“Please don’t pretend to be synodal if you are unprepared to actually listen”, Catholic women have told the Pope ahead of the publication this weekend of his new encyclical with the “sexist” title ‘Brothers all’.

– “Women can only appear… according to the terms set by the patriarchal Church”

Cristina Lledo Gomez, a systematic theologian and a lecturer at BBI-The Australian Institute of Theological Education, made the plea to the pontiff and other Church leaders in a reflection posted September 28 on the website of the Catholic Women’s Council.

“Women can only appear in the Catholic Church according to the terms set by the patriarchal Church”, Lledo Gomez denounced.

The theologian pointed out that although women may assume some limited roles of service in the Church, “they can never become deacons, priests, bishops, and cardinals and only in a very limited way can participate in official governance”.

With regard to the Pope’s new encyclical – which Francis will sign in Assisi this Saturday, ahead of its release to the public on Sunday – the theologian deplored that “women are ignored when they state that using male-exclusive language in the liturgy and official Church documents are detrimental for themselves and the Church”.

Using male-centred language in the liturgy and in official Catholic texts like ‘Brothers all’ – or in the original Italian, and as it will be known officially, Fratelli tutti – reinforces the idea “that the male is norm, that God is male, and even that the male is God”, Lledo Gomez alerted.

The stakes over the title of the Pope’s new encyclical – and over the sexist language in other places in the Church – couldn’t be higher, according to the theologian.

Lledo Gomez wrote that the plague of domestic violence “is fueled by misogyny and by the Church’s own inadvertent way of communicating that women are the second sex”.

“Women are saying: we exist, please acknowledge us by inserting ‘sorelle‘ [sisters]… rather than insisting that ‘fratelli‘ is inclusive of both men and women”, Lledo Gomez pleaded, urging the Pope to do away with the Catholic dynamic under the thumb of which women and others “have been silenced, crushed, molded, and dictated to for centuries”.

– “We women are systematically omitted in the language of the Church”

More sharp criticism of the title Fratelli tutti came from Paola Lazzarini, the president of the Italian group Donne per la Chiesa (“Women for the Church”), who in a September 23 reflection also posted on the Catholic Women’s Council website wrote that ‘Brothers all’ “does nothing but re-propose in language what is a daily experience in the reality of the Church: the children of God are either male or if, incidentally, they are not, they must disappear into the folds of service, without… true and full citizenship”.

“Just as we cannot celebrate [the Mass], we cannot vote at synods, we do not direct the offices of the Vatican Curia (and almost never even the diocesan ones), in the same way we women are systematically omitted in the language of the Church”, Lazzarini decried.

– We Are Church: Pope “undermining his important message”

In the meantime, Catholic reform movement We Are Church also came out this week in favour of the Pope making a last-minute change to the title of his new encyclical, as it endorsed a petition from the Catholic Women’s Council and some thirty other Church gender justice groups that Fratelle tutti also include sorelle.

“Pope Francis will travel to Assisi on the 3rd of October to sign an encyclical ‘Fratelli tutti’ on the social, political and economic obligations that flow from a belief that all people are children of God and therefore sisters and brothers to one another”, We Are Church said in a statement posted on its website.

“This is an important encyclical on social justice for our post Covid world. Yet sadly Pope Francis is undermining his important message by choosing the sexist title ‘Fratelli tutti’“, the reform group lamented.

“Pope Francis was elected 7 years ago. His first words to the huge crowd in front of Saint Peter’s were: ‘Fratelli e sorelle! Buonasera!’ And they were greeted with a great cheer, especially from the many women present.

“So why does he now revert to a very old fashioned ‘Fratelli tutti’ which in 2020 most certainly does not include ‘sorelle’?”, We Are Church wondered.

More on Novena on the Pope’s new encyclical:

Catholic women ask Pope to change “painful” title of new encyclical ‘Brothers all’: “The masculine noun will alienate many”

Novena analysis: Vatican digs itself into hole trying to defend gender inclusiveness of Pope’s new encyclical ‘Brothers all’

Cardinal Hollerich, on Pope’s new encyclical: “I prefer to say: ‘Fratelli e sorelle tutti’”

Pope to visit Assisi October 3 to sign new encyclical ‘Brothers all’

New encyclical on need for “human and ecological conversion”, “human fraternity” to be published October 4


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