Fratelli Tutti and the Future of the Catholic Church

October 14, 2020

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Pope Francis greets a crowd of people outside the Vatican

Pope Francis released a new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship, on October 3, 2020. The encyclical, which the pope signed on the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, calls for “renewed hope” during a particularly trying time in global history, especially with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the encyclical, Pope Francis discusses a wide range of subjects, from exploitative economic systems to the death penalty to systemic racism. The document is seen as especially relevant to the United States, speaking to both divisions within the U.S. Catholic Church and broader divides within the body politic. Speaking in a prophetic voice, Pope Francis presents a radical call to disrupt our everyday lives and envision new possibilities for global society in the encyclical.

The encyclical, although generally met with positive response for its focus on global solidarity, has also sparked criticism related to representation in the Catholic Church. Even before Fratelli Tutti was released, the term fratelli (fraternity) used in its title was critiqued for being exclusionary of women. Theologians have also highlighted how women are in large part absent from the text itself. “[D]espite a real emphasis on inclusive humanity within the text, no women are cited as inspiration, used for theological reflection or given as examples,” writes theologian Meghan Clark in an op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter. Publication of the encyclical provides the opportunity to pause and reflect on the role of Catholic social teaching to address pressing global issues, as well as the future of the Catholic Church in the world.   

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What are some of the key takeaways from Fratelli Tutti? How does the new encyclical relate to well-established themes in the pontificate of Pope Francis, such as integral ecology and global solidarity? Does the document shift Church teaching? If so, how? What concrete steps are needed to apply the vision of Fratelli Tutti to social ills in the United States and abroad, such as systemic racism and gender inequality? How might the document affect Catholic global outreach, including Vatican diplomacy and peacebuilding? What does the practice and theory of “social friendship” mean for interreligious dialogue?

related Georgetown event | Fratelli Tutti: Pope Francis’ New Encyclical on Human Fraternity and Solidarity

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series, and responses from scholars and practitioners will be posted as they are received. 

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