17 September 2020, The Tablet

The Pope puts the Church’s women into an amorphous, assumptive maleness. Again

The Pope puts the Church’s women into an amorphous, assumptive maleness. Again

Liz Dodd


I was staying with a community of sisters when I first heard the title of Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical, Fratelli tutti. Perhaps because I had spent time listening to their stories and sacrifices, their journeys and visions, it seemed all the more outrageous and heart-rending that the Pope, in a letter with the potential to gut modern constructs of human ecology, would fold these remarkable women – all the Church’s remarkable women – into an amorphous, assumptive maleness. Again.

“Fratelli tutti” translates – no matter how delicately the Holy See dances around this – to “brothers all”, although some news outlets have done the PR gloss and inferred, in English at least, that “sisters” are silently included. As per tradition, the title is derived from the opening words of the encyclical, St Francis of Assisi’s admonishment: “Let us all, brothers, look to the Good Shepherd who suffered the passion of the Cross to save his sheep.”

St Francis was addressing friars; “fratelli tutti” is unquestionably the accurate Italian; of course Pope Francis means, and is addressing, everyone as “brethren”, or humankind. But this is not an argument about translation or tradition, style or semantics, and it is men who are dragging this particular skirmish on to that particular battleground. This is about the Church listening – and reacting – to the lived experience of its women, and the Catholic women I know are furious and disappointed. I know it is difficult to convey “brothers and sisters” in a single, pithy catchphrase. I don’t care.

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