“A historic document”

In "Fratelli tutti," Pope Francis takes up burning political and social ies. Social encyclicals are always addressed first of all to society, says Prof. Dr. Ursula Nothelle-Wildfeuer. But she lacked the view of the church inwardly.

Interviewer: Of course, it is very difficult to generalize or break down such a long and comprehensive document. Is it a historical document?

Prof. Dr. Ursula Nothelle-Wildfeuer (Professor of Christian Social Studies at the University of Freiburg): I believe so. It is a historic document because we are at a turning point in society. After this lockdown in many countries, societies are now trying to reconstruct society with the aftermath of this lockdown and with the experiences of that time.

And it has become clear to many people that we cannot simply go back to the way things were before. Bringing in a church voice at that point,With this dimension, that it's not just about a belief in the market and in certain regularities, but that we need more. We need an ethos, we need an ethical baseline. To have unfolded this into the various areas is, I believe, already the content of a historical document.

Interviewer: In advance, there was much discussion about the title "Fratelli tutti," meaning to all brothers. Immediately the question arose: What about the Sisters? Is not spoken then about at all with the Enzyklika? What is the answer?

Nothelle wildfire: Of course, the title caused a lot of furor before the encyclical was even read. I would also have liked a title where the sisters were not only included, but also mentioned. Sure, that's a quote from St. Francis, that's what the Vatican said right away.

Nevertheless, one would have wished it differently. On the other hand, the subtitle itself is clearly characterized by the concept of fraternity. And the whole encyclical has actually taken up this term throughout. So that one could say that women are naturally in the focus of the encyclical.

But I think we have to say anyway that the Pope's point is precisely to ask how we can leave differences, but bring about a great commonality. And there he counts, with the question, which he treats very clearly, where are there actually still deficits in the matter of human rights, clearly among other things also on this relationship between men and women. He has that very much in mind. The question is why it was not made clear in the title.

But throughout the encyclical, women are of course included on an equal footing.

Interviewer: In the encyclical, Pope Francis addresses political ies. The United Nations should be reformed. A reform of the capitalist economy is needed. There is a lot of criticism about it. In the public discussion there has always been the argument that the church should rather deal with spirituality and salvation and not with politics. On the other hand, this is one of the most political letters we have seen from Pope Francis so far. How does he reconcile that?

Nothelle wildfire: There he goes into it quite clearly. For this question he probably already suspects, it is also not new. And he says quite clearly that he definitely understands the Christian message in such a way that it also has this political effect.

The Gospel is political in the sense that it has consequences for the public, for society, for the economy and for politics. He is clearly saying that the mission of the Church is not limited to the private sphere. He does not want to make policy in the sense of party politics. But he makes it clear that the gospel has consequences in all areas, and so into these public areas as well.

The debate about the limitation to spirituality is very much going on in the context of the new evangelization in Germany, but not only in Germany. A limitation to spirituality shortens the message of the Gospel. That is also the clear statement of the pope.

Interviewer: In the international news coverage it is discussed that the pope clearly expresses his opposition to the death penalty and war in any form. In your eyes, is this a further development of church teaching or does it reflect something that is already our conviction??

Nothelle-Wildfeuer: These passages on war, on the death penalty, further on in the encyclical there is a statement on slavery, that is, on bondage, these passages I clearly read in such a way that there is a dynamic in the doctrine, a doctrinal development. Which I also find a hopeful statement, precisely with the perspective that we can perhaps also record a doctrinal development at some point at other points.

But, on the specific ies: on the ie of the death penalty, he has already clearly said in the summer of 2018 that the catechism will be changed. That's clearly when he made this cut. In his argumentation, and he now summarizes this once again under the guideline of fraternity and the human dignity to which every human being is unbreakably entitled, capital punishment is not responsible, of all the different intentions. The death penalty no longer has an intention in such a way that it can still convince, because there are other ways and means, on the one hand, to bring people to a just punishment and, on the other hand, to reintegrate them into society.

And as far as the question of war is concerned, it's the first time I've read it so clearly. But what has clearly been developed in the ethical discussion on the topics of peace and reconciliation, namely that the natural law argumentation on the topic of just war is no longer valid in this way. In view of the technological developments, which are also and especially very advanced in the field of weapons, he says quite clearly that the disadvantages always outweigh any possible benefits and that is why we find there the three words "Never again war". This is his statement.

Interviewer: The Pope sketches a very comprehensive vision of how the world can and should function after the Corona crisis.Lookwe timesnot only on what is in it, but also on what is not in it. Wouldn't it also need a bit more of a look at the church itself?? That one finds there a little more justice, fraternity?

Nothelle-Wildfeuer: Yes, I see that as a problem. On the one hand, it must be said that social encyclicals are classic texts of the papal magisterium that address society.

In 1961 there was an encyclical entitled "Mater et Magistra". And that reflects the self-image of the church. She is the mother and teacher of society and tells us where to go, to put it casually. The pope is completely out of this attitude.

He uses the term humility. In a good-natured attitude he would like to make a contribution. That, I think, is already an important point. What I feel is missing:He has made it clear so far in his pontificate that ethics and ecclesiology, that is, what I what we do or recommend doing as a church and how we are in the church itself, belong closely together. That we can only have credibility as a church, even if we speak something into society, if we allow ourselves to be measured against our own values within the church, which is also a social entity.

You mentioned the keywords of fraternity, the relationship between the sexes, justice and so on. And I think there are points of contact in the encyclical where one could say that it is about time that the church looks inward. These points, I believe, are now incumbent upon us to take up further accordingly. In this encyclical, the pope does not make it.

I could have guessed it from his emphasis or the accent of his pontificate. But a classic social encyclical is actually always addressed to society in the first place.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

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