Catholic women have told Pope Francis that his new encyclical Fratelli tutti is “a step in the right direction” on inclusion in the Church, “but a step too small”.

– Nun: encyclical “calls for more solidarity and cooperation” but “lacks this already in the title”

“My conclusion: yes, this Pope has something to say, he dares to take a step in the right direction, but this step is too small for me”, 34-year-old German nun Sister Philippa Haase wrote October 15 in the Zeit newspaper, in an article on Fratelli tutti also published on the website of the Catholic Women’s Council.

Haase – who said she has always admired this Pope as “an advocate of the poor in the Roman pomp of the Church” – wrote that “the latest encyclical shows a Pope who does not mince his words and clearly denounces abuses. Here he brings the fresh wind that I so long for in the Church”.

However, the nun lamented the title of the Pope’s new text – Fratelli tutti, which literally translates as “Brothers all” – and the focus in the document on androcentric “fraternity”, both of which by definition exclude women.

“Of course Fratelli tutti is meant [to be] inclusive. But let’s be honest: In 2020, [is it] not be possible for the Church to choose a title that does not need to be explained?”, Haase asked, referring to Vatican attempts to defend the encyclical as gender inclusive.

“It seems as if the sisters are not mentioned here out of good Catholic tradition”, the nun lamented, decrying other past experiences she has had of being “fobbed off with a ‘you know what I mean'”.

“The situation is particularly explosive”, the sister warned, given that Fratelli tutti “calls for more solidarity and cooperation” but “lacks this already in the title”.

Haase observed that if the Church were to cast off its “patriarchal hardenings” and “oppose all kinds of discrimination” even and especially within itself, perhaps its message would finally “get through”. “It would change the world”, the nun insisted, in a powerful plea for true Catholic gender justice.

– Academic: “No woman is included in the almost 300 footnotes” of ‘Brothers all’

Also in the Zeit newspaper, 32-year-old research fellow at the University of Vienna Judith Klaiber launched a stinging attack on the “ideology of patriarchy” present in the Church that also underpins Fratelli tutti.

“Many commentators have rightly pointed out that no woman is included in the almost 300 footnotes” of the encyclical, Klaiber wrote, observing too that in the document the image of women “is characterised by vulnerability and weakness”.

The academic noted that the Pope calls for equal rights in society for both women and men, but lamented that that rhetoric sounds “hollow and brittle” in the absence of gender equality in the Church.

Klaiber said she appreciated the Pope’s “clear words” in Fratelli tutti on the ‘economy that kills’, and likewise his insistence on the need for interreligious peace work and a commitment to help our neighbours.

“I am grateful for the rejection of just war and the death penalty; also because they show how wonderful transforming teaching can be when the will is there”, the academic said.

But she noted something she would appreciate even more: “I would really be listening if the Pope were to say: ‘Sisters and brothers, we have wronged women'”.

– President of German Catholic Rural Youth Movement: Pope should have mentioned implications for ministry of equality of women and men

Another reflection in Zeit on Fratelli tutti came from the federal president of the Catholic Rural Youth Movement in Germany, 27-year-old Daniela Ordowski.

“How can the Catholic Church speak out for human rights and the equal dignity of all people, and then let these demands bounce off its own church walls?”, Ordowski asked, also regretting the missed opportunity to denounce gender discrimination in the new encyclical.

“The Pope should have mentioned the equal dignity and value of women and men, and the consequences this has for tasks and ministries in the Church – emphasising the need to limit power within the Church, and thereby to regain credibility”, the young German Catholic explained.

– Theologian in training: “While the Pope is writing against social exclusion, the Church continues to exclude”

One final response published in Zeit to Fratelli tutti was penned by Johanna Beck, a 37-year-old literary scholar and theologian in training from Stuttgart.

Beck wrote: “I wish I could rave at this point about Fratelli tutti – an encyclical in which Francis acts as an advocate for the weak, the marginalised and the wounded, advocates aid to refugees and women’s rights and calls for friendly inter-religious dialogue”, and also “speaks out against racism, nationalism, populism and discrimination, and repeatedly puts human dignity at the centre of his message”.

“However, I cannot”, Beck continued, “because the discrepancies between the papal word and Catholic reality force themselves upon me too much”.

“While on paper the Pope stands up for women’s rights, in the Catholic Church women are discriminated against and, on top of that, they are made linguistically invisible by the problematic choice of the title of the encyclical (but paternalistically pointed out that they should feel that they are included)”, Beck lamented.

“While the Pope is writing against the social exclusion of certain groups, the Church continues to exclude” women, LGBTIQ+ people, divorced and remarried couples, victims of abuse and members of other historically marginalised collectives, the scholar decried.

Beck concluded by quoting words of the Pope in Fratelli tutti (70) back at the pontiff: “There are only two kinds of people: those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by”. On true inclusion in the Church, “it is the moment of truth”, Beck insisted.

More on Novena on ‘Fratelli tutti’:

Catholic women lament “unfortunate androcentric shadow” over “mostly radical” ‘Fratelli tutti’

The Pope’s ‘no’ to just war in ‘Fratelli tutti’ has exposed the bias of the military-industrial-media complex

Liberation theologian Boff, on “landmark” ‘Fratelli tutti’: “The Pope has done his part. It is up to us not to let the dream stay just a dream”

Pax Christi welcomes Pope’s condemnation of war in ‘Fratelli tutti’: “It goes further than any papal encyclical in history”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.