Issued in 2020 on the vigil of the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, Fratelli Tutti is clearly shaped by the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the text reveals that Pope Francis was already writing the encyclical at the time when the pandemic struck (n 7). It is a response to “present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others” and instead to promote “a new vision of fraternity and social friendship” (n 6). The encyclical appeals to all to “acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives” (n 1).
Chapter one contemplates “dark clouds over a closed world” identifying “certain trends in our world that hinder the development of universal fraternity”. These include: shattered dreams of peace, widespread social exclusion, conflict and fear, the lack of truly universal respect for human rights, a throwaway culture that considers some people disposable, hostility towards migrants and refugees, and the challenge of authentic encounter and communication in our digital world. All these mean that “the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading” (n 30), yet Pope Francis also sees hope. In this he cites initial responses to the COVID-19 pandemic saying:
“We began to realise that our lives are interwoven with and sustained by ordinary people valiantly shaping the decisive events of our shared history: doctors, pharmacists, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caretakers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests and religious… They understood that no one is saved alone” (n 54).
The title comes from an address by St Francis of Assisi, who is one of the sources of inspiration for the encyclical. Pope Francis also drew inspiration for this encyclical from his encounter with Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
Fratelli Tutti, promotes a vision of social friendship grounded in the unity of the entire human family: all people are sisters and brothers to one another, all are children of God with equal dignity and rights. Racism, hostile responses to migration, the exclusion of people with disabilities, popularism, liberalism and the need for “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (n 154) are key issues. The need for more effective international institutions, a culture of dialogue and encounter, peacebuilding and reconciliation, war and the death penalty are also addressed.
Pope Francis once again adopts a praxis approach to his teaching. He begins with a contemplation of the world before placing faith sources, especially Scripture, in dialogue with these realities. His choice of the language of ‘fraternity’ and ‘social friendship’ emphasizes an ethic of care and relationship. By contrast, the language of ‘the unity of the human family’ and ‘solidarity’ which are more common in the modern teachings, is used sparingly. The emphasis is on being called by love rather than driven by duty. Francis appeals to our hearts as much as our heads.
Fratelli Tutti endorses and promotes perspectivalism in theological ethics by rejecting relativism while affirming the importance of an historically conscious approach that attends to multiple perspectives and experiences. Such hospitality towards all people, their experiences and perspectives is a core part of the content of the encyclical and is reflected in its methodology. For example, it quotes the teachings of a range of national bishops conferences and honours the contribution of Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb.
Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching
Fratelli Tutti offers the most extended reflection in the modern teachings on the social implications of the unity of the human family. In places it picks up the language of ‘social charity’ used in early nineteenth century social teachings, but it mainly frames the kind of love called for in the social realm as friendship. This is perhaps unsurprising for a Jesuit Pope given the importance of ‘friendship in the Lord’ in Ignatian spirituality.
This appears to be the first encyclical to address the exclusion of people with disabilities within the Church itself.
While some commentators were expecting Pope Francis to declare the Just War theory obsolete, the encyclical does not quite do so. Pope Francis criticizes the frequent use of “an overly broad interpretation” (n 258) these criteria to justify wars. He also says: “We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war’. Never again war!” (n 258). However striking the Just War Theory out of the Catechism is simply not Pope Francis’ concern. He says instead: “let us not remain mired in theoretical discussions, but touch the wounded flesh of the victims… let us hear the true stories of these victims of violence, look at reality through their eyes, and listen with an open heart to the stories that they tell. In this way, we will be able to grasp the abyss of evil at the heart of war. Nor will it trouble us to be deemed naïve for choosing peace.” (n 261)
Read the Full Text of Fratelli Tutti
You can read the full text here.
Resources on Fratelli Tutti
Find Dr Sandie Cornish’s initial comments on the relevance of the encyclical for Australia here.
Highlights from the launch and summaries of the encyclical are available from Vatican News here.
A set of social media graphics prepared by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference can be accessed here.