Pope Francis Releases Letter “On Fraternity and Social Friendship”

Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti Indicates Limits of Free Market, Condemns Unjust Distribution of Wealth

For more than a century, popes have issued Encyclical Letters explaining the social teaching of the Church. Pope Leo XIII began the tradition with Rerum Novarum (1891), which condemned the unjust distribution of wealth created in the early industrial revolution, defending the right of every worker to a living wage and the right of workers to form trade unions.

On October 3, Pope Francis issued his contribution to this sequence, Fratelli Tutti, a rich document that builds on many themes the Holy Father has addressed during his papacy: the limits of markets as a tool for social justice, the rights of migrants, and a call for a politics based on love and not castigation of the “other.”

The entire text of the lengthy letter can be found on the Vatican website, and the Vatican News website has provided a short summary as well. I was struck by paragraphs 122-123, which summarize both the vocation of the business leader and the ways in which the rights of private property and the freedom of the market are subordinate to the common good – the needs of the poor and respect for the environment take priority.

Development must not aim at the amassing of wealth by a few, but must ensure “human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples”. The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment, for “if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all”. Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”. God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development, and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities. The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use. [122-123]

The Holy Father continues with this theme further on in the letter.

The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes. Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of “spillover” or “trickle” – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged “spillover” does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society. It is imperative to have a proactive economic policy directed at “promoting an economy that favours productive diversity and business creativity” and makes it possible for jobs to be created and not cut. Financial speculation fundamentally aimed at quick profit continues to wreak havoc. Indeed, “without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today this trust has ceased to exist”. The story did not end the way it was meant to, and the dogmatic formulae of prevailing economic theory proved not to be infallible. The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom. It has also shown that, in addition to recovering a sound political life that is not subject to the dictates of finance, “we must put human dignity back at the centre and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need”.[168]

He also has a great deal to say about the obligations of those of us who live in wealthy and secure countries toward migrants driven from their homes by poverty, violence or persecution.

“In some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and it needs to be addressed decisively”. 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. Hence they ought to be “agents in their own redemption”. No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love. [39]

Complex challenges arise when our neighbour happens to be an immigrant. Ideally, unnecessary migration ought to be avoided; this entails creating in countries of origin the conditions needed for a dignified life and integral development. Yet until substantial progress is made in achieving this goal, we are obliged to respect the right of all individuals to find a place that meets their basic needs and those of their families, and where they can find personal fulfilment. Our response to the arrival of migrating persons can be summarized by four words: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. For “it is not a case of implementing welfare programmes from the top down, but rather of undertaking a journey together, through these four actions, in order to build cities and countries that, while preserving their respective cultural and religious identity, are open to differences and know how to promote them in the spirit of human fraternity” [129].

This implies taking certain indispensable steps, especially in response to those who are fleeing grave humanitarian crises. As examples, we may cite: increasing and simplifying the granting of visas; adopting programmes of individual and community sponsorship; opening humanitarian corridors for the most vulnerable refugees; providing suitable and dignified housing; guaranteeing personal security and access to basic services; ensuring adequate consular assistance and the right to retain personal identity documents; equitable access to the justice system; the possibility of opening bank accounts and the guarantee of the minimum needed to survive; freedom of movement and the possibility of employment; protecting minors and ensuring their regular access to education; providing for programmes of temporary guardianship or shelter; guaranteeing religious freedom; promoting integration into society; supporting the reuniting of families; and preparing local communities for the process of integration. [130]

Fratelli Tutti addresses far more than I can explore here. For other reactions to the Holy Father’s letter see…

In new encyclical, Pope Francis envisions ‘renewed hope’ from universal love, open to ‘every man and woman’, America

Fratelli tutti’: Pope Francis presents new encyclical in Angelus address, Catholic News Agency

Pope’s post-COVID encyclical envisions a less populist, less capitalist world, National Catholic Reporter

Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, enshrines familiar criticisms of racism and borders, Religion News Service