Dear Pope Francis,
This letter has been distributed 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
Indian Women Theologians
7. Alle Brüder