Fratelli Tutti, but no St. Clare
Full text of the statement of the Women’s Ordination Conference
Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, is a profound manifesto, calling for kindness, detachment from market capitalism and solidarity in action as we reckon and recover from a global pandemic.
However, the controversial title, which is a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, (All Brothers, but also in modern Italian, All Siblings) and the touchstone framework of “fraternity” cast an unfortunate androcentric shadow over the mostly radical text.
The English translation refers repeatedly to Brothers and Sisters, perhaps in response to the legitimate criticisms of the title, but linguistics aside, no women theologians or thinkers were quoted in the text — not even St. Clare, a partner in ministry with St. Francis.
While there is a nod to intersectionality and the double oppressions experienced by women, the irony of these words coming from the head of a patriarchal institution is not lost on me.
Similarly, the organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men. We say one thing with words, but our decisions and reality tell another story. Indeed, “doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights”. (Fratelli Tutti, 23)
Nor is equality achieved by an abstract proclamation that “all men and women are equal”. Instead, it is the result of the conscious and careful cultivation of fraternity. Those capable only of being “associates” create closed worlds. Within that framework, what place is there for those who are not part of one’s group of associates, yet long for a better life for themselves and their families? (Fratelli Tutti, 104)
The proposed solution of “fraternity” as an antidote to inequality simply does not get to the root of gender injustice that keeps women out of the footnotes of the encyclical, outside of the halls of decision-making power, and excluded from ordained ministries.
We can celebrate and pray on beautiful words, but we must work until “abstract proclamations” are rights and rites realized and enjoyed by all people.
Pope Francis calls for genuine encounter in order to deeply understand and transform our relationships in the world.
We ask the same of him: walk alongside those women and non-binary people who long for a voice in their Church, honor their vocations, and transform the structures that harm our human family.
As Anna Rowlands said in a recent article, “We live in a world that is still structured by gender inequality, and the church has to wrestle with that as much as the world has to wrestle with it.”