The newest Encyclical Letter FRATELLLI TUTTI of the HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON FRATERNITY AND SOCIAL FRIENDSHIP includes a strong diet of healthy Catholic values like Love of thy neighbor, universal love, truth, kindness, gratuitousness, and forgiveness. Pope Francis provides ample liturgical context and scripture to ground these starting with the parable of the Good Samaritan assisting a stranger on the road followed by multiple scriptural references before proceeding to, as many Popes have before him, denounce forms of leadership and governance that are not aligned with Christian values and harmful to our collective good.
Catholics are used to Popes taking a stand against dictators and Communist regimes that limit religous freedoms or oppress their people. This encyclical, for the discerning eye, is highly critical of President Donald Trump and the United States current leadership in the world.
In Chapter One, “DARK CLOUDS OVER A CLOSED WORLD,” Pope Francis addresses current trends and societal issues that hurt universal fraternity. He discusses ideas like aggressive nationalism, transnational economic power exercising divide and conquer strategies, limitless consumption, and expressions of empty individualism. In the context of “the end of historical consciousness” he tells how he gave advice to young Catholics to be wary leaders who promote them to reject prior experiences of their elders and look forward to only a future that he himself holds out.
This is not particularly shocking at all. But than he goes onto say, this person “needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate, they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so they can reign unopposed. To do so, however, they need young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them.” He follows this up with the following:
“15. The best way to dominate and gain control over the people is to spread dispair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values. Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion, and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or have an opinion.”
Any honest Catholic voter and Trump supporter is aware that Trump’s demands are listen only to him as anyone else is against him: Media, Scientist, Bi-partisan Debate Commission, his own hired and fired administration staff, and anyone or institution that expressed an opinion other than his opinion. And he does so with the force of office of the White House, conservative media, and ridicule especially reserved for women and/or people with disabilities. Pope Francis goes on in this chapter on the illusion of communication on topics such as closed and intolerant attitudes, digital campaigns of hatred and destruction, shameless aggression, and verbal violence.
You as reader or Trump supporter may disagree with my assessment. However, if you read all of the encyclical you will find that America is gravely ill with the unhealthy and dangerous ideologies that this encyclical addresses.
This election provides each voter an opportunity to rethink their vote. The encyclical promotes the idea from the parable above that “the decision to include or exclude those lying wounded in the along the road side can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social, and religious project.” Remember, it is a parable from Jesus Christ. Those lying on the street today are the homeless in our communities, the impoverished living with hunger, the unemployed and jobless, the ostracized and criminalized, and the victims of racism or other viscous hateful actions or crimes.
The encyclical is calling us out as Americans and as Catholics for our hypocrisy – not just our Presidential hypocrisy but our collective hypocrisy. In one segment Pope Francis points out that although we may not commit the crimes (or sins of another) if we benefit from them we are complicit. This is really deep.
The entirety of the encyclical goes on with a vision of hope and a blue print for each of us to consider the local, national, and international levels starting with our own actions in the home and in the community. Parts of it appear radical and unreachable – only because we have been conditioned to accept world hunger, poverty, war, and inhumanity to each other. Trump as a leader embraces an America first policy as do many Americans as an example. This has far reaching consequences (read Chapter four 153. and Chapter five). It has also largely failed us diplomatically and financially.
Perhaps the single most powerful line criticizing our nation: “Democracy atrophies, turns into a mere word, a formality; it loses its representative character and becomes disembodied, since it leaves out the people in their daily struggle for dignity, in the building of their future.”
This criticism is not just applicable to republicans and President Trump that are threatening health care, slanting tax breaks to the rich, and other policy driven actions that hurt the vulnerable, but at the liberal camp as well that has failed to create sustained opportunities for said groups to attain and have equal inclusive membership in society. The social contract in essence is strained or broken in America. This is not a good thing for a nation that is only 244 years old. To take our democracy for granted is either foolish, pure narcissism, or both.
This encyclical is indeed a treatise and an education on social and political systems and leadership and Catholic beliefs on a range of multiple issues – but most of all, the dignity of all humn life.
The encyclical does not pick winners and losers, Red or Blue, or Nations that are most aligned with Catholic Values. It does however, say, Christians must often take a position, honestly and decisively.
There will be “Legitmate conflict” between candidates and the people who support them. Whatever candidate we support, we can forgive the “other” side for what we perceive to be their shortcomings. However, forgiving does not “involve renouncing our own rights, confronting corrupt officials, criminals, or those who would debase our dignity.”
So I am called to Love Donald Trump by this encyclical. I am called to love a man that I see as an oppressor of women, immigrants, the poor, and people considered “outside his base.” The encyclical points out however, that to love a man does not mean to continue to allow him to continue to oppress people. To truly love him, according to the encyclical and my opinion of Donald Trump, is to “seek ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others.” I can love him that way!
On a more serious note, I can love and do love people on both sides of the aisle. I care about the divisiveness and pain they each carry when weighing their moral conscious and voting for imperfect parties and candidates. I care about those who vote out of fear or ignorance. Or those that vote purely for selfish reasons that may not align with Christian values, with perhaps that selfishness being quite valid (having a specific industry job that is threatened or needing a few extra dollars in their check). These decisions are not easy.
Pope Francis starts the encyclical with his inspiration that he receives from St. Francis. Francis, he says, was able to “free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all.” He tells the story of when St. Francis visited powerful non-believers with the intention of evangelization:
“Francis’ fidelity to his Lord was commensurate with his love for his brothers and sisters. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers”, without renouncing their own identity they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake”. In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith.“
We as catholic voters have the immense weight of evaluating all issues related to the dignity of life and voting accordingly. We also have to acknowledge that we live in a multi-faith society and our government is a referendum on civil matters, not on Catholicism.
Our vote is important. More important is how we carry ourselves and avoid all forms of hostility, conflict and a desire to subject others to our will. How we carry ourselves will win more authentic followers and believers than pandering to politicians or the courts.