The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis’ new encyclical will be released on the 4 October while insisting that the title of the text is not intended to exclude women.
Francis’ forthcoming document, Fratelli tutti, will focus on fraternity and social friendship in a post-Covid world and is expected to look at building ties between religions and overcoming conflict.
Despite the all-encompassing themes of the encyclical, the text has faced criticism for using gender-exclusive language with the phrase “Fratelli tutti” taking the masculine form and literally meaning “brothers all”. Its precise meaning has, however, been debated given that “fratelli” also means siblings, allowing for the title to be understood as “brothers and sisters all”.
Jamie L Manson, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter, wrote that the confusion over the encyclical's title was an example of “how the Vatican gaslights women” because “whether women are included is entirely up for interpretation”.
But the Vatican is strongly resisting the claim the encyclical is anything other than inclusive, pointing out that the title is taken directly from the writings of St Francis of Assisi.
“The formulation of the title in no way intends to exclude women,” Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican’s editorial director, explained in a 16 September article.
“Francis chose the words of the Saint of Assisi to initiate a reflection on something he cares about very deeply: namely, fraternity and social friendship. He, therefore, addresses all his sisters and brothers, all men and women of good will who populate the earth: everyone, inclusively, and in no way exclusively.”
The Tablet's home news editor Liz Dodd discusses the controversy around the title of the new encyclical in a podcast for The Tablet.
The title of the encyclical, Tornielli added, will not be translated as it is taken from St Francis’ writings and the Pope is not going to alter those words. Francis’ last encyclical, Laudato si', also used a phrase taken from St Francis and was not translated.
“Fraternity and social friendship, the themes indicated in the subtitle, point to what unites men and women: a necessary affection established between people even if not close blood relatives. The relationship must be expressed through kind deeds, forms of assistance, works of justice and generous action in times of need – a disinterested affection towards other human beings, regardless of any difference or affiliation,” Tornielli wrote.
“For this reason, there can be no possible misunderstanding or exclusive reading of the universal and inclusive title Fratelli tutti.”
Francis wants his encyclical to be inspired by St Francis of Assisi, who is the Pope’s namesake, and it is being released to the world on the saint’s feast day.
The Pope’s choice of St Francis was the first time in the Church’s history that a Successor of St Peter had chosen to be named after Il Poverello (“the poor man”), a saint renowned for his radical dedication to the Gospel, in poverty, humility and care for creation
The friar from Assisi also offers a model of Christian life which the first Pope from South America wants to hold up to the world. The day before the encyclical's publication, the 83-year-old Roman Pontiff will travel to Assisi to sign the encyclical after saying Mass at the tomb of St Francis.
Although the encyclical has led to criticism for not including women, back in the thirteenth century, the followers of St Francis modelled a Christian equality between men and women. St Clare of Assisi was the first woman known to write a monastic rule. By trying to follow in the footsteps of St Francis, who was never ordained a priest, the Pope is rooting his papacy in a non-clerical spirit of service which seeks to be inclusive.
It is also worth recalling the first words Pope Francis spoke when he appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s after his election: “Brothers and sisters, good evening!”