Franciscan Theologian Challenges the Hypocrisy in New Papal Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”

Ilia Delio

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

6 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Some of the most important and successful social movements have had women and LGBT people in key roles. Indeed, intersectionality is a big factor in movements today. Movements need women, LGBT people, people of color, people of various religions and ethnicities and other diverse qualities. Indeed, some of the power of the Black Lives Matter rallies and marches and actions this year, has come from their inclusive nature.

    Francis’ message is a powerful one. But it reveals the hypocrisy and emptiness of the church he represents, because it is a message that is addressed to the world outside, not to the world inside the structure of the church.

    It brings to mind the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother/sister’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your sister/brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your another’s eye.”

    Until the members of the Church, from top to bottom, seriously deal with the plank of discrimination within, the message will be salt that has lost its savor.

  2. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    Sr. Delio speaks of a Truth that a majority of us feel strongly in our hearts regarding the failure of the church to practice real justice at home, but we are afraid to challenge that publicly. The firing of so many great teachers because of who they love comes to mind. Justice then becomes nothing more than a hollow platitude and certainly does not serve as a witness for anyone. Is it any wonder that many no longer care. Thank you Sister for the courage to express something so fundamental, yet the pink elephant remains in the room and we are expected to carry on like it is not there. You are a gift to the earth and a channel for God’s Love to flow freely.

  3. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    I believe there is one flaw in this position, that is, mandating the rights of women’s bodies. Agreed that each of us has the right and responsibility to care for our bodies; is it ironic or hypocritical that this is the phrase used to deny the care of the fetus of which we were all once? I cringe when I hear it because I truly believe we lose credibility because of our own contradiction.
    I believe that we need to talk about the 60-70%of women who live in poverty that are not so much exercising their “right” as they have no other or precious little options. What are we doing to address women in that situation? Further, most of these women are women of color. So they have an abortion, and we either condemn her or tell her she has that right, but what are we doing to address white supremacy of which white privilege is a fact of our very existence. We privileged feel pretty good about what we say, but what are we doing? Additionally, what of the women in domestic violence situations, are we addressing that injustice?
    Finally, why are we not addressing perhaps 30% of women who have used abortion as a form of birth control when viable options are readily available?
    I agree with everything else the good sister said, however, in this issue of justice, are we the hypocrites?

    • Loretta
      Loretta says:

      P.S. I would add that those who vote and speak vehemently against abortion also do not include concern for the circumstances mentioned above.


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