The new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (hereafter FT), is an atypical papal document.
First, because contrary to tradition, it is not addressed to the Catholic bishops, clergy, or faithful.1 Instead, it is written for “all people of goodwill, regardless of their religious convictions.”2
Second, because it is not inspired by Sacred Scripture, Fathers or Doctors of the Church, or the perennial Magisterium of the Church. Non-Catholics inspire it. It even quotes a syncretistic samba song (a Brazilian music genre) by a Brazilian communist poet.3
Finally, it does not deal with any specific Catholic topic, nor does it offer guidance to pastors and faithful to deal with the severe problems that affect the Church today.
The document is Pope Francis’s sociological commentary on the modern world and is informed by his ecologist, anti-capitalist, and pro-socialist prejudices.
In a sense, FT’s verbose text is a compendium of Pope Francis’s entire magisterium. The pope is largely self-referential, repeating previously stated ideas and concepts, especially from his encyclical Laudato Si’, which he cites twenty times, and of which FT is a development.
Thus, we will limit ourselves here to highlight and comment on some of FT’s aspects that are particularly important today.
Who Is Fratelli Tutti’s Target Audience?
As stated above, FT is not addressed directly to Catholics. It is surprising for a pope to write an encyclical disregarding its readers’ “religious convictions.” However, this is consistent with FT’s interreligious and naturalistic inspirations, which are largely drawn from non-Catholics.4
Indeed, Pope Francis clarifies:
“In the preparation of Laudato Si’, I had a source of inspiration in my brother Bartholomew, the Orthodox Patriarch…. In this case, I have felt particularly encouraged by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, with whom I met in Abu Dhabi….” (no. 5.)
“In these pages of reflection on universal fraternity, I felt inspired particularly by Saint Francis of Assisi, but also by others of our brothers and sisters who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.” (no. 286.)
Distorting History and the “Poverello of Assisi”
The Argentine pope is not inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi. He distorts history to create his own fictional “Saint Francis,” an irenic ecumenist. He writes: “There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, color or religion. It was his visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt….” (no. 3, our emphasis.)
Altogether different is the profile that Saint Bonaventure draws in his biography of Saint Francis of Assisi, written less than forty years after the Poverello’s death. Not only did Saint Francis not “transcend” religious differences, but his ardent faith and charity moved him to travel to Egypt to try to convert its Sultan, Malik-el-Kamil, to the true Faith.
Saint Bonaventure narrates that, divinely inspired, the Saint of Assisi, after preaching Catholic doctrine to the Sultan, challenged all Muslim imams to trial by fire to prove whose religion was true. The Saint and an Islamic “priest” would enter together into a fire. Whoever survived, his religion was the true one. The Sultan replied that no imam would accept the challenge. The Poverello’s response was to challenge the Sultan directly:
“If thou wilt promise me for thyself and thy people that thou wilt embrace the worship of Christ if I come forth unharmed, I will enter the fire alone. And if I shall be burnt, let it be imputed to my sins. But if the Divine Power shall protect me, then let all of you acknowledge Christ to be the Power and Wisdom of God, the true God and the Lord and Saviour of all men.”5
The Sultan refused.
Does God Want all Religions? And Atheism too?
FT seems inspired mainly by the false concept affirmed in the Declaration on Human Fraternity that Pope Francis co-signed with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi, on February 4, 2019: “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom….”6
Although the pope does not quote this concept in FT, it permeates throughout the encyclical. Indeed, he states, “The present Encyclical takes up and develops some of the great themes raised in the Document that we both signed.”7
Thus, in FT, Pope Francis goes farther and suggests that God not only wills the existence of various religions but even atheism. Incorporating into the encyclical words from the 2018 film Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, the pope writes: “God does not see with his eyes, God sees with his heart. And God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion. Even if they are atheists, his love is the same.”8
But if God’s love for believers and atheists “is the same,” then the inescapable conclusion is that He wants atheism as much He as would supposedly want the diversity of religions. FT’s new proposition is as false as that expressed in the Abu Dhabi document.
God cannot want the existence of false religions and atheism because He cannot want both truth and error, good and evil. If that were so, He would be a contradictory being, and a contradictory being cannot be God, Who is eternal Wisdom, Supreme Truth, and Goodness.9
God Cannot Love an Atheist’s Unbelief
Employing anthropomorphic language, the pope presents the love of God as a passional love unguided by Divine Wisdom: “God sees with his heart.” Driven by this passion, supposedly, “his love is the same,” both for those who recognize and adore Him as the Creator of all and those who deny His very existence.
God’s love is not passional, though. As Saint Thomas points out, it is purely spiritual. Since God is pure spirit, His love does not involve sensibility. On the other hand, since all true love seeks the good, the love of God seeks that good in Himself, and indeed, He is the Supreme Good. Therefore, God loves Himself first, and it is from this love that His love for creatures and the desire to do them good flows. Thus, God cannot desire and does not love error and sin in His creatures.10
According to the Angelic Doctor, one must distinguish the love that God has for all creatures considered in their nature, which is always good in itself, and these same creatures considered in their free acts, in other words, their spiritual condition. Regarding those who are in sin, Saint Thomas says that “under this aspect, they are hated by Him.”11
Therefore, God cannot love atheists as such, “regardless” of their sin of unbelief.
A Naturalist Religion Based on “Human Dignity”
FT’s religion is not Christian but naturalistic. It disregards Original Sin, Redemption, and the need for the help of grace. It does not consider man’s ultimate end, eternal salvation in Heaven or damnation in Hell. It does not distinguish between natural and supernatural merit. One’s general impression is that, for FT, our ultimate end is life here on Earth. There is no mention, even indirect, of the judgment after death or the existence of Heaven and Hell.
In this way, religion (or “religions” as FT usually has it) ceases to matter, to the point that the encyclical speaks of “transcending it” or considering things “regardless” of their religious aspect.
For example, (speaking about Saint Francis), FT mentions an “openness of heart” that transcends “religion” (no. 3). It likewise presents human dignity, “regardless of origin, race or religion,” as “the supreme law of fraternal love” (no. 39). It reiterates that the “fundamental dignity of each person” must be taken into account “regardless of ethnic origin or religious belief” (no. 247). That is why FT addresses “all people of goodwill, regardless of their religious convictions” (no. 56).
That is a naturalist conception in which human dignity, “regardless” of believing or not in the true Faith and obeying or not God’s Ten Commandments, would suffice to lead humanity to “fraternal love,” FT’s stated goal.
A Naturalist Religion “Without Borders”
This idea of a naturalist religion “without [doctrinal) borders” and based on “human dignity” is not new. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Saint Pius X had already condemned it as part of the modernist heresy.
When condemning the modernist-inspired movement Le Sillon, this holy pope denounced a real conspiracy within the Church to transform it into a naturalist religion stripped of all dogma. The Pontiff wrote:
“[Le Sillon] is now no more than a miserable affluent of the great movement of apostasy being organized in every country for the establishment of a One-World Church which shall have neither dogmas, nor hierarchy, neither discipline for the mind, nor curb for the passions, and which, under the pretext of freedom and human dignity, would bring back to the world (if such a Church could overcome) the reign of legalized cunning and force, and the oppression of the weak, and of all those who toil and suffer.”12
Believers and Atheists Alike Do Good?
For FT, there is little difference between a believer and an atheist. Both do the same good; only their motivations differ. Believers do good deeds out of religious inspiration. Atheists do them for human dignity. The encyclical reads:
“To agnostics, this foundation [human dignity] could prove sufficient to confer a solid and stable universal validity on basic and non-negotiable ethical principles that could serve to prevent further catastrophes. As believers, we are convinced that human nature, as the source of ethical principles, was created by God, and that ultimately it is he who gives those principles their solid foundation.” (no. 214.)
Now, although believers take the religious factor into account, the encyclical is quick to warn that “does not result in an ethical rigidity nor does it lead to the imposition of any one moral system.” And that is because “fundamental and universally valid moral principles can be embodied in different practical rules. Thus, room for dialogue will always exist” (no. 214).
Likewise, FT underscores that, for Christians, “the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” However, it adds, “others drink from other sources” (no. 277). It does not highlight how Truth is found only in Holy Writ and not in these “other sources.” Nor does it state that only Our Lord Jesus Christ is the source of “living water,”13 “springing up into life everlasting.”14
FT goes on to say that from the Gospel arises “the primacy given to relationship, to the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, to universal communion with the entire human family, as a vocation of all” (no. 277).
Unfortunately, the encyclical does not explain what it means by “the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other.”
A Pantheist Mysticism
Delving deeper, if all religions and even atheism are equivalent and pleasing to God, a plausible explanation is that the natural and the supernatural are confused and that God himself is immanent in humanity and the material universe.
A World Without Borders or Private Property
While FT claims to be a social encyclical like others published by preceding popes, it has a politico-ideological bias. It curtails the legitimacy and exercise of private property as much as possible and makes an across-the-board attack on the free market economy. At the same time, it contains no criticism of Socialism and Communism and the evils perpetrated by their regimes, of which Venezuela is the latest example. Once a free and prosperous country, it was led to misery by the dictatorial and communist Chávez-Maduro regime.15
Is Property Theft?
According to FT, early Christian thinkers, based on the principle of the “common destination of created goods,” concluded that “if one person lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it is because another person is detaining it.” (no. 119.)
Pope Francis embraces this vision and makes it the context for his negative views of the Western economic system. He does not consider the countless factors that can reduce people to poverty: illness, lack of talent or ability, drunkenness and other vices, natural disasters, and so on.
He presents this distorted view without due reservations in an age drenched in Marxism, making it sound as if Communism’s materialist-deterministic theory is correct, and the poor were always the exploited victims of economic structures in which the poverty of some is always because of the wealth of others.
That is precisely what French socialist-anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) proclaimed, brutally and directly: “La propriété, c’est le vol!”—“Property is theft!”
FT’s hostility to private property—even though the Seventh and Tenth Commandments make it sacred—contributes to this institution’s undermining. The elimination of private property is at the core of communist doctrine, however. Indeed, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels made this clear in their 1848 Communist Manifesto: “[T]the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”
The Real Thinking of Church Fathers on Property
Among the early Christian thinkers said to hold this distorted view of private property, Pope Francis cites two Fathers of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Gregory the Great.
The French theologian, Father M. B. Schwalm, O.P., a scholar on Communism and Church Fathers, shows how one must consider the hyperbolic aspect of certain sermons and writings of the Fathers. They sometimes seem to condemn private property when they criticize the misuse of wealth.
On Saint John Chrysostom’s famous sentence, quoted in FT, this scholar writes: “Saint John Chrysostom recognizes the legitimacy of riches, and then that of private property.” He goes on to cite a phrase from that saint: “Like poverty, wealth is not inherently bad; it only becomes so through the conduct of its owners.”16
“Rights Without Borders”
With the title above, Pope Francis extends the denial of private property to countries. If everything belongs to everyone, not only in principle17 but in practice, if individuals cannot own a plot of land, then nor can peoples settle a territory as their own, establish sovereignty over it, defend it, and make laws to govern it.
Pope Francis writes:
“Nowadays, a firm belief in the common destination of the earth’s goods requires that this principle also be applied to nations, their territories and their resources. Seen from the standpoint not only of the legitimacy of private property and the rights of its citizens, but also of the first principle of the common destination of goods, we can then say that each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere.” (no. 124.)
The Argentine pope draws out the consequences: “No one, then, can remain excluded because of his or her place of birth, much less because of privileges enjoyed by others who were born in lands of greater opportunity. The limits and borders of individual states cannot stand in the way of this.”18
In other words, borders between countries must be eliminated.
“Some Form of World Authority…”
Further on, speaking about “international power,” and quoting himself, Pope Francis advocates creating UN-like international agencies, with coercive powers over countries:
“The twenty-first century ‘is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation-states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tend to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions’. When we talk about the possibility of some form of world authority regulated by law, we need not necessarily think of a personal authority.” (no. 172.)
Would one-world government be efficient? Would it safeguard the identity, culture, and religion of the various countries? Little hope is to be had if we look at the United Nations, whose agencies promote abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia.19
Furthermore, there are no grounds in Catholic doctrine or natural law for Pope Francis to propose this one-world government dreamed of by communists.
A Utopian Fraternity That Ignores Christ
As an application and development of the Abu Dhabi Declaration on Human Fraternity, this new encyclical aims to build brotherhood among men abstracting from faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet, Christian baptism is what makes us children of God and, therefore, truly brothers. Thus, FT’s aspiration is just another naturalistic utopia of which history gives us baleful examples.
It is tragically apocalyptic that this Christless utopian fraternity is being promoted by the Vicar of Christ on Earth. Or rather, by the successor of those who proudly used that title since, recently, Pope Francis implicitly renounced its use.20
Does a pope who preaches a universal fraternity without Christ not deny the Great Commission implicitly? “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). Does he not abdicate from the Petrine responsibility to “confirm [his] brethren [in the faith]” (Luke 22:32)?
While these are extremely delicate questions begging for urgent and careful theological study, they are being asked in the hearts and minds of many faithful Catholics, supported as they are by numerous acts, gestures, attitudes, words, and omissions of the current pope.
With Loving Fidelity, Catholics Should Resist not Revolt
These good Catholics, however, must never despair and revolt. Calmly, serenely, prayerfully, and faithfully, they must resist.21 Their baptismal vow and confirmation as soldiers of Christ call them to this confident fidelity to Jesus, regardless of the failures and defections of spiritual leaders. They should place all their trust in God and His Blessed Mother and never forget Saint Paul’s admonition: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8).
They should not allow the many scandals against Faith and Morals inside the Church, even at the highest levels, to wound their faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His Church. They should take to heart and live daily the teaching of the great Doctor of the Church, Saint Francis de Sales, and energetically reject the temptation to commit spiritual suicide: “While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal, who allow scandals to destroy their faith, are guilty of spiritual suicide.”22
In Fatima, Our Lady promised: “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!” Placing all our confidence in her and Our Lord’s promise of the Church’s indefectibility,23 we pray to Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, Saint Michael the Archangel, Protector of the Church, and the glorious Saints Peter and Paul to bring this terrible crisis to an end.
Luiz Sérgio Solimeo is a Catholic scholar, teacher and writer of many books, essays and articles. In 1960 he joined the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, Property (TFP). He currently teaches philosophy and history at the American TFP’s Sedes Sapientiae Institute.
- For example, Pius XI’s 1931 social encyclical is addressed “To Our Venerable Brethren, The Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, And Other Ordinaries In Peace And Communion With The Apostolic See, And Likewise To All The Faithful Of The Catholic World.” http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19310515_quadragesimo-anno.html.
- Pope Francis, encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Vatican.va, Oct. 4, 2020, (no. 56), http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html. (Our emphasis.)
- “Life, for all its confrontations, is the art of encounter” (FT, no. 215). “Vinicius de Moraes, Samba da Benção, from the recording Um encontro no Au bon Gourmet, Rio de Janeiro (2 August 1962).” (FT, fn. 204.)
- While not addressing the encyclical to Catholics, the pope makes this reservation: “Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will” (no. 6).
- Saint Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis of Assisi (London: R. Washbourne, 1868), 120, accessed Oct. 24, 2020, https://archive.org/stream/St.BonaventureTheLifeOfSt.FrancisOfAssisi/St.%20Bonaventure%20-%20The%20Life%20of%20St.%20Francis%20of%20Assisi_djvu.txt.
- “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” Feb. 4, 2019, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/travels/2019/outside/documents/papa-francesco_20190204_documento-fratellanza-umana.html.
- Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, no. 5. (Our emphasis.)
- Ibid., no. 281. (Our emphasis.)
- “[I]t follows not only that truth is in Him [God], but that He is truth itself, and the sovereign and first truth.” Summa Theologica, I, q. 16, a. 5, corpus.
- See S.T., I, q. 20, (God’s love).
- Ibid., a. 2 ad. 4.
- Pius X, encyclical Notre Charge Apostolique, Aug. 25, 1910, https://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius10/p10notre.htm.
- See Psalms 41:2.
- John 7:38; 4:13–14.
- See John Horvat, “I’m Catholic. Can I Disagree With Pope Francis on Property?” TFP.org, Oct. 12, 2020, https://tfp.org/im-catholic-can-i-disagree-with-pope-francis-on-property/; and John Horvat, “Pope Francis’s Nightmare of a World Without Borders,” TFP.org, Oct. 14, 2020, https://tfp.org/pope-franciss-nightmare-of-a-world-without-borders/.
- Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily 15, ad populum antiochen,” no. 3, P.G., vol. 49, col. 158, quoted in M.-B. Schwalm, s.v. “Communisme,” Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique (1938), vol. 3, 1st part, col. 583. (Our translation.)
- Saint Thomas explains: “For if a particular piece of land be considered absolutely, it contains no reason why it should belong to one man more than to another, but if it be considered in respect of its adaptability to cultivation, and the unmolested use of the land, it has a certain commensuration to be the property of one and not of another man.” II-II, q. 57, a. 3 c. (Our emphasis.)
- Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, no. 121. (Our emphasis.)
- See Emilie Kao and Shea Garrison, “UN Report Promotes Abortion, LGBT ‘Rights’ Over Human Rights,” CNSNews.com, Apr. 17, 2020, https://cnsnews.com/commentary/emilie-kao/un-report-promotes-abortion-lgbt-rights-over-human-rights.
- Maike Hickson, “Pope Francis Drops ‘Vicar of Christ’ Title in Vatican Yearbook,” LifeSiteNews, Apr. 2, 2020, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-francis-drops-vicar-of-christ-title-in-vatican-yearbook.
- See Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, Can Documents of the Magisterium of the Church Contain Errors? Can the Catholic Faithful Resist Them? (Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property—TFP, 2015). See also Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, Can a Pope be… a Heretic? (Lisbon: Caminhos Romanos, 2018).
- Quoted in Fr. Roger J. Landry, “Answering Scandal With Personal Holiness,” Catholic Education Resource Center, accessed Oct. 24, 2020, https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/answering-scandal-with-personal-holiness.html.
- See Matt. 16:17–19; 28:20.