, 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.”
The 40,000-word letter was signed in Assisi and published last weekend. Pope Francis’s third encyclical, it claims inspiration from the “fraternal openness” espoused by St Francis, who died in 1226. It says that faith in God has “concrete consequences” for the ways in which people take decisions and treat one another.
It also draws on an interfaith Document on Human Fraternity, signed with the Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, during the Pope’s 2019 visit to Abu Dhabi. This declared that all human beings were created “equal in rights, duties and dignity”.
“The parable of the Good Samaritan shows how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbours, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen”, the Pope writes.
“It eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. . . Any other decision would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion.”
The long-planned document, which draws on previous “social encyclicals”, was criticised before its publication for its non-inclusive title by members of both the Catholic Women’s Council, a global umbrella group founded in Germany last year, and the international movement We Are Church, which is also demanding liberal reforms.
In his introduction, however, the Pope writes that the invocation “Fratelli Tutti” was addressed by St Francis to “all brothers and sisters”, who were called to support policies that helped the hungry and poor and defended the rights of all.
“The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values,” he writes.
“Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarisation have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways, one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion.”
The 287-point encyclical condemns the death penalty, which is already declared “inadmissible” in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It also suggests that the conditions for “just war” outlined by St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1294) no longer exist when modern technologies have “granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians”.
Pope Francis deplores “certain trends” impeding universal fraternity, including racism, modern slavery, the mistreatment of women, the closure of borders to refugees and migrants, and economic policies that merely “allow the rich to get richer”.
Responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pope writes, have exposed “existing inequalities” and “false securities”, while spurring “a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all”.
“Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality,” the encyclical says.
“The pain, uncertainty and fear, and the realisation of our own limitations, brought on by the pandemic have only made it all the more urgent that we rethink our styles of life, our relationships, the organisation of our societies and, above all, the meaning of our existence.”
Dr Anna Rowlands, the St Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice at Durham University, presented the encyclical on Sunday, alongside the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and other church leaders.
Dr Rowlands told the Rome-based Catholic News Service that the text’s “golden thread” concerned taking responsibility, and discerning “what gives life” and developed human potential.
Pope Francis, she said, wished to rehabilitate “the idea of social friendship and social peace” in the face of “an all-pervasive violence” that he saw running through “the economy, politics, and social media”.
The first Muslim to co-present an encyclical, Judge Mohamed Abdel Salam, predicted that the text would enhance interreligious dialogue. “It is an appeal to concord to a world in discord, a clear message in favour of both individual and collective harmony with the laws of the universe, the world and life,” the Islamic scholar said.
“I hope this will reach the hands of politicians and decision-makers alike, and enlighten them to lead the world out of the unreasonable state that it is living today.”
The encyclical reiterates the “universal destination of goods”: a key tenet of modern Roman Catholic social teaching, and notes that the rights to private property, free enterprise, and market freedom “cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment”.
The Pope said that it was his second encyclical directly inspired by St Francis of Assisi after Laudato Si’ (May 2015), on care for the common home. His text had incorporated, besides his own thoughts, “letters, documents and considerations received from many individuals and groups throughout the world”.