Any attempt to read Pope Francis’ new encyclical Fratelli Tutti solely through an American lens is bound to result in a distortion of the document. The Pope is the universal pastor of the Catholic Church and this text is available to all, even to non-Christians. And, while it began as a reflection on interreligious dialogue, the Pope makes clear that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic took the text in a different direction, a direction that also makes all parochial readings inadequate.
That said, the document is not the least bit abstract; it is meant to be applied. And, in the event, the moral and anthropological lessons the Holy Father draws in this reflection could scarcely be more relevant to the unique circumstances of the Catholic Church in the United States as it faces next month’s two election cycles: The election of a president by the nation on November 3 and the selection of new leadership at the U.S. bishops’ conference the following week.
The Pope argues for a social outlook rooted in solidarity that “finds concrete expression in service, which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others” and is “born of the consciousness that we are responsible for the fragility of others as we strive to build a common future” (Paragraph 115). This leads to his reiteration of something St. Pope John Paul II taught in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus: “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone” (Paragraph 31 in CA). Francis continues in Fratelli Tutti: “The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods. This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society” (Paragraph 120).
If this pandemic does not shake us out of our post-modern cultural and moral and spiritual lethargy, what will? Pope Francis is throwing the Catholic Church and the whole world a lifeline. Will we grab it?
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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for the National Catholic Reporter.
With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.