[Editor’s Note: The writer is a Catholic priest based in Florence]
The Vatican recently released Pope Francis’ new encyclical on “human fraternity” Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers), which laid out “a new vision of fraternity and social friendship” for a post-COVID world.
An encyclical, or letter from the pope, is a serious and important form of communication by a pope historically used to clarify teachings or express the pope’s opinion on any given issue.
The encyclical is enshrined with Francis’ usual advocacy of open borders, while simultaneously condemning the socio-economic exploitation of the underprivileged by global elitists and governments.
Praise for Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb
The novelty of Fratelli Tutti, however, does not lie in Francis’ much talked about criticism of capitalism (see below) or even the assimilation of immigrants.
What is revolutionary about this letter is that for the first time, a pope named a leading representative of another religion as a source of inspiration for his encyclical: Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt — the oldest and most prestigious Sunni institution for Islamic scholarship.
The pontiff has, on various occasions, recognized el-Tayeb as a Muslim who strives for peace and harmony among the peoples of the world.
Yet while el-Tayeb is considered by some as a moderate within the Sunni world, he is actually an advocate of hardline sharia (Islamic) law, an antisemite and is anti-Israel.
In a television interview on June 16, 2016, el-Tayeb stated, “The penalty for an open apostate, departing from the community, is well stipulated in sharia. An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed.”
There is no record that el-Tayeb ever retracted previous antisemitic remarks against Israel and the Jews, including the following:
“See how we suffer today from global Zionism and Judaism, whereas our peaceful coexistence with the Christians has withstood the test of history. Since the inception of Islam 1,400 years ago, we have been suffering from Jewish and Zionist interference in Muslim affairs. This is a cause of great distress for the Muslims.
“The Koran said it and history has proven it: ‘You shall find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews and the polytheists.’ This is the first part. The second part is: ‘You shall find the closest in love to the believers to be those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ The third part explains why the Christians are ‘the closest in love to the believers,’ while the Jews and the polytheists are the exact opposite.”
In January 2018, el-Tayeb canceled a scheduled meeting with U.S. Vice President Pence in Egypt after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The sheikh called the move “rash and uncalculated,” and said such a meeting would “tear up my identity” and appear “contradictory in front of people.”
El-Tayeb called the decision an “aggression toward people, countries, cultures and civilizations.”
Attack on Free-Market Economies But Not Chinese Human Rights Abuses
In a direct attack against the free market society, the pope points out how “the identity of the more powerful, who can protect themselves… tends to diminish the identity of the weaker and poorer regions, making them more vulnerable and dependent.”
Francis, subsequently, accuses “trickle-down” economics for causing most of today’s austerity. (Trickle-down economics, favored by conservatives, asserts that tax breaks and other incentives for big business and the wealthy eventually end up benefiting the rest of society through investment and job creation.)
The paradox is that while the pope called for greater government regulation — to the point of saying that the state should take over financial enterprises — he did not condemn Communist China’s slave labor economy.
Beijing’s mixed socialist market economy is composed primarily of state-owned enterprises with some allowance for private investment by businesses. Along with the country’s vast human rights violations, this policy has only worsened the economic plight of the average Chinese individual.
At the same time, Francis does not acknowledge how hardworking individuals — who innovate, save and invest wisely and generally exercise responsibility in their personal affairs — not only have a right to enjoy the fruits of their labors but how they greatly contribute to the common good of society.
While there are abuses in a capitalist society, it does not mean that it cannot contribute to the growth of individuals and society as a whole.
A welfare state policy, as Francis leans towards, was condemned by Pope St. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, as it “leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”
Taking into consideration the pope’s defense of the poor and marginalized, which the international community has an obligation to look after, it is doubtful that Fratelli Tutti offers the solution.