The Pope’s Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” (“Brothers All”) sadly seems more a massive and unwieldy political document than a religious guide to the Catholic faithful. The encyclical’s intended audience appears to be secular world rather than people of faith. The 43,000-word tome contains almost no discussion of Catholic dogmas. Although the Pontiff’s diagnosis of the world’s ills seems accurate enough, unfortunately his proposed antidotes — equality of result rather than equality of opportunity and individual liberty, the bedrocks of Western democracies — would seriously threaten freedom.
The Pope, for instance, implies that the twilight of the planet’s centuries old diplomatic nation-state system has arrived, prompting the need for a more globalist political system. Regrettably, that usually brings with it no transparency, no accountability and no recourse. Think of the United Nations, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court or the European Union.
The Pope denigrates the concept of nationalism by referring to it as “local narcissism.” His support for “open borders” would deny nations the right to sovereignty over their national territories. Pope Francis, a lifelong priest of the Jesuit order, appears to be calling for a system of international organizations that would possess the power to override the will of individual states and have the potential to become a global despotism.
The Pope also makes no secret of his opposition to the global capitalist free market economy. He proposes instead that wealthy countries form a seamless bond with the have-not peoples of the global south. He implies that a redistribution of the world’s wealth is a moral obligation, and should replace free economies that promote growth and jobs and have done more to cure poverty than any other historical development. The problem with redistribution, of course, is, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Soon you run out of other people’s money.” After everyone has been made equally medium-poor, then where, without incentives for hard work and production, are further disbursements supposed to come from? Think of the former Soviet Union, Cuba or Venezuela.
The encyclical’s economic platform for a more just world codifies as moral the redistribution of wealth between wealthy and impoverished regions of the world. The pope concludes, erroneously, that the free market capitalist system marginalizes the impoverished and disabled and should therefore give way to a system that provides for a more equitable distribution of earth’s resources. He reminds the public that the Church has never defended the right to private property as an absolute. Instead, he recommends that it should be curtailed to serve the commonweal. The approach seems to turn a blind eye to the Church’s vast accumulation of property and other goods. Would the Church perhaps care to redistribute that?
This limitation on property ownership is followed up by the right of people to emigrate, individually and collectively, and of their right to progress. What about the right of people not to take all strangers into their house? The concept flies in the face of a historical pattern: that businesses primarily operate under the rubric of enlightened self-interest for the good of all. It is capitalism, not fraternal socialism, that has improved the economic condition of generations of workers and farmers, ushering them into a middle-class status. The major flaw in socialism seems to be: where does the money continue to come from once the first disbursement runs dry? Socialist politicians seem to assume that since they will not be around forever, the problem of the government’s failure to innovate or produce and distribute goods and services will be somebody else’s problem. Worse, under Socialism, a coterie of leaders, and their friends and family, live extremely well while everyone else is disincentivized and impoverished, if not worse.
In today’s Communist China, citizens are also subjected to a civilian “surveillance system” that determines everything from their ability to travel to where they can live. Although even totalitarian China, through a state capitalist system, has lifted tens of millions out of poverty — its economic model has been largely to steal information and technology from the West.
It is also within recent memory that socialist ideologies have brought the greatest misery to the greatest number: in Soviet Socialist Russia, in the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Castro’s Cuba, and now in Venezuela. Although Marxist-Leninists in the former Soviet Union called each other comrade for decades, these visionaries were responsible for the deaths — often murders — of up to 20 million of their own people. The toll during Mao Zedong’s socialist experiment in the People’s Republic of China has been estimated at more than twice that in just four years.
The text of the papal document cites a plethora of Judeo-Christian scripture as the theological justification for these comprehensive structural changes in the world order.
Unfortunately, the Pope’s agenda, if implemented, would have even further dire ramifications for the United States and its allies in the Free World.
Francis has also revolutionized the centuries old Catholic calculus for a “Just War” and rules out the possibility that in many situations people might actually find themselves better off after a conflict than before one. So much for the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War II. Should people suffering under despotic rule, then, just be quiet and endure it? Has the Pope already forgotten that it was under the guidance of the Church — propelled by the murder in 1984 of the Polish priest, Jerzy Popieluszko and under the leadership of the Solidarity Union’s Lech Walesa — that Eastern Europe was freed from its suffocating Communism? Such a judgment also strips away the entire U.S. military strategy of forward-deployed strength to deter aggressors from initiating wars in the first place.
The Pope further posits that, in this era of nuclear proliferation and other means of mass destruction, no war can be justified. What are you supposed to do, though, if another country is aggressive but you are not? His judgment seems to rule out the moral rationale for a defensive alliance such as NATO, which pledges to defend its members against predatory states such as Russia, should it start to become restive.
Francis’ political prescription in a utopian world, as opposed to a real one, not only envisions a weakening of the nation-state system, surrender of national sovereignty, open borders, denial of the right of nations to morally justify participation in armed conflict and empowerment of international organizations with “real teeth,” and a free economy; it also fails to comprehend that a nation without secure borders is no nation at all, and leaves its citizens at the mercy of the “stranger.”
In the Pope’s encyclical, the “stranger” is always a desperate, impoverished refugee seeking solace, never an aggressor with the will to conquer. Francis urges native people to be patient with newcomers so that they will more easily seek assimilation. Often the reality, however, particularly in Europe, which has recently experienced a massive influx of Muslims, is that many of the “strangers” choose isolation and, seemingly, a desire to have the native population assimilate to them, along, sometimes, with dreams of supplanting the dominant religious or ethnic strain.
Another odd and troubling aspect of this encyclical is the textual references to the personal relationship between Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb of Cairo’s Al-Azhar. The unveiling ceremony of the encyclical, it turns out, was attended by the Grand Imam’s advisor, Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salem. There is no mention of representatives of other faiths at the ceremonials associated with the publication of the encyclical.
That detail is noteworthy, as “Fratelli Tutti” meticulously seems to avoid any issue that might offend non-Christians, especially Muslims. Francis nowhere speaks of Jesus as God the Father made incarnate, which the Koran denounces as polytheistic blasphemy. There is no detailed discussion of Christ’s passion and death sacrifice, which Muslims deny took place. There is no impetus in “Fratelli Tutti” to evangelize, no stimulus to spread the Gospel. Is that because proselytizing might have offended some non-Christians? The whole concept of the Holy Trinity is reduced to an oblique poetical reference in an afterthought prayer following the encyclical’s text reading: “O God, Trinity of love.” following the textual end of the encyclical. This obscure and solitary mention of the Trinity, which Christians honor every time they make the “Sign of the Cross,” seems possibly a deliberate omission not to offend the sensitivities of others, perhaps Muslims, who embrace the idea of “tawhid” (the absolute oneness and indivisibility of Allah).
The most confusing aspect of the 43,000 word encyclical is the lack of clarity regarding its intended audience(s). Although Francis may have been especially aware of his Muslim guests, Catholics must wonder if they, too, were included as part of the intended audience. There was simply little or no mention in the encyclical of core Catholic beliefs. There was no acknowledgement of the immortality of the soul. Not one sentence mentioned the Eucharist, the Catholic belief that Jesus as God is present in the substance of the consecrated bread and wine; no mention of the sacraments. There is only one passing passive adjectival reference to the Resurrection.
Jesus, in this encyclical, is reduced to an itinerant Jew-Preacher, a spinner of rustic yarns, not a Messiah performing miracles for the masses. The untutored reader of this encyclical cannot possibly discern from the text that this Jesus is believed by many to be the Incarnation of the Creator God of the Jewish Bible and the New Testament who humbled Himself to enter the lives of His creatures to show them the straight path to eternal salvation.
A reader also cannot recognize in this encyclical the Resurrected Jesus, whose last command to His closest disciples was to “Go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples baptizing them in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
In the social dimension, Francis calls for a universal end to the death penalty as a form of retributive violence sanctioned by the state but that seems only to serve a desire for revenge. Even a murderer, the Pope writes, has human rights. Francis is aligned with the evolving social conscience of most Catholics on this issue, not necessarily because execution is a form of revenge, although for many it might be, but that capital punishment has never been administered ethnically or racially fair. Catholics, like most people of good will, also fear that the state, mistakenly, has too often executed the innocent.
To his credit, Francis explicitly condemns terrorism, even religious-based terror, without specifically identifying the Islamic source of most “holy war” terrorism. He then walks the thought back a bit by blaming as incendiaries unfortunate circumstances such as hunger, poverty, injustice and oppression. Although Pope Francis insists that wrongful interpretations of scripture are employed by terrorists, he does not offer any specific passages to underscore this incorrect claim.
Omitted from the Pope’s long letter of moralizing is the that the Koran is believed by Muslims to be the eternal and divine word of Allah, not subject to interpretation or alteration. The Koran and the Hadith (Mohammed’s alleged words and deeds, the other leading Islamic scripture) are replete with hate-filled directives against Jews, as well as passages condoning the unequal treatment of Christians and other non-believers, plus recommendations to punish apostates, adulterers, homosexuals and other transgressors.
It is the seemingly calculated omissions that challenge the integrity of this encyclical and indict its author as disingenuous, sadly even deceitful. Surely there was room in this tome for a fulsome condemnation of China’s lack of fraternity — the 380 concentrations camps and torture — with regard to their Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Also, what of the institutionalized inequality of womankind, especially female Muslims, particularly as it involves Islamic laws of inheritance, freedom of movement, liberty to socialize, the administration of divorce, unjust witness procedures or child marriage? It seems as if an “old boy’s club” proclivity of the church hierarchy remains a bitter point of contention for many Catholic men who view their wives and daughters with respect and equal souls in the eyes of God.
This unwieldy, sometimes bewildering, encyclical is ostensibly crafted to reflect the spiritual legacy of the universally acclaimed goodness of a beloved Catholic saint, Francis of Assisi. In truth, however, “Fratelli Tutti” seems more a contrived, secular attempt to fashion a model for the governance of humankind that could attract the support of believer and non-believer alike. Unfortunately, it may also rally those hoping to bring down Judeo-Christian civilization to assume that the West is unfurling a flag of surrender.