VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholic feminists across the world have written an open letter to Pope Francis slamming him for what they call the sexist title of his encyclical Fratelli Tutti ("Brothers All"), published Sunday.
The feminists from over 30 Catholic bodies are warning Francis that "the masculine noun" of the encyclical's title "will alienate many, at a time when women in many different languages and cultures are resistant to being told that the masculine is intended generically."
"This is particularly true in English-speaking countries, where exclusive terms such as 'mankind' and 'brethren' are no longer used when referring to humankind," they assert, calling the pontiff to include "sorelle" (sisters) as well as "fratelli" (brothers) in the title.
"Many Italian women," they claim, "are also arguing that they do not feel included in the term 'fratelli,' and in German, a more precise indication of the intended gender is essential if the meaning is to be communicated in the translation," the feminist activists contend.
The signatories to the letter are from Austria, Australia, India, Italy, Ireland, Germany, South Africa, Switzerland, France and the United States.
Organizations opposed to the gender-exclusive title of Francis' encyclical include the European Alliance of Catholic Women's Organizations (ANDANTE), Indian Women Theologians, Catholic Network for Women's Equality and Catholic Women's Ordination.
Most of the organizations openly campaign for women deacons and priests, and, in some cases, bishops and cardinals.
Speaking to Church Militant, prominent anti-feminist writer Dr. Janice Fiamengo explained why the deconstruction of language is indispensable to the ultimate feminist goal of overturning the so-called patriarchal Judeo-Christian concept of God as "father."
"Feminism is an alternative born-again religion with its own archetypal myths of creation, fall and redemption," said Professor Fiamengo, author of Sons of Feminism: Men Have Their Say.
"You only have to study the writings of Mary Daly, the Roman Catholic theologian who described herself as a 'radical lesbian feminist' to understand that feminist outrage is finally and fully directed at God as Father," observed Fiamengo, professor of English at the University of Ottawa.
"Daly, who taught at the Jesuit-run Boston College, even described the all-male Trinity as an eternal homosexual orgy and argued that calling God 'father' is to turn fathers into gods," Fiamengo noted.
"For Pope Francis to use the term 'brothers' to characterize human fraternity is a slap in their face — the feminists are incandescent because it comes from someone who they imagine is on their side," she said. "Anyone who reads their writings and listens to their rhetoric can discern they are disciples of Daly."
The open letter was distributed for signature by Catholic Women's Council, which describes itself as "a global umbrella group of Roman Catholic networks working for the full recognition of the dignity and equality of women in the Church."
The open letter to Pope Francis singles out his controversial apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia as a "model of dialogue" and as a "call to be a bold, messy and risk-taking Church in which we may speak with parrhesia [boldness of speech]."
"However, a growing number of Catholics are expressing concern over your choice of title for the encyclical," the feminists write.
"This issue presents a problem for many who would otherwise be fully engaged with the encyclical and committed to working with you for lasting social, spiritual and environmental transformation," they note. "At best it is a distraction, and at worst it is a serious stumbling block."
"We urge you to show that you are indeed open to dialogue and are listening to the voices of women. It would be a powerful message that you have heard us if you were to make this one small change to the title," the feminists clamor.
Vatican News editorial director Andrea Tornielli argued earlier that Fratelli Tutti is a direct quote from St. Francis of Assisi and does not exclude women.
"Francis chose the words of the saint of Assisi to initiate a reflection on something he cares about very deeply, namely, fraternity and social friendship. He therefore addresses all his sisters and brothers, all men and women who populate the earth — everyone, inclusively, and in no way exclusively," Tornielli remarked.
Papal hagiographer Austen Ivereigh, who had earlier defended Pope Francis' use of the masculine title, commented Sunday: "Fascinating how all the faux indignation about #FratelliTutti supposed gender exclusivity has vanished in the hours since its publication. People can see for themselves how radically inclusive it is."
But theologian Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic studies at Roehampton University, tweeted: "When they say 'gender ideology' is destroying society, and given the Vatican's gender politics, I'm not willing to become a brother when it suits them to call me one. I'll engage with what I know will be a brilliant vision, but I'll name this misnomer every time I do."
"Women might struggle to believe we're part of a 'fraternity' that excludes us in so many ways. Not a single woman quoted. Nothing to suggest deep dialogue with women thinkers," she lamented.