One of the first things that will strike readers of Pope Francis’s new social encyclical Fratelli Tutti is its sheer length. At about 43,000 words in English (including footnotes), that’s more than the Book of Genesis (32,046) and three times the size of the Gospel of John (15,635).
Despite its length, there’s little in this text that we have not heard Francis say before in one form or another. But whether the subject is capital punishment or his theme of encounter, this encyclical condenses Francis’s particular emphases, specific worries, and general hopes for the Church and the world into one document. That includes Francis at his best, but also what I regard as some enduring blind-spots.
Like most social encyclicals, Fratelli Tutti addresses a hodgepodge of topics. These range from detailed analysis of contemporary populism to explorations of the meaning of kindness, reciprocity and gratuitousness. In discussing these and other subjects, Fratelli Tutti insists on the need for Christians and others to be open to learning from others. In fact, the word “open” is used no less than 76 times, and goes hand-in-hand with a stress on the need for dialogue (referenced 49 times).
It’s in that spirit that I’d like to offer responses to two features of the encyclical that, I suggest, require closer attention.
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