Just over a week ago, Pope Francis released his latest major writing, the encyclical Fratelli Tutti. The pope calls for a renewed sense of solidarity between people in a time of social breakdown when nationalism, racism, and other ills are resurgent, all set in the context of the pandemic.
But for all Francis’ pleas for greater justice and peace in the world, theologian and Franciscan Sr. Ilia Delio identifies a key failing in the encyclical, namely a certain hypocrisy of a church demanding justice in the world when such justice is not reflected in the church itself. She writes in Global Sisters Report:
“The pope advocates grand ideas that stop short of mandating public policies: justice, community, compassion and, best of all, brotherhood and sisterhood. The irony of his message is that the Roman Catholic Church is the most homophobic institution in the world today. With a plea for human solidarity and fraternity, the pope seeks to establish equity in the world, describing a vision of universal brotherhood where ‘all people are my brothers and sisters, and … the world truly belongs to everyone.’
“How do we make sense of this in a church that does not regard women as equal? A church that will not allow the ordination of women or even the ability of women to preach? A church that insists on mandating the rights of a woman’s body? A church that excludes LGBTQ persons from full acceptance and does not allow divorced and remarried persons to participate in the liturgy?
“How does the pope tell the world what it needs to do when he spearheads an institution grounded in patriarchy, hierarchy and ontological differences?”
Delio suggests that, perhaps, Pope Francis “is speaking to the world because no one is listening to him at home, or perhaps because he is afraid to speak to his own brothers.” The world indeed needs what emerges from the pope’s discernment of the signs of our times. Fratelli Tutti prophetically challenges the global status quo, the realities of inequality and oppression which a pandemic exposes anew.
But Delio is correct that until the church lives by the values it proposes, especially when it comes to questions of gender and sexuality, it remains a hypocrite. She focuses on an aspect of Sts. Francis’ and Clare’s ministry and leadership relevant here: Each saint exhorted their community members to pursue the inner integrity so necessary to offer a credible public witness. Not only Pope Francis, but all Catholics need to remember this insight. We need to build up a just and inclusive church precisely so that the faith we hold can more greatly lead to the rule of God being realized on earth.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2020