Language and Timing
On October 3, 2020 The Vatican released Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fraternity and Social Friendship”. There was no end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic and the American national elections were underway.[i] The timing seems consistent with Rahm Emanuel’s advice: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” The 2020 election decided the presidency, 1/3 the seats in the senate, and the entire House of Representatives.
English spelling of, “neighbor”, “honor”, and “labor” indicates it was written in English-English as opposed to American-English.[ii] This may account for the regal style of the document. Many Americans are wary of such writings.
[i] Election day was November 3, 2020 however because of the pandemic many people were voting by mail.
[ii] The encyclical was originally written in Italian and translated into English.
Some Highlights and Observations
The encyclical claims the inability of countries to work together made dealing with the COVID-19 more difficult. The paragraph ends by stating: “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.”[i] The encyclical states; “If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems.”[ii]
As of October 18, 2020, mortality rates varied significantly depending on country. Singapore had a mortality rate of 0.0484% and Mexico had a mortality rate of 10.16%. Nepal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Venezuela, and Lebanon were among the countries with mortality rates below 1%.[iii]
Under the section on shattered dreams Pope Francis writes; “We are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life.”[iv]
Under the section on the end of historical consciousness Pope Francis claims it results in “the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism.”[v] The encyclical uses the word “individualism” 9 times, always as a pejorative. It states; “Individualism does not make us more free, more equal, more fraternal.”[vi] Pope Francis writes, “Consumerist individualism has led to great injustice.”[vii]
The encyclical quotes a January 11, 2016 Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See; “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ like the elderly. We have grown indifferent to all kinds of wastefulness, starting with the waste of food, which is deplorable in the extreme.”[viii]
The Encyclical states: “The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods.”[ix]
Pope Frances often points to the parable of the Good Samaritan. He applies the parable to how countries and people should deal with immigration and other issues. “Each day we have to decided whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders.”[x]
The backstory of the parable is the wounded man was an innocent victim of a violent robbery. The Good Samaritan had no way of knowing this. This made the Good Samaritan’s risk and by extension the inn keeper’s risk much higher. This increases the height of Christ’s challenge.
Pope Frances claims “indigenous peoples”, while not opposed to progress, have a more humanistic approach to progress than those of “developed peoples.” The encyclical calls for respect for diversity and offering advancement and social integration for all.[xi]
The Encyclical espouses people viewing all of humanity as a family. It gives an idyllic version of how families interact.[xii]
On employment: “Work is an essential dimension of social life, for it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread, but also of personal growth, the building of healthy relationships, self-expression and the exchange of gifts. Work gives us a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world, and ultimately, for our life as people.”[xiii]
The Encyclical calls for abolition of the death penalty. The Encyclical quotes the October 23, 2014 address of Pope Francis to the delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, “…A life sentence is a secret death penalty”. The Encyclical is ambiguous but Pope Francis’ 2014 address makes it clear the Encyclical calls for the abolition of the death penalty and life imprisonment, with or without parole.[xiv]
The Encyclical dismisses relativism as a solution for a basis of consensus. It holds up murder as an example. Pope Francis points out murder is not wrong because it’s socially unacceptable and illegal. It is “a non-negotiable truth attained by the use of reason and accepted in conscience.”[xv]
The example seems to disprove the premise. Assisted suicide, abortion, the death penalty euthanasia, are all considered murder by the Catholic Church, and many others, but there is no consensus.
In pointing out events of unjust and cruel suffering the Encyclical specifically mentions the Holocaust (Shoah) and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[xvi] No mention is made of the Imperial Japanese Army atrocities in China or anyplace else. No specific mention is made of communist atrocities made in the 20th century.
The Encyclical claims the most important causes of today’s crises are: desensitized consciences, lack of religious values, prevailing individualism, and materialistic philosophies. It goes on to state religious traditions have centuries of experience and wisdom that can stimulate thought and expand the mind and heart. Pope Francis laments religious traditions are often viewed with distain.[xvii]
On war Pope Francis writes: “We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war’. Never again war.”[xviii]
[i] Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on Fraternity and Social Friendship, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html, Paragraph 7. Last accessed 10/18/20.
[ii] Ibid. Paragraph 35.
[iii] COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6, last accessed 10/18/20.
[iv] Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on Fraternity and Social Friendship, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html, Paragraph 12, last accessed 10/18/20.
[v] Ibid, Paragraph 13.
[vi] Ibid. Paragraph 105.
[vii] Ibid. Paragraph 222.
[viii] Ibid. Paragraph 18
[ix] Ibid. Paragraph 120.
[x] Ibid. Paragraph 69.
[xi] Ibid. Paragraph 220.
[xii] Ibid. Paragraph 230.
[xiii] Ibid. Paragraph 162.
[xiv] Ibid. Paragraph 268.
[xv] Ibid. Paragraph 207.
[xvi] Ibid. Paragraphs 247 & 248.
[xvii] Ibid. Paragraph 275.
[xviii] Ibid. Paragraph 258.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 21, 2020:
Thank you all for reading and commenting. Encyclicals give the pope's position on matters. Time will tell how many people will be swayed by this encyclical.
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 21, 2020:
Your summary is excellent. Many people think he is wrong about the death penalty, assisted suicide and abortion.
RoadMonkey on October 21, 2020:
I am not sure what encyclicals are supposed to be for? Exhortations to do better? A commentary on recent events and the use of these as teaching points? I certainly agree that we should not have wars. In the past, it could be considered that wars were ways of reducing the population but as the encyclical says - too much risk these days!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 21, 2020:
I had not heard of the encyclical before. This was a very well-written, interesting article. You explained the encyclical very well. Thanks for sharing this information.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 21, 2020:
Thank you both for reading and commenting:
Peggy Woods - There have been a total of 27 cases in the Vatican as of 10/21/20 @ 13:24 Eastern. There has been a relative spike on 10/12 & 10/15 there were 7 cases and 1 more on the 20th. The encyclical is a long document.
Liz Westwood - I'm sure Pope Francis believes it is a challenge to mankind to do better.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 21, 2020:
I hadn't heard of this encyclical before. It certainly makes for interesting reading and you explain it well. Do you view it as a challenge to mankind to do better?
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 21, 2020:
I see on the news today that the pope wore a face mask on camera and that many people in his guard have gotten COVID-19. He addressed many different topics in his encyclical.