On the New Fratelli tutti (All Brothers) Encyclical by Pope Francis

Report by the Scientific and Analytical Center of the World Russian People's Council Moscow, October 2020

Aleksandr Shchipkov

Editorial Note

On October 3, 2020, Pope Francis published a new Encyclical under the title Fratelli tutti1 (translated into English as All Brothers). A message from the Pope to his bishops and flock, an Encyclical is published every few years and devoted to a specific doctrinal topic. During the 19th to 20th centuries, papal encyclicals increasingly began to include not only ecclesiastical and doctrinal issues, but also socio-political problems such as workers' rights, the growth of socialist movements, criticism of the policy of the USSR, problems of war, inequality, poverty, ecology and so on. Since the second half of the 20th century, encyclicals have come to be addressed not only to the Catholic congregation, but also to representatives of other faiths, religions and worldviews. By turning this ecclesiastical document into a global socio-political declaration, the Pope aspires to the role of a global opinion leader.

As a result, the latest Fratelli tutti Encyclical does not directly address religious and moral issues or the problem of a Christian's life and salvation in the modern world. Not being positioned as a specifically Catholic document, it is instead written in the style of global documents, is addressed to all mankind and holds discourse from the so-called non-confessional, universal positions. The Encyclical addresses the subjects of migration, economic injustice, international political instability and the increasing global intolerance.

Its preacher-like style notwithstanding, the Encyclical is a political text that offers concrete solutions to the problems it touches. In particular, the Pope expresses support for the preservation both of the liberal migration legislation in Western countries and the maximum favour regime for migrants, all the while omitting to offer ways to integrate them into the Western society, and, furthermore, to mention the subject of preaching Christianity among them. This clearly anti-European position of the Pope serves to blur the historical and cultural landscape of Europe. This position is further reinforced by his criticism of new right-wing conservative political movements, labelled by the Pope, according to euroglobalist rhetoric, as populists.

A significant part of the Encyclical is also devoted to understanding the global economic crisis. The Pope criticizes capitalist relations and discourses from the position of a left-liberal approach (one close to the Frankfurt, neo-Marxist school of philosophy), which he combines both with the idea of social justice, and with extreme leftism and liberalism in values and culture. In other words, the Pope does not associate social justice with the preservation of conservative religious values, but, on the contrary, with their further liberalization and erosion, and with pluralism.

At the same time, the Pope, unlike the left-wing anti-globalist movements, remains loyal to globalism. Criticizing the United Nations’ (UN) inefficiency, he not only proposes to significantly reform this organization along with global economic institutions, but goes further to explicitly state the need to establish a global government that will coordinate the solution of key worldwide humanitarian issues, including managing global migration flows. He does not, however, mention the need to reform the largest global military and political organization, NATO, and limits himself to pacifist reflections on the importance of universal nuclear disarmament.

Speaking as a secular humanist of Christian origin (while emphatically smoothing over his religiosity, which is presented as a private and subjective truth), the Pope interprets the meaning of human history in a utopian style – as the construction of a 'civilization of love'. Christianity appears in the Encyclical as one of the versions of truth in a pluralistic world where such truths are many. Secularism comes to be at the actual basis of these arguments.

The Pope's unconditional support for migrants, left-liberal rhetoric and commitment to non-capitalist globalism indicate that he presents himself as the leader of 'antifa', or all politicized minorities. In the context of the political tension in the United States, this looks like an indirect support for the anti-Trump movement for black rights (Black Lives Matter), as well as the ultra-liberal agenda of Biden and the Democrats.

The nature of the new Encyclical also suggests that the Pope does not seek to preserve or increase the flock, but rather to integrate the Roman Catholic Church into the ongoing processes of reforming world architectonics on the side of the Atlanticists.

The Encyclical is of interest as a demonstration of the frame of mind in the most powerful liberal direction of modern Catholicism. It reflects its political outlook while also registering the preservation of the liberal trend in Catholic theology.

Aleksandr Shchipkov,
Head of Research and Analytical Center of WRPC,
Dean of the Social and Humanitarian faculty of the Russian Orthodox University

General Character

The Encyclical Fratelli tutti is the third published by Pope Francis. The full title is Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father Francis on Fraternity and Social Friendship. The two previous Encyclicals were released in 2013 (Lumen fidei2) and 2015 (Laudato si).

The title of the Encyclical, as explained at the beginning, is a quotation of the words of Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi Fratelli tutti (All are brothers). As Pope Francis explains, ‘of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him. In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives’ (Fratelli tutti, 1).3

A striking feature of the Encyclical is its Italian title. Given the fact that the previous Encyclical was named in the same language (and also quoted Francis of Assisi), we can see that a certain trend is taking shape. The fact is that heretofore, the vast majority of papal Encyclicals had born Latin names (all the Encyclicals of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in particular). Exceptions were of a one-time nature.4 Consciously or not, Pope Francis departs from tradition and, as it were, by abandoning the use of ‘sophisticated’ Latin in the title, takes a step towards the secular world.

Fratelli tutti consists of 287 numbered paragraphs collected in eight chapters.5 The volume of the Encyclical significantly exceeds the volume of the epistles of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which makes it difficult for a wide range of Catholic believers to read and understand it in depth. The Encyclical is not addressed to them, but rather to the secular elites. Lengthy in size, the Encyclical essentially reproduces different variations of the same ideas about the need for peace between people.

The style of the message appears to be more in character with social and philosophical journalism than with the address of a Christian pastor.

Another special feature of the document is its target audience. Strictly speaking, papal Encyclicals are messages to their own congregations, traditionally addressed to bishops, presbyters, deacons, monastics and lay people, or in other words, to members of the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes, the list of recipients may include all people of ‘good will’ (Redemptor Hominis, 1979; Caritas in veritate, 2009). As is obvious from the content of the message, the new Encyclical of Pope Francis is actually addressed not to Catholics, but to the secular world. ‘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’, testifies Pope Francis (Fratelli tutti, 6). Pope Francis positions himself as the spiritual leader of the entire world, not just its Catholic part.

It should be noted that Pope Francis fills the word ‘brothers’ from the title of the Encyclical not so much with Christian, as with its secular, ‘universal’ meaning. He is talking about the brotherhood of all people, regardless of their religious affiliation.6 In the New Testament, the word ‘brother’ and its derivatives are used exclusively for co-religionists and relatives (‘physical’ blood brothers).7 Moreover, in some places, the concept of 'brother' is directly opposed to non-Christians, for example, here: ‘But brother goeth to law with brother, and this before the infidels’ (1 Cor. 6:6). Such understanding of brotherhood is absent from Pope Francis' Encyclical, which is dominated by a ‘socio-philosophical’ and globalist understanding that is absent from the New Testament.8 In addition, at the very beginning, the Pope gives the concept of brotherhood an ecological-pantheistic meaning: ‘Francis [of Assisi] felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind’ (Fratelli tutti, 2). Thus, from the point of view of using the key terminology (‘brother’, ‘fraternity’), the letter of Pope Francis is placed outside the Christian tradition.

Social and Economic Issues

Social and economic issues are given a lot of Pope Francis' attention in the Fratelli tutti Encyclical. These include poverty, hunger, migration, racism, inequality, inequity and the violation of women's rights. Global capitalism receives criticism, especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Pope Francis, the capitalist system is collapsing after encountering the new disease: ‘The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom’ (Fratelli tutti, 168).

The Pope believes that ‘consumerist individualism has led to great injustice’ (Fratelli tutti, 222). There is a need for countries to create a new economic system that is not based on selfishness and greed. The economic system must be completely rebuilt or even created anew.

Within the framework of various social problems, special attention is drawn to the ‘woman’ issue. Thus, expressions like ‘every man and woman’ are constantly used (instead of ‘every person’, for example). On the whole, the word ‘woman’ (‘women’) occurs 28 times, whereas in the previous Encyclical, it was only mentioned twice. The Pontiff claims that ‘the organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men’ (Fratelli tutti, 23).9 The feminist inclination of the Encyclical is very indicative and is designed to attract favourable attention from feminist movements.

The Pope's criticism of racism can be perceived as a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement: ‘a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep reemerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think’ (Fratelli tutti, 20).

The idea of the need to respect each person appears to be the refrain of the Encyclical. ‘At a time when various forms of fundamentalist intolerance are damaging relationships between individuals, groups and peoples, let us be committed to living and teaching the value of respect for others, a love capable of welcoming differences, and the priority of the dignity of every human being over his or her ideas, opinions, practices and even sins’ (Fratelli tutti, 191). Pope Francis is one step away from expressing in his Encyclical direct respect for members of the LGBT community.

In political and social aspects, the Encyclical largely appears as the result of the present stage of development of the so-called ‘liberation theology’, and in social and political aspects – as the development of the ideas of the ‘new left’ and the Frankfurt school. It is very characteristic that one of the passages of the Encyclical is called ‘Liberty, equality and fraternity’. The letter is filled with theses that are close to left-wing ideas, especially those regarding the denial of private property: ‘The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property’. The principle of the common use of created goods is the ‘first principle of the whole ethical and social order’ (Fratelli tutti, 120).

Migration Policy

Special attention is paid in the Encyclical to migration and the situation of migrants. At the beginning of the second chapter, the Pope quotes passages from the Bible that speak of good treatment of foreigners. He also cites the parable of the good Samaritan. While mentioning the necessity to accept migrants several times, the Pope never specifies the need to preach to them Christianity. The Pope cites the need to integrate migrants only casually, omitting the social problems and even threats to the Catholic Church that arise from the mass influx of migrants to traditionally Catholic countries: ‘Our response to the arrival of migrating persons can be summarized by four words: welcome, protect, promote and integrate’ (Fratelli tutti, 129).10

The Pope laments that ‘Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person <...>. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable’ (Fratelli tutti, 39).

At the same time, Pope Francis criticises ‘certain populist political regimes’ that claim that ‘an influx of migrants is to be prevented at all costs’ (Fratelli tutti, 37). Although the countries are not specified, it is obvious that these ‘populist regimes’ include the United States under Donald Trump, as well as the authorities of such Catholic strongholds as Hungary and Poland. With such statements, Pope Francis distances himself from traditionalist Catholics, defenders of the ‘old Europe’.

Pope Francis mentions the need to ‘to develop a form of global governance with regard to movements of migration <...>. Such planning should include effective assistance for integrating migrants in their receiving countries, while also promoting the development of their countries of origin through policies inspired by solidarity, yet not linking assistance to ideological strategies and practices alien or contrary to the cultures of the peoples being assisted’ (Fratelli tutti, 132).

Through the rhetoric of ‘love’ and ‘fraternity’, the globalist approach of Pope Francis serves to effectively abolish national culture and identity. Unconditional acceptance of migrants could destroy the remnants of traditional Christian culture in Europe, as well as fundamentally change the religious balance in many countries of the world – and hardly in favour of Catholicism.

By avoiding talking about the corresponding risks and threats, Pope Francis actually proposes to abolish the concept of state sovereignty: ‘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’ (Fratelli tutti, 124).

Realizing that his proposals will inspire criticism, he says that their implementation calls for preparing people ideologically: ‘Certainly, all this calls for an alternative way of thinking. Without an attempt to enter into that way of thinking, what I am saying here will sound wildly unrealistic’ (Fratelli tutti, 127).

Globalization and Politics

Speaking from a globalist perspective, Pope Francis states that global integration projects ‘seem to be showing signs of a certain regression’ (Fratelli tutti, 11): ‘We are growing ever more distant from one another, while the slow and demanding march towards an increasingly united and just world is suffering a new and dramatic setback’ (Fratelli tutti, 16).

Understanding the weakness of the current state of the UN, Pope Francis proposes a deep reform of this organization: ‘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’ (Fratelli tutti, 172). The Pope actually mentions the need to create a world government: ‘When we talk about the possibility of some form of world authority regulated by law, we need not necessarily think of a personal authority. Still, such an authority ought at least to promote more effective world organizations, equipped with the power to provide for the global common good, the elimination of hunger and poverty and the sure defence of fundamental human rights’ (Fratelli tutti, 172). The following point also appears to be of interest: ‘I would also note the need for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth’ (Fratelli tutti, 173). This concerns the Pope's proposal to fundamentally reform the UN.

This idea is organically integrated into the general context of the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, with Pope Francis acting as the successor of his predecessors. The concept of the ‘universal common good’ was first introduced into official rhetoric by Pope John XXIII in the Peace on Earth (Pacem in terris) Encyclical, 1963. As early as half a century ago, the Vatican declared that the achievement of the common good is only possible through the establishment of ‘universal public authority’, ‘which would extend to the whole world and whose authority would have power throughout the earth’. These ideas received further development in the dogmatic constitution of the Second Vatican Council Joy and Hope (Gaudium et spes, 1965), in the Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II Concern for Social Things (Sollicitudo rei socialis, 1987) and The Hundredth Year (Centesimus annus, 1991), Love in Truth (Caritas in veritate, 2009) of Pope Benedict XVI, and directly in the Encyclical of Pope Francis himself Praise You (Laudato si, 2015).

In doing so, Pope Francis acts to weaken the principle of state sovereignty and formulates an ideological justification for reforming the mechanisms of global governance undertaken by the world's elites.

Other important political issues in the Encyclical include war, nuclear weapons and the death penalty.

Moving away from the Catholic tradition, which at the top of the ‘second scholasticism’ (including the Jesuit Francisco Suarez, 1548–1617) had created the theory of just defensive war and international relations, Pope Francis declares an absolute rejection of any war, even a ‘just’ one: ‘The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force, which involves demonstrating that certain "rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy" have been met. Yet it is easy to fall into an overly broad interpretation of this potential right. In this way, some would also wrongly justify even "preventive" attacks or acts of war that can hardly avoid entailing "evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated". At issue is whether the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the enormous and growing possibilities offered by new technologies, have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians. The truth is that "never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely". 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!’11 (Fratelli tutti, 258).12

However, despite the general pacifist tone, the Pope points out that ‘The Church does not intend to condemn every possible form of social conflict. The Church is well aware that in the course of history conflicts of interest between different social groups inevitably arise’ (Fratelli tutti, 240).13 It is not specified, for whom such exceptions will be made.

The subject of nuclear weapons is closely linked in the Encyclical to the theme of war. Pope Francis recalls the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Fratelli tutti, 248) and declares the complete inadmissibility of the use of nuclear weapons, even for defensive purposes, criticizing the doctrine of nuclear deterrence: ‘Rules by themselves will not suffice if we continue to think that the solution to current problems is deterrence through fear or the threat of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Indeed, if we take into consideration the principal threats to peace and security with their many dimensions in this multipolar world of the twenty-first century as, for example, terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, cybersecurity, environmental problems, poverty, not a few doubts arise regarding the inadequacy of nuclear deterrence as an effective response to such challenges’ (Fratelli tutti, 262).14

Another serious political and moral question in the Encyclical is the death penalty, which Pope Francis considers unacceptable. This is stated as follows: ‘There is yet another way to eliminate others, one aimed not at countries but at individuals. It is the death penalty. Saint John Paul II stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice. There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that "the death penalty is inadmissible" and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide’ (Fratelli tutti, 263).


Ecumenism, both in its inter-Christian and non-Christian dimensions, permeates Pope Francis' Encyclical, especially the eighth Chapter (‘Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World’). It is complete with such duly politically correct phrases as: ‘The different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God,15 contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society’ (Fratelli tutti, 271).

At the beginning of the Encyclical, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople16 is mentioned in a positive way, and at the end, the joint statement of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew made in 2014 is quoted: ‘even as we make this journey towards full communion, we already have the duty to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity’ (Fratelli tutti, 280). Patriarch Bartholomew has already expressed his solidarity with the Encyclical: according to him, it is ‘not just a compendium or a summary of previous encyclicals or other texts of Pope Francis: this is the crowning and happy conclusion of the whole social doctrine’.17

Pope Francis believes that ‘It is also urgent to continue to bear witness to the journey of encounter between the different Christian confessions. We cannot forget Christ’s desire "that they may all be one" (cf. Jn 17: 21). Hearing his call, we recognize with sorrow that the process of globalization still lacks the prophetic and spiritual contribution of unity among Christians’ (Fratelli tutti, 280).

Ecumenism in the non-Christian dimension is particularly noticeable in relation to Islam: the Encyclical repeatedly mentions the Imam of the Egyptian University al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyib and quotes a document signed jointly with him in 2019. The Pope also declares that ‘The Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions, and "rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions’ (Fratelli tutti, 277). The Encyclical strives for perfect adogmatism: it is silent about the most important thing – about the saving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and the resurrection, without which full and genuine joy and brotherhood of people are unthinkable for Christians. This omission is accompanied by rhetorical pathos, for example: ‘Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God’ (Fratelli tutti, 4).

The Encyclical ends with an ecumenical prayer.


1. The Encyclical is a socio-political manifesto, not a doctrinal message. The text is dominated by social and political issues and discusses worldly and utopian ideals, instead of questions of faith and salvation of the soul. The Encyclical is addressed to all of humanity, not just the Catholic congregation.

2. The Encyclical interprets the idea of public justice as support for politicized minorities, but omits to mention the role of the traditional majority and the importance of its support.

3. The Encyclical reflects the left-liberal ideological position because it contains criticism of the modern economic, capitalist system, injustice and inequality, while simultaneously supporting pluralism and actually rejecting the category of traditional values. In the current political environment, this brings the Encyclical close to the ideas of Antifa, left-liberal parties, as well as movements of politicized minorities, including the American movement Black Lives Matter. The Pope strives to become the spiritual leader of modern left-wing liberals and politicized minorities, and makes an attempt to include the Roman Catholic Church in the international movement against the strengthening of the ‘new rights’ and ‘populists’ (nationalists opposing unregulated immigration while supporting the economic and political sovereignty of their countries, often along with traditional Christian values).

4. The Encyclical supports migration policies aimed at the unconditional acceptance of migrants, without taking into account the interests of the indigenous population of the host Western countries. The Pope describes political forces that view unregulated migration policies as a threat to their countries as ‘populist political regimes’.

5. The Encyclical criticizes and suggests reforming the UN and other international humanitarian and economic institutions. Instead of the existing UN, the Pope proposes to form a global authority that can solve social and humanitarian problems on a global scale (to ensure the ‘common good’ and ‘human rights’). Since the Encyclical actually belittles the importance of state sovereignty in solving modern problems, it can be described as globalist.

6. Fratelli tutti broadcasts ultra-pacifist theses. Pope Francis considers any form of war unacceptable and even moves on to criticize the theory of just, defensive war, set out earlier in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. The pacifist rhetoric of the Encyclical includes criticism of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and calls for nuclear disarmament. Simultaneously, while mentioning the need to reform international institutions and not use wars as a means of solving problems (‘Never again war!’), the Pope does not call for a review of the role of the global military organization NATO.

7. The Encyclical reveals a departure from the Catholic understanding of the Christian Church and the uniqueness of Christian revelation, and their replacement with a globalist, secular and ecumenical approach. Christianity is reflected in the text as one of the variants of truth: all religions and secular teachings are also recognized to contain elements of truth. The document uses an approach that implies the existence of a non-confessional (secular, universal) worldview that is more universal than Christianity. Catholicism is actually presented as an operator for a universal ecumenical and political ideology (secular humanism), used for uniting Christian confessions, believers in other religions and secular and atheistic strata.

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