28 September 2020, The Tablet

Change encyclical title, say Catholic women

The Vatican has strongly denied that the title of 'Fratelli Tutti' is gender-exclusive in nature.

Change encyclical title, say Catholic women

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in the San Damaso courtyard, Rome, Wednesday September 23, 2020
Stefano Spaziani/DPA/PA Images

Catholic women’s organisations have written to Pope Francis expressing their “deep concern” over the title of his forthcoming encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”. Although the signatories to the open letter stressed their appreciation of the Pope’s teachings, they emphasised that what they see as a gender-exclusive title could be a “serious stumbling block”.

The open letter, posted on the website of the Catholic Women’s Council, has been endorsed by thirty organisations from around the world, including the German Catholic Women’s Association, which has over 400,000 thousand members. Other signatories include the international campaigning organisation Women’s Ordination Conference, and the church reform group We Are Church Ireland.

In the letter, the signatories state that, considering that “Fratelli Tutti” translates literally as “All brothers”, they fear “the masculine noun will alienate many, at a time when women in many different languages and cultures are resistant to being told that the masculine is intended generically”. Already, the letter states, English translations are being produced that “makes more explicit and painful the exclusion of women from the opening words of the encyclical”.

In response to defenders of the Pope’s word choice who point to the use of “fratelli” as a gender-inclusive term in Italy, the signatories say: “Many Italian women are also arguing that they do not feel included” by the encyclical’s title”.

The letter adds that Fratelli Tutti “will be a profound and challenging call to act in response to the many crises facing our world today” but that the Holy Father’s choice of title is, “At best a distraction”. “At worst”, the letter goes on, “it is a serious stumbling block”. In order to avoid this outcome, the signatories urge Pope Francis to alter the title of his encyclical to include “sorelle”, italian for “sisters”, alongside “frattelli”.

The Vatican has previously pushed back strongly against charges of gender-exclusivity and sexism in the Pope’s choice of title, arguing that “Fratelli Tutti” is simply a direct quote from St Francis of Assisi. 

Earlier this month Vatican News editorial director Andrea Tornielli stated that “the formulation of the title in no way intends to exclude women”.

He said: “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.”

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