What has been emanating from Rome these past few months is enough to make you scratch your head, especially if you have been following Pope Francis' movements over the past seven years in his quest for a more synodal, pastoral, and transparent Church. A John Paul II/Benedict VXI vibe has re-emerged with renewed efforts to silence prophetic voices such as Redemptorist Tony Flannery who has spoken out for women's ordination, LGBTQ inclusion, and a host of other reform issues.
Plenty of commentators, writers, and theologians have been trying to pull back the curtain on what is happening in Rome, but there is no one satisfactory explanation. We are left to guess why, with Pope Francis' apparent blessing, the Congregation for Clergy issued "The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church" in July which re-asserted the lone authority of the priest in a church where, in many regions of the world, the priesthood, as it is currently composed, is fraught with peril and has a limited life.
We are left to guess why, in August, the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith issued a "clarification" about the baptismal formula that declared baptisms administered with the formula “we baptize” are invalid. The CDF stated that anyone received the "we" formula are not validly baptized and must be baptized again, in forma absoluta. The rigid formulation of that "clarification" sent many Catholics who scrupulously follow the letter of Catholic canon law into a frenzy. No amount of parsing, no amount of defending or explaining that clarification, condones such reckless pronouncements from the CDF. Real people get hurt.
The Genius and Limits of Fratelli Tutti
And although it may seem that we are heading down the same tragic path with the exclusionary title and male-only authorship of Pope Francis' newly released encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”, the document itself is challenging, inspiring, and forceful Catholic Social Teaching -- a must-read for every Catholic layperson, bishop, and priest who cares about our common future.
First and foremost, in a world where nationalist ideologies and xenophobic policies are gaining a greater hold in societies, Francis leaves no doubt that ending war and the death penalty are preeminent tasks for those who call themselves Christian.
Working to reverse the Church's previous "just war" rationale, 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!
Every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil. Let us not remain mired in theoretical discussions, but touch the wounded flesh of the victims. Let us look once more at all those civilians whose killing was considered “collateral damage”. Let us ask the victims themselves. Let us think of the refugees and displaced, those who suffered the effects of atomic radiation or chemical attacks, the mothers who lost their children, and the boys and girls maimed or deprived of their childhood. Let us hear the true stories of these victims of violence, look at reality through their eyes, and listen with an open heart to the stories they tell. In this way, we will be able to grasp the abyss of evil at the heart of war. Nor will it trouble us to be deemed naive for choosing peace. (261)
He also ends all doubt about where the Church stands on the death penalty. "The death penalty is inadmissible and Catholics should work to abolish it." (263)
...I would stress that “it is impossible to imagine that states today have no other means than capital punishment to protect the lives of other people from the unjust aggressor”. Particularly serious in this regard are so-called extrajudicial or extralegal executions, which are “homicides deliberately committed by certain states and by their agents, often passed off as clashes with criminals or presented as the unintended consequences of the reasonable, necessary and proportionate use of force in applying the law”.
Francis shows how the use of capital punishment by the state spills over into other state crimes. As Catholics in the United States witness the extrajudicial executions of our black sisters and brothers in our streets by police officers, the pope's words will both challenge us and inspire us to use every muscle we have to bring racial and reparative justice to our communities and to our country.
Francis also pens a razor-sharp analysis of our sagging human interactions and offers a way out of our self-defeating, self-inflicted fiefdoms. For those who have been listening to the news cycle or reading their social media feeds, the truth of Francis' words are immediately apparent.
The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values. Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion. Their share of the truth and their values are rejected and, as a result, the life of society is impoverished and subjected to the hubris of the powerful. Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation. (15)
How many of us have witnessed or experienced this phenomenon? How many of us have personally employed these tools?
Francis mirrors our own hopes, "God willing, after all this [pandemic], we will think no longer in terms of "them" and "those", but only "us". (35)
While Pope Francis offers us a compelling and challenging vision for our common life together in Fratelli tutti, as the title exposes, there is a gaping blindness in connecting the treatment of women in the Church and their treatment in the world.
In paragraph 23, Francis writes, "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."
To that, Catholic women and their allies say to those with institutional authority, "Heal thyself."
The exquisite insights Francis brings to so many of the ideologies that threaten to destroy human life and the earth reach a tragic limit when it comes to understanding how the church's inbred sin of sexism continues to hamstring its ability to see how the church's words about women's equality and dignity and its decisions to exclude women from having meaningful authority within the institution also contribute to the threats against women everywhere, and especially where women live in poverty and are vulnerable to exploitation.
How much more effective would our efforts to end slavery, especially the sex trade, be if the Church had the wisdom to understand its complicity in the multitude of sins and crimes against women? How much more effective would our efforts to end the exploitation of women be if the Church modeled true and co-equal partnership between women and men, lay and ordained in governance, ministries, liturgies, and in the way we tell the stories of our faith?
Francis does not cite any women theologians in the sources for this work. And while he rightly garners wisdom from Saint Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, and Blessed Charles de Foucauld, besides the reference to Mary, Francis does not cite a wise woman of faith as a model for this encyclical.
Prior to the release of Fratelli Tutti, as part of the Catholic Women's Council, FutureChurch called for including women in the title and content of the encyclical in an open letter to Pope Francis. An important starting point and strategy since it is obvious that more than half the church -- women -- are left out, we also recognize the ongoing and necessary efforts to include people who do not identify with those binary categories.
AN OPEN LETTER TO POPE FRANCIS REGARDING THE TITLE OF THE FORTHCOMING ENCYCLICAL, ‘FRATELLI TUTTI’
Dear Pope Francis,
This letter has been distributed for signature by the Catholic Women’s Council – a coalition of Catholic women’s networks from around the world, campaigning for the full recognition of women’s dignity and equality in the Church. We represent the broad diversity of the Catholic tradition on many issues, and we do not speak with one voice. However, we are committed to promoting the social teaching of the Church and to living the joy and challenge of the Gospel. We continue to draw inspiration from your vision of the Church incarnate in all the world’s cultures and peoples, working in solidarity with all who seek a more just and sustainable global ethos.
We heed your call to be a bold, messy and risk-taking Church in which we may speak with "parrhesia," and we follow the model of dialogue that you offer in "Amoris Laetitia." That is why, with love for your person and respect for your office, we write to express our deep concern over the title of your forthcoming encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti." We have no doubt that, like 'Laudato Si’, this will 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, a looming environmental catastrophe, and the vast suffering caused by the Covid pandemic. In all this, we believe the women of the world wish to stand with you in solidarity, prayer and support.
However, a growing number of Catholics are expressing concern over your choice of title for the encyclical. We have listed links to a number of sources below. We understand that the title comes from a quotation from Saint Francis, and we know that you intend it to include all humankind. Nevertheless, the masculine noun will alienate many, at a time when women in many different languages and cultures are resistant to being told that the masculine is intended generically. This is particularly true in English-speaking countries, where exclusive terms such as “mankind” and “brethren” are no longer used when referring to humankind. Many Italian women are also arguing that they do not feel included in the term “fratelli”, and in German a more precise indication of the intended gender is essential if the meaning is to be communicated in the translation. Already, numerous English commentators are translating the title as “Brothers All” in a way which makes more explicit and painful the exclusion of women from the opening words of the encyclical.
Dear Pope Francis, this issue presents a problem for many who would otherwise be fully engaged with the encyclical and committed to working with you for lasting social, spiritual and environmental transformation. At best it is a distraction, and at worst it is a serious stumbling block. This unfortunate situation can be very easily rectified by the inclusion of “sorelle” as well as “fratelli” in the title. This would ensure that translations must include sisters as well as brothers in all languages, and it would prevent any misunderstanding as to your intended audience. We know that such a minor modification would be in keeping with the spirit of Saint Francis, and with your own intentions. We urge you to show that you are indeed open to dialogue and are listening to the voices of women. It would be a powerful message that you have heard us, if you were to make this one small change to the title.
We remain your sisters in Christ, and we hold you in our prayers.
The Catholic Women’s Council
Speaking Up For Tony Flannery
As the clock ticks for the once all-powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its long held role of ensuring orthodoxy and policing the faithful, it has officially sought to bring Fr. Tony Flannery into compliance with official church teaching via a loyalty oath. FutureChurch joined forces with Catholic Organizations for Renewal in speaking out.
U.S. CATHOLIC REFORM ORGS STAND IN SOLIDARITY WITH FR. TONY FLANNERY
September 23, 2020
As Catholics working together for a renewed Church, we stand proudly in solidarity with Irish Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery in the face of continued threats and bullying from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) over his support for women’s ordination and the full dignity of LGBT+ persons.
The Inquisition-era “oaths of fidelity” the CDF has demanded that Fr. Flannery sign directly oppose the Church’s long-held teachings about the primacy of the individual conscience, as expressed from St. Thomas Aquinas through the Second Vatican Council.
The oaths require Fr. Flannery publicly assent to Church teaching that priestly ordination is reserved to men, that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that rejects “gender theory.” These kinds of outdated and insulting oaths are damaging to priests who are being asked to choose between their God-given conscience and the Church and its people, whom they are called to serve.
Fr. Flannery’s advocacy represents beliefs that many Catholics share and long to hear more priests speak out loud. This attempt at suppression by the CDF is a stark reminder of the institution’s resistance to any sort of meaningful dialogue towards solutions to the many crises the Church faces today.
While the CDF may attempt to prevent Fr. Flannery’s “return to public ministry,” what the congregation fails to see is that his ministry cannot be silenced, and in reality, they have not stopped him or all those who join him in following the Gospel message of equality.
If Pope Francis is sincere about his openness to dialogue, his stated need for an increased role for women in the Church, and his words that LGBT+ people are beloved children of God, this letter and oaths of fidelity must be rescinded. Moreover, structures and processes that advance the vision of a dialogical and discerning Church, which Pope Francis promotes and many Catholics long for, must replace these coercive and abusive tactics.
We call upon other members of the Catholic Church to show the same courage and fidelity to conscience as Fr. Flannery, and for pastoral leaders to walk fearlessly alongside the people of God on the journey to a more inclusive, loving Church. -End
Heeding Our Black Catholic Prophets
Breonna Taylor died on March 13, 2020 after police officers in plain clothes entered her home using a no-knock search warrant. Her boyfriend, a licensed gun owner, called 911, but also shot at the intruders. Police officers returned fire discharging more than 25 bullets. Five bullets hit Ms. Taylor, one severing the main pulmonary artery. She died within two minutes after receiving that fatal shot.
Say Her Name.
Ms Taylor, a emergency medicine healthcare worker, was wearing a heart shaped necklace that she had received as a keepsake from her grandmother who had died three years earlier. Her mother, Tamika Palmer, says it is hard to breathe without her daughter.
Say Her Name.
The person the police were searching for had been arrested earlier that day. There were no drugs in the apartment. Ms. Taylor's death was absolutely avoidable. And the officers involved were not charged with murder or manslaughter.
Say Her Name.
What is incomprehensible to most white people is part of the everyday terror that follows so many of our sisters and brothers of color. And as the African American Policy Forum illustrates, black women suffer additional discrimination. When they are killed, the crime(s) goes unnoticed.
Catholics need to engage as never before in the struggle to end every vestige of racism within our Church and in our world.
FutureChurch has undertaken a multi year initiative to address the sin of racism within the Catholic Church and work for racial and reparative justice by lifting up and engaging the prophetic voices of Black Catholic Women who have been instrumental in shaping our Catholic faith and identity. The initiative is entitled, "Women Witnesses for Racial Justice" and is funded by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The initiative is multifaceted and will include
-A new website
-Newly commissioned art for this initiative by Chloe Becker
-Regular Liturgies of the Word and prayer services where we can draw together prayerfully to address racism and to engage in efforts to realize racial justice
-Presentations by Black Catholic Women whose expertise will help us engage in the work of the Gospel more effectively
The initiative will officially kick off in November during Black Catholic History Month with a Liturgy of the Word. The first educational and prayer resource focusing on the life and work of Sr. Antona Ebo is available for download now.
Catholics will have the opportunity to come together in community to build a world where justice reigns for all our sisters and brothers, but especially those who have been systematically denigrated in social, political, and economic structures that privilege white people.
Together, we will work to build the kin-dom where the lives of Breonna Taylor, Gabriella Nevarez, Aura Rosser, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, George Floyd, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many others innocents who have shed blood will not only matter, but will transform our church and our culture from one where white supremacy is maintained to one where all God's people can truly live the Gospel promise of life to the fullest.