Next weekend, at an event in the Italian city of Assisi, the Pope Francisco he will sign a new encyclical, the third of his pontificate, focused on brotherhood among peoples in a world in constant conflict and now marked by the coronavirus.
Before being published, the papal letter has been causing discord among the faithful, especially among Catholic feminists. The reason: the use of the word “brothers” in the title, not to mention the equivalent “sisters”.
Taken from a writing by Saint Francis of Assisi, patron of the poor and animals and saint who inspired Jorge Mario Bergoglio to adopt the name Francisco, the expression “Fratelli tutti” (all brothers, in Italian) was published last month as the title of the new encyclical and immediately became the target of criticism from women’s groups, who claimed not to be represented.
The controversy was added to others in a moment of special tension for the Vatican, which saw in the last week the resignation of one of the main cardinals of the Roman Clergy, Angelo Becciu, close assistant to the pope who was defenestrated by Bergoglio himself for allegedly being involved in corruption. – the case is under investigation, in Vatican and ordinary courts.
Representatives of Catholic women’s groups, such as Paola Lazzarini, from the Women for the Church association, noted the contradiction: the title of an encyclical on brotherhood and fraternity does not cover women.
“This is a fragment of a much bigger problem that exists within the Catholic Church. At Mass we are also used to always listening to male expressions. The documents are all written by men,” says Polish Zuzanna Flisowska, a member of Voices of Faith, an organization that advocates more space for women in the church.
The criticism is directed at the pontiff who acted most to give prominence to women in the Vatican.
Francisco promoted several of them to leadership positions, although power in the Holy See is predominantly male and clerical. The reality is still permeated by situations typical of a very backward world: there are many cases, in Rome and elsewhere, of nuns and sisters who serve priests, bishops and cardinals as maids, without any rights and remuneration, not to mention cases of abuse sexual, debate that has been gaining body internally in recent years. Women represent the majority of Catholic faithful worldwide, and are also the ones who attend the churches the most.
In a letter sent to the pope, signed by thirty women’s organizations in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, Catholics argue: “the masculine noun will distance many at a time when women in many different languages and cultures suffer from hearing that the masculine is understood in a generic sense “. They mention the “explicit and painful” exclusion of women in the opening word of the encyclical when quoting the translation into languages such as English and German.
“At best it will be a distraction, at worst a serious obstacle”, the letter emphasizes, saying that everything would be solved if they included the word sisters (“sorelle”, in Italian) next to brothers. “We know that such a small change would be in line with the spirit of San Francisco and with his intentions,” wrote the women to the pontiff. “We invite you to demonstrate that you are really open to dialogue and that you are listening to women’s voices.”
The Vatican spoke up, which came as a surprise to some of the women in the organizations that signed the letter – “years ago, this kind of criticism was not even taken into account,” said Paola Lazzarini.
The institution commented on the controversy through an editorial written by the editorial director of the department (similar to the ministry) for communication, Andrea Tornielli, and in an article signed by an expert in San Francisco de Assis published in the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, official agency of the Holy See.
In the text published on the Vatican website, Tornielli wrote that “it would be absurd to think that the title, in its formulation, is intended to exclude more than half of human beings, that is, women”. He points out that “fraternity and friendship”, themes of the encyclical, “indicate what unites men and women”. “That is why misunderstandings or partial readings of the universal and inclusive message of the words ‘fratelli tutti’ are not possible,” he wrote.
The Swiss friar and historian Niklaus Kuster, in an article in L’Osservatore Romano, argued that “the insensitive translations ignore” that, in the work cited by St. Francis of Assisi, he refers “to all women and all Christian men “as it is a universal brotherhood.
Andrea Tornielli’s response generated even more criticism. According to Paola Lazzarini, it is a typical case of “mansplaining”, a term used to define an act in which the man tries to explain to a woman, in a tone of superiority, something simple or that she already knew. “Are we not at liberty to say that we don’t feel included? It seems more important to save a quote than to go against a claim,” said the founder of the Women for the Church association.
Zuzanna Flisowska says that there has been a change in the use of language, which has become more inclusive in recent years, and says that the Church must also take this into account, and it is no longer possible to repeat content from almost a thousand years ago – case of the passage written by San Francisco – to justify a title that excludes women.
“Perhaps this is the most open pope of all that we know, but this is an issue of mentality that involves everyone. Being a pontiff sensitive to the excluded, he should be sensitized about it”, comments Flisowska.
The encyclical is the highest level of pontifical communications and is addressed to bishops and the faithful, constituting a kind of doctrinal body of the Catholic Church on various subjects. This will be the third published by Bergoglio since he became pope in 2013.
The Vatican has given no sign that it will change the title of the document, which will be signed by Pope Francis on Saturday (3rd) and released on Sunday (4th, the day of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi). The Holy See has just confirmed that the title – “Fratelli tutti” – will be kept in Italian also in the translations of the letter into other languages, as happened with its previous encyclical, “Laudato Sí”, of 2015, focused on the environment.
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