Some Catholic feminists are criticizing Pope Francis’ new encyclical, whose title they say excludes women.
The encyclical, titled in Latin as “Fratelli tutti,” which translates to “Brothers All,” is set to be released by Francis this weekend. But criticism has been growing over the encyclical, with the Catholic Women’s Council, an international group of lay and religious organizations, publishing an open letter “expressing concern” that the title gives the impression the letter is written only for men, enflaming frustrations in a church that does not recognize female priests.
“We understand that the title comes from a quotation from Saint Francis, and we know that you intend it to include all humankind,” the group’s letter states. “Nevertheless, 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.”
This month, leading Catholic scholar Phyllis Zagano also critiqued the pontiff’s choice for a title (and subtitle) of his third encyclical — announced in early September — writing, “Not only are women eliminated by the title, they are not even considered in the subtitle.”
“Too much is at stake. Too many women are being insulted. Too many female lives are at risk,” Ms. Zagano, a senior research associate-in-residence in the Department of Religion at Hofstra University, wrote in The National Catholic Reporter. Ms. Zagano encouraged the Vatican to hire “a few women to help write and review his documents.”
Ms. Zagano told The Washington Times on Friday she has not heard from the Vatican on her suggestion.
An encyclical letter is generally understood as an official papal letter to the world’s Catholic bishops. Pope Francis last published an encyclical in 2015. Called “Laudato si,” or “on care for our common home,” the letter sparked a conversation about faith and environmentalism.
A number of Catholic officials, including the Vatican’s official news service, have pushed back against the framing of the encyclical as a gendered document.
“The central theme of the upcoming papal letter is ‘blessed is our common belong,’ which indeed makes us brothers and sisters,” states a Sept. 16 report from Vatican News. “For this reason, all readers should be a blessing to understand the title ‘Fratelli tutti’ with the absolute inclusive connotation that is intended.”
On Friday, Joseph Capizzi, a moral theology professor at the Catholic University of America, told The Washington Times it’s a custom to invoke the encyclical’s opening sentence within the document’s title.
“Many of these texts will have an English translation, but most will refer to them by their Latin name, as we do with ‘Laudato si,’” Mr. Capizzi said. “I’m guessing there’s no intentionality of being exclusive as some people have said.”
The document, which addresses unity during a time of heightened nationalism around the world, is a welcome message from the pontiff, he said.
“‘Fratelli tutti’ will advance this notion of comprehensive, universal kinship,” Mr. Capizzi said.
Scholars have noted that the words “fratelli tutti” derive from writings by Francis’ namesake — Saint Francis of Assisi. The pope will travel to Assisi, Italy, on Saturday to visit the Sacred Convent of Assisi and sign the new encyclical.