A summary of the Pope’s new encyclical on ‘human fraternity’
VATICAN CITY, October 5, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― In his new encyclical, Pope Francis calls for a “new world” in which all men and women are brothers and sisters.
The long document—287 articles laid out in 8 chapters—transmits the Argentinian pontiff’s philosophy of “fraternity” and his dream for a world in which everyone treats everyone else as if they were members of a “single family.”
Its subject matter ranging from consumerism to capital punishment, Fratelli Tutti’s principal sources are Pope Francis’ own speeches and interviews. Bracketed by references to his recent collaboration with Grand Iman Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the work is addressed not specifically to Christians but to “all people of good will.”
The scope of Fratelli Tutti is almost entirely worldly, which is to say, it concentrates on this earthly life, directing its readers’ gaze towards eternity only in the final chapter. There, although also affirming the Christian faith in the Gospel, the pontiff speaks in solidarity with people of other religions about “the Father of all” as the basis for human dignity.
“As believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity,” Francis writes and then cites Benedict XI.
“We are certain that ‘only with this awareness that we are not orphans, but children, can we live in peace with one another.’”
A sober beginning
Chapter 1, entitled “Dark Clouds Over a Closed World,” reveals that Pope Francis believes that the world is “regressing”: renewed conflicts, nationalism, global economies which “impose a single cultural model,” the loss of a sense of history, new forms of cultural colonization, political polarization, COVID-19, and indifference to both outsiders and environmental disaster.
“In today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia,” Francis writes.
The Pope warns of “instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise. In some countries, a concept of popular and national unity influenced by various ideologies is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests.”
“Certain populist political regimes, as well as certain liberal economic approaches, maintain that an influx of migrants is to be prevented at all costs,” he says.
The pontiff condemns economic disparities, women’s struggle for equal rights, slavery, sex-trafficking, and organ harvesting, and the “throwaway world” which considers the unborn and the elderly expendable, among other evils. He also discusses the fear of, and sufferings of, migrants and the results of cutting foreign aid. He devotes a passage to digital communication, which he believes violates privacy, spreads hatred, and facilitates a form of social aggression.
He criticizes some social media platforms as “closed circuits [that] facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate.”
“We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians; they too ‘can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. ‘Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned,’” Francis wrote.
Chapter 2, entitled “A Stranger on the Road,” presents Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and traces the development, in Judaism, of the growing recognition that strangers and foreigners are “neighbors.” Pope Francis also directs attention to Jesus’ statement that whoever welcomes a stranger welcomes Him and wonders how Christians can ignore this.
“... [T]here are those who appear to feel encouraged or at least permitted by their faith to support varieties of narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different,” he writes.
“Faith, and the humanism it inspires, must maintain a critical sense in the face of these tendencies, and prompt an immediate response whenever they rear their head.”
“Paradoxically, those who claim to be unbelievers can sometimes put God’s will into practice better than believers,” he writes.
‘Liberty, equality, and fraternity’
Chapter 3, entitled “Envisioning and Engendering an Open World,” begins with a contemplation of charity, which departs from a traditional Catholic understanding of charity which is first and foremost about love of God. Rather, for Pope Francis, It asserts that human fulfillment lies in being a “sincere gift to others.”
Pope Francis writes about how love draws people out of themselves towards others. Love ultimately “impels us towards universal communion” and crosses regions and borders.
He criticizes “some believers” who “think that [love] consists in the imposition of their own ideologies upon everyone else, or in a violent defence of the truth, or in impressive demonstrations of strength.”
Some readers may be startled by the subtitle “Liberty, equality, and fraternity,” which the pontiff employs apparently without irony and certainly without an explicit reference to the anti-Catholic and ultra-violent French Revolution. Instead Francis merely warns that liberty without fraternity is an impoverished libertinism and that equality can only result from fraternity.
Francis advocates for “a universal love that promotes persons” and recognizes the worth of every person, his or her right to live with dignity and to develop integrally, no matter where or how they are born.
“Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country,” he writes.
“People have this right even if they are unproductive, or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity.”
The pontiff calls not only for the material well-being of every person, but also a promotion of their moral good. He encourages the fostering of “solidarity,” which “finds concrete expression of service.” However, he returns in the chapter to the subject of material poverty, citing St. John Chysostom’s dictum that not to share with the poor is to rob them. Meanwhile, Francis holds that basic human rights should not be impeded by borders.
The pontiff suggests that nations’ right to their own wealth is not absolute. “The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use,” he writes. “The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment,” he adds.
“Seen from the standpoint not only of the legitimacy of private property and the rights of its citizens, but also of the first principle of the common destination of goods, 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.”
Pope Francis calls for a “new network of international relations, since there is no way to resolve the serious problems of our world if we continue to think only in terms of mutual assistance between individuals or small groups.” Inequity, he says, affects not only individuals but entire countries and thus “it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations.”
‘A form of global governance’ when it comes to migration
Chapter 4, entitled “A Heart Open to the Whole World,” returns to the subject of migration. Whereas Pope Francis believes “unnecessary migration” ought to be avoided, in general he says migrants are to be welcomed, protected, promoted, and integrated by host countries. He envisions the development of “a form of global governance” when it comes to migration.
This section argues for the preservation of unique cultures but also for their enrichment and renewal through openness to foreigners. Pope Francis argues that we can only accept others if we are firmly rooted in our own countries and don’t despise who we are. At the same time, he believes that we should not accept immigrants based on what benefits they bring to our countries but because it’s a good thing to do.
Although most his reflections on migration are from the migrant’s point of view, Pope Francis suggests that host countries have nuances that migrants don’t immediately appreciate: “The experience of being raised in a particular place and sharing in a particular culture gives us insight into aspects of reality that others cannot so easily perceive," he notes.
The Pope criticizes “the spirit of individualism” which he describes as the “danger of thinking that we have to protect ourselves from one another, of viewing others as competitors or dangerous enemies.” In a pointed political reference, the Pope says, “There are powerful countries and large businesses that profit from this isolation and prefer to negotiate with each country separately.”
A ‘need’ to prevent the United Nations ‘from being delegitimized’
Chapter 5, “A Better Kind of Politics,” calls for a new kind of politics, “one truly at the service of the common good.” Here Pope Francis looks at populism and liberalism and finds both wanting because neither makes room for everyone or respects different cultures.
For Francis, the principal concern for politicians should be employment.
“Since production systems may change, political systems must keep working to structure society in such a way that everyone has a chance to contribute his or her own talents and efforts. For ‘there is no poverty worse than that which takes away work and the dignity of work’.”
The pontiff also states that “the marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem” and voices disappointment that the 2007-2008 financial crash did not inspire the creation of a new economy.
Regarding international politics, the pontiff believes that the nation-states are weakening before big business, and therefore still hopes for (as he stated in Laudato Si’) “stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions.”
To do this, the pontiff believes that the United Nations and international finance should be strengthened “so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.” Part of that reform would include not allowing a few powerful countries to impose their cultural demands on weaker countries. Speaking of the United Nations, he said, “There is need to prevent this Organization from being delegitimized.”
In Chapter 6, “Dialogue and Friendship in Society,” Pope Francis calls for a new culture capable of transcending all differences and divisions between people. He believes that through dialogue, people will be able to arrive “at certain fundamental truths always to be upheld. The pontiff believes that everyone should be acknowledged in the “culture of encounter,” warning that the “violence” of despising some people leads to other forms of violence.
The Pope suggests that the world can come to universal ethical values without “ethical rigidity” or “the imposition of any one moral system, since fundamental and universally valid moral principles can be embodied in different practical rules.” He adds, however, that “Such a covenant also demands the realization that some things may have to be renounced for the common good. No one can possess the whole truth or satisfy his or her every desire, since that pretension would lead to nullifying others by denying their rights.”
Francis doubles down against death penalty and life in prison sentences
In Chapter 7, “Paths of Renewed Encounter,” Pope Francis calls for an end to all war and to the death penalty. He acknowledges that some Christians are “hesitant” on this second point. He fails to provide Church teaching which has constantly supported the death penalty, but does give examples from the Fathers of the Early Church to show some early resistance to the practice.
On his new condemnation of the death penalty he says, “There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’” and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”
As he did in his earlier remarks concerning the death penalty, Francis also condemned life sentences, saying “A life sentence is a secret death penalty.”
In Chapter 8, called “Religions at the Service of Fraternity,” Pope Francis suggests adherents to all different religions are beneficial to society. “We, the believers of the different religions, know that our witness to God benefits our societies,” he writes.
He asks his reader to acknowledge that different religions “contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society.” The pontiff, saying he is speaking with people of other faiths, states that there is no real basis for human fraternity without a belief in God.
Quoting himself, Francis writes: “As believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity. We are certain that ‘only with this awareness that we are not orphans, but children, can we live in peace with one another’.”
In this section, Francis promotes friendships between religions, saying that “the Church esteems the way God works in other religions.”
In a short section touching on Catholicism, the pontiff states that Mary, the Mother of God, “wants to give birth to a new world, where all of us are brothers and sisters, where there is room for all those whom our societies discard, where justice and peace are resplendent.”
Francis asks for religious freedom for all. “One fundamental human right must not be forgotten in the journey towards fraternity and peace,” he writes. “It is religious freedom for believers of all religions.”
The pontiff also condemns religious hatred, terrorism and other faith-based violence, saying that “sincere and humble worship of God bears fruit” in “respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.”
Francis ends the document with long passages from the Abu Dhabi document on Human Fraternity, a “Prayer to the Creator” clearly meant for interreligious worship, and “An Ecumenical Christian Prayer.”
On Saturday, October 3, the pontiff signed the encyclical in Assisi.