Global Catholicism vs. Anglobalization
Chapter Five is titled "A better kind of politics".
It's an indictment of populism, individualism and trickle-down economics. It laments the crisis of nation states and of the United Nations.
And it calls for a new model of social, political and economic participation that is inspired by subsidiarity and solidarity, making possible a globalization of the most basic of human rights.
The pope calls for a better kind of politics based on "social love" and "political love".
This sounds like a social and political project, not just a religious or inter-religious one, and it's one of the most interesting differences in the approach to the relationship of the Church in the modern world compared to his predecessor.
Benedict XVI ostensibly claimed the Church's superiority over politics, while at the same time conveying the message of a necessary alignment between Catholicism and Western civilization.
An alternative to neo-liberalism, nationalism and populism
Francis has abandoned political Augustinianism, according to which the Church's higher sovereignty inhibits the involvement of the Church in political issues. At the same time, he also has embraced the new global dimension of Catholicism, leaving behind a Eurocentric idea of Christianity.
The social and political vision of Pope Francis clearly takes a side and seeks to offer an alternative to neo-liberalism, nationalism and populism.
But what is his political project? How can his vision become part of public systems of governance – the way states, governments and parliaments operate, set policy and oversee public administration?
How can the pope's vision on politics shape the way leaders and representatives are formed and selected? How can it revive international organizations? How can it influence the culture of doing business?
A tale of two encyclicals
One way to help us understand the challenges that Francis' project faces is to compare Fratelli tutti with John XXIII's last encyclical, Pacem in terris.
Like Fratelli tutti, the encyclical of April 1963 was published in the wake of a global crisis: the Cuba missile crisis of the previous October.
The Christian and Catholic political elites in the Western hemisphere gave Pacem in terris a lukewarm reception, at best.
For instance, they were not happy that Pope John was moving to disengage the Catholic Church from an ideological alignment with the West in the Cold War. It marked the beginning of a new culture of peace in the magisterial tradition of Catholicism.
Germany's Catholic chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was dismayed at what he called the pope's "political naiveté". The chancellor had leveled the same verdict in 1961 after John released in first social encyclical, Mater et magistra.
One can only imagine what the current ambassadors to the Holy See are writing about Fratelli tuttiin the reports for their foreign ministers – especially the ambassadors of countries led by nationalist and populist leaders who manipulate religion and the Church to serve their anti-immigrant platform.
This is actually reassuring for those who share Pope Francis' vision.
A fraught ecclesial situation
But the situation is more complicated for Francis than for John XXIII.
First of all, the ecclesial situation is different. Mater et magistra and Pacem in terris were part of the process of the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John called in 1959 and Paul VI led to its conclusion in 1965.
Pacem in terris, especially, had a tremendous impact on the Council's discussions and its final documents.
But there is no ecclesial process like Vatican II right now. There is something different. Francis' idea of a synodal Church relies much more on synodal processes in the local churches, which we will be able to see – if they happen – only in the next few years.
Moreover, Francis' pontificate has unleashed intra-Catholic reactions much more hostile towards him than the ones that were already undeniably against John XXIII, who never had to deal with the threat of a schism.
We are currently in a fraught ecclesial situation and this will have an impact on the process of ecclesial reception regarding Fratelli tutti.
An encyclical at a time of pandemic
There are also significant differences in the dynamics of the political reception of this new encyclical on human fraternity than there were for Francis' previous encyclical on care for our common home, Laudato si'.
That text was published in June 2015, just six months before the signing of the Paris agreement to combat climate change.
Fratelli tutti is an encyclical that speaks clearly about the past few years. Since 2016, the global situation has worsened considerably from the point of view of the pope's potential interlocutors: Brexit, the election of Trump and Bolsonaro, and the situation in other Latin American countries.
The chronological context of Fratelli tutti is the coronavirus pandemic that started at the beginning of 2020 and has aggravated the social and economic ills Francis talks about. For example, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the total wealth of billionaires has jumped to its highest level ever.
Friends or foes?
The names of those who oppose Francis' vision are well known. But those of his allies, much less so. In comparison, the previous century in the history of Catholic social teaching now looks almost like a golden age.
The public and political face of Catholicism was made (at least in the Western hemisphere) of Catholic or Christian political parties, workers' unions and trade associations.
National political leaders and leaders of international organizations were coming from that network which had originated with Leo XIII's Rerum novarum.
That world is now largely, if not entirely gone, except in some countries such as Germany.
The whole game has changed, not only because of secularization and the disappearance of Catholic or Christian-democratic parties, but also because the Church needs to speak on behalf and to a global Church and a global world for which there is no possible equivalent of the Christian-democratic party in Italy or Germany.
The popular movements, which Francis has emphasized repeatedly in his pontificate, cannot be a substitute for that now by-gone world that was shaped by the political class in Catholic or Christian-democratic parties.
We can see the complexities of this global dimension from what is happening in that particular corner of global Christianity that is North America.
"Anglobalization": the mark of Western neo-imperialism
Although it is not explicitly stated, one of the biggest polemical interlocutors of Fratelli tuttiis Anglo-American liberalism and the ideology of "Anglobalization".
This term was coined by Scottish-American historian Niall Ferguson, who, at the time of the 2003 Iraq invasion, defined himself "a fully paid-up member of the neo-imperialist gang".
The United States and US Catholicism, which is divided – at least in the clerical hierarchy – in its assessment of Francis' pontificate, play a particular role here.
If there is some alignment between Francis and American politicians, it can be found with the Democratic Party on many issues, not all (and it's not just abortion).
The Republican Party of Trump is on the opposite side of Francis' social and political message on almost everything.
Thus, it is obvious that Francis cannot count on a solid alliance of forces, even within the Catholic Church. And it's not just because of the political campaign leading to the Nov. 3rd presidential election.
This campaign is amplifying the reception of some messages of the encyclical, and it also risks interfering with its overall theological reception – something similar to what already happened with Amoris laetitia, the pope's 2016 apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family.
The urgent need for institutional Church reforms
As I've pointed out before, the pope needs to initiate institutional reforms in the Church.
The key question of this pontificate is the relationship between Francis' profound spiritual reading of Catholicism in the contemporary world and the long-term prospects for reform of the Church (especially on the role of women in the Church).
On the one hand, his teaching is not about creating new political or even ecclesial alliances that are destined to be transient in this change of eras.
This effort would not make much sense in areas of the world where Catholicism is a small minority (or is no longer a majority) and has little or no political leverage.
On the other hand, social and ecological transformation will not happen until the Church changes its gender politics. And this is where Francis apparently does not want to go.
The most important achievement of this pontificate is from the point of view of the magisterial tradition of the Church on social, political and economic issues. This tradition is taking on a new shape because of Francis' turn to the global.
Through the eyes of the poor
This turn entails a re-defining of key concepts – such as religious liberty, human dignity and the one human family of all religions – that were shaped by a political and geopolitical alignment with the West, an alignment Francis rejects.
Now papal teaching has liberated itself – in a way that is even clearer than before – from all the cautious caveats surrounding the preferential option for the poor.
Francis is not afraid of putting the Church's magisterium clearly and unreservedly on the side of the poor and on the side of justice. Papal teaching is not embracing communism.
The pope's critique of liberalism is certainly not the same as the one being voiced by a new breed of sophisticated anti-liberal, illiberal and integralist – but "Anglobalized" Catholics – found in places like the United States and Hungary.
Rather, it's a magisterial tradition that is going global and learning from the history of colonialism. It has been a momentous gain for the Catholic Church to have a pope from the southern hemisphere.
The hopes of anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists were dashed at the end of World War I with the Versailles peace conference in 1919.
But a century later, papal teaching is finally interpreting the rhetoric of liberal democracy made safe for global capitalism with the ears and the eyes of the once colonized or semi-colonized world.
And this is the world that visibly constitutes the majority of global Catholicism.