Amid Kerfuffle over Title, New Encyclical Accents ‘brothers and Sisters’

By Elise Ann Allen
October 4, 2020

ROME – Since the title of the pope’s new encyclical Fratelli Tutti was announced a month ago, there’s been debate over the translation, with several groups arguing that the phrase – translated by some into English as “All Brothers” – is exclusive of women.

Those critics might be pleasantly surprised when they break open the new document, which begins with a reference to “all brothers and sisters.”

While the actual title Fratelli Tutti is never translated, the first section of the encyclical opens and closes with references to “brothers and sisters.” The first line reads, “’Fratelli tutti.’ With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.”

At the close of that first section, the pope makes a similar reference. Speaking of the need to dream together for a new form of global fraternity, Francis said it was his desire “that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women.”

“Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all,” he said.

Throughout the document, English translators are also careful to use the terms “she” and “hers” along with “he” and “his,” a degree of concern for inclusivity relatively new in papal documents.

Taken from number six in the Admonitions of St. Francis, the encyclical’s title comes from a passage that begins: “Let us all, brothers, look to the Good Shepherd who suffered the passion of the Cross to save his sheep.”

Once the title was announced in early September, a debate ensued about the translation; specifically, whether it should be “All Brothers” given the phrase was taken from a line in which Francis of Assisi is speaking to his brother friars, or something to the effect of “Brothers and Sisters All” since the Italian word fratelli can be translated as either “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.”

Even the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, referred to the title as “All Brothers” in his speech at a recent panel on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Numerous individuals and Catholic women’s organizations have spoken out about the title.

Voices of Faith, an outspoken advocacy group for women’s rights and leadership in the Catholic Church, recently distributed an open letter from the Catholic Women’s Council to Pope Francis expressing “deep concern” over the title’s lack of inclusivity.

In the letter, the group said they had “no doubt” the encyclical would be “a profound and challenging call to act in response to the many crises facing our world today as a result of increasing economic and social injustice.”

However, they noted that “a growing number of Catholics are expressing concern over your choice of title for the encyclical.”

While acknowledging that the title comes from a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, they argued that using the masculine pronoun would “alienate” women at a time when they are increasingly resistant to “being told that the masculine is intended generically,” and when terms such as “mankind” and “brethren” are outdated in English-speaking countries.

The translation of the title as “All Brothers,” they said, “makes more explicit and painful the exclusion of women from the opening words of the encyclical…At best it is a distraction, and at worst it is a serious stumbling block.

Other organizations who voiced concern over the title were: Catholic Women Speak; Catholic Network for Women’s Equality; Future Church; Donne Per La Chiesa; Indian Women Theologians; Radio Veritas in South Africa; Women and the Australian Church; and We Are Church Ireland, as well as a number of others.

Not only does the document open by addressing “brothers and sisters,” throughout the text whenever the pope makes a point that extends to humanity as a whole, the reference is to “men and women” of goodwill, rather than a generic word such as “people” or “humanity.”

Women’s rights are a major theme throughout the encyclical.

In paragraph 23, the pope noted notes that “the organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men.”

“We say one thing with words, but our decisions and reality tell another story. Indeed, doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment, and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights,” the document reads.

It also makes reference to the violence many women suffer as a result of human trafficking and exploitation, saying this phenomenon is “a perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort.”

Francis also likened women’s inequality to the denial of migrants’ rights, saying in paragraph 121, “as it is unacceptable that some have fewer rights by virtue of being women, it is likewise unacceptable that the mere place of one’s birth or residence should result in his or her possessing fewer opportunities for a developed and dignified life.”

Also included are references to the exploitation many women are subjected to and the inequalities and discrimination they face due to gender.








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