The talking points on the new encyclical Fratelli tutti (‘Brothers all’) that the Vatican has provided for Spanish-speaking bishops refute the claim that the Pope is a “socialist” or a “communist”.
Much of the early coverage of Fratelli tutti, which was published October 4, has focused on the Pope’s observation, in paragraph 168 of the document, that the free market “cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith”.
“Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes. Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged ‘spillover’ does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society”.
As an alternative to neoliberalism, the Pope appeals to Catholic tradition to stress “the social purpose of all forms of private property” (120).
The “common use of created goods… has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society”, Francis writes, insisting that “the right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor” (122), and calling also for “a new network of international relations” (126) to address inequalities between countries.
But while some commentators have seized on those statements of the Pope’s and others like him to accuse him of pushing socialism or communism, a series of Spanish questions and answers on Fratelli tutti – shared by at least one Spanish bishop on social networks – refute that interpretation.
Rather, Francis’ vision in his new encyclical “is a Christian vision of society and the economy following the social doctrine of the Church”, those Vatican discussion points claim, adding that the pontiff is proposing “is the possibility of a new way of human coexistence, opening the horizon from the openness of the Christian faith”.
– Questions and answers on Fratelli tutti
Full text of the Vatican-provided talking points for Spanish-speaking bishops
Is the Pope proposing an immanentist inter-religion that dissolves the specificity of the faith?
On the contrary, the Pope’s proposal is to take up into the very heart of the Christian faith the concrete problems that this world poses: the transcendence of universal love that leads to the promotion of a real universal fraternity, moved by the call to become sons and daughters in the Son. Without a doubt, the light that permeates all of the text is the Gospel parable of the “Good Samaritan” (FT 56).
Fratelli tutti proposes in its title a message only to men, “brothers”. After so much talk about the importance of women, could not the Pope have addressed his encyclical to “brothers and sisters”?
“Fratelli tutti” is a quote from Francis of Assisi, which the Pope immediately translates as “brothers and sisters” in order to propose to them a form of evangelical life (FT 1).
In one month, there are elections in the United States in a strongly polarised society. Is there anything the Pope wants to say to Americans in a clear message that is perceived as anti-Trump?
Obviously the Pope wants to say something to the Americans, just as he wants to say something to Africa, Latin America, Europe, Asia, all the Americas and to the whole world. But it is also clear that his interlocutor is not a specific person.
His interlocutor is a modern society that is dehumanised, sick and wounded by all the new forms of “civilised” barbarism (FT 1).
What does “social encyclical” mean and why does the Pope not dedicate himself to writing about Christian theology or doctrine alone? (FT, 6)
The whole text is nothing but Christian theology and doctrine, but one must emphasise precisely “Christian”, which means personal and social at the same time. Both dimensions are inseparable from the gospel because both dimensions constitute love and “God is love”.
The Pope claims to have been inspired for this encyclical by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. Since when have other religions become involved in the drafting of magisterial documents of the Church? Is this necessary? (FT, 5)
The Pope never speaks of “inspiration”, but rather of “being encouraged”, which is not the same thing. Because his inspiration is his own experience of faith in a broken world, as it is for the Grand Imam. It is a Catholic encyclical addressed to every human being of good will.
By saying “let us dream… as a single human family”, is the Pope proposing a universalism? That we all should be equal? (FT, 8)
For a Christian it is not that all “should” be equal but that we are all equal, because we are all sons and daughters of the same Father. This equality is the source of the inalienable dignity of every human being. And it is the concrete implications of this common dignity that the encyclical sets out.
The document has a very negative tone, criticising everything that is new, modern and technological. Where are the concrete proposals and what is the Church or the Pope doing to work on solutions?
In no way is it a criticism of everything that is new, modern and technological, but rather of what is inhumane, violent, degrading and exclusivist about it. With the exception of the first chapter – which is an exposition of the problems – and the second – which is catechetical and exhorts to conversion – the rest of the encyclical is profoundly propositive of the possible paths that can lead us to fraternity and social friendship.
The document criticises the “free market” and other forms of economics. Is the Pope an economist? On what data or reports does he base these opinions which have no place in an encyclical?
It is not an “economic” critique of the neoliberal economy, but an evangelical critique of the dire and criminal consequences of the abuses of any economic model for the great majority of humanity.
Technology and new technological tools are great allies of young people. Why does the Pope insist on describing them as “digital campaigns of hate and destruction”? Isn’t that too harsh? (FT, 42)
The fact that they are tools used by young people does not make them immune to being used with hate and destructive desires. No tool is immune to this, as we all know. One can never be too harsh in criticiSing the misuse or abuse of a tool that can be used and is used destructively either consciously or unconsciously. On the contrary, criticism brings to light concrete manifestations that help to work towards a solution. Because “the bigger risk does not come from specific objects, material realities or institutions, but from the way that they are used” (FT, 166).
Some of the Pope’s proposals seem to have a socialist and communist focus. How does he plan to build a world with land, housing and work for all? Does he prefer a single totalitarian government? (FT, 126-127)
It is about a Christian vision of society and the economy, following the social doctrine of the Church. What he is proposing is the possibility of a new way of human coexistence, opening the horizon from the openness of the Christian faith.
Why does the Pope speak of populism and liberalism in a document on fraternity? Is it important to know a Pope’s political opinion? (FT, 156)
Because both populism and economic liberalism have shown themselves incapable of promoting social coexistence centred on the inviolable dignity of every human being and that is truly inclusive, formative of the human person as such, and effective in combating poverty, injustice, and exclusion.
From a faith perspective, politics is a vocation to serve the concrete realisation of the “civilization of love”.
Does the Pope intend to suggest the abolition of private property so that we are all “more brothers”? (FT, 120)
No. The Church’s social doctrine stresses the subordination of private property to the principle of the universal destination of created goods and, therefore, the fundamental nature of the social function of private property.
The encyclical makes little mention of God and Christ and everything is based more on social and humanitarian issues. Where is the horizon for all Catholics and why does the Church act as an NGO?
The encyclical Fratelli tutti does nothing but speak of God and Christ because all of it speaks of love and through Jesus of Nazareth we know that God is love. To speak of the “sacrifices born of love” (FT, 187) is to speak of God’s relationship with human beings; it is to speak of the selfsame historical life of Jesus. And love has to do fundamentally with the great questions of our living together with others, and it has to do with true humanity manifested in Jesus Christ. This is the only horizon for Catholics.
Fratelli tutti seems to want to put all religions on an equal footing. Is it more important for the Pope that we all be equal than it is to follow Christ? (FT, 271)
Nowhere does the encyclical say that. That we are all equal, inasmuch as we are created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore are brothers and sisters in the Son, is the teaching of Christ and the theme of Fratelli tutti. The different religions, “based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society” (FT, 271).