Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Declaration on Human Fraternity is a Dud

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 14, 2023

This past weekend the Vatican hosted the signing of the Declaration on Human Fraternity, in a made-for-media extravaganza. Thirty Nobel Prize winners signed the statement. International recording artists performed. The ceremony was simulcast around the world. The show lasted nearly five hours.

But who noticed? Most media outlets ignored the event, and virtually every report that did appear (except in the Vatican’s own news services) mentioned that the attendance at the event was surprisingly light. By the time the ceremony ended, St. Peter’s Square was almost empty. Despite the ballyhoo, it seems, the Declaration on Human Fraternity could not hold public attention even through the day it was launched.

Why did the event generate so little attention? Was it because Pope Francis, who inspired the project, was hospitalized, recovering from surgery, and could not attend? Or was it because Declaration on Human Fraternity itself—a document written by a committee, composed of grand aspirations with which few people could disagree—is itself simply forgettable?

“Compassion, sharing, generosity, sobriety, and responsibility are for us the choices that nurture personal fraternity, the fraternity of the heart.” Fine words. Noble thoughts. But what do they add to … anything? As my father might have put it, the Declaration is “mighty thin soup.”

In message to the meeting that begot this Declaration, Pope Francis said:

Only a great spiritual and social covenant born from the heart and centered on fraternity can restore the sacredness and inviolability of human dignity as the core of relationships.

Striking, isn’t it, that the covenant the Roman Pontiff wishes to promote is “centered on fraternity”? Rather than on Jesus Christ?

This Declaration on Human Fraternity should not be confused with an earlier statement, the Document on Human Fraternity, which Pope Francis signed in February 2019 along with Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar. But the two statements have a great deal in common. Both documents extol human fraternity as the necessary solution to a myriad of worldly troubles. And neither document mentions Jesus.

Is it possible for Christians to make common cause with other people of good will, in order to address the world’s problems? Of course. But the fact of interfaith cooperation is more impressive than the language invoked to promote it. Forgive my cynicism, but I doubt that many Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, or atheists will be inspired by the language of the latest Declaration to join hands in the cause of world peace. (Of course, few people will have seen or heard the language of the Declaration, because of the paucity of media coverage. But that fact merely confirms my judgment that the statement is not newsworthy.)

Still, if not much is gained by the issuance of such statements, not much is lost, either; right? I wonder.

When the Vatican devotes so much energy to the promotion of a statement that has so little impact, an important opportunity is lost. The Roman Pontiff is not just another civic leader, who can use his public office to endorse harmless initiatives. Whenever the Successor to St. Peter speaks, the world expects to hear the message of the Gospel; if he speaks only as a civic leader, that vital message—the message that really could be the basis for human fraternity—is diluted.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Benedict meditates at some length on Satan’s temptation of Jesus, and particularly the temptation to build a purely earthly kingdom. The late Pope sees in our age a dangerous tendency that he calls “regnocentrism”—the identification of the Kingdom of God with an earthly society based on justice and peace:

This at least, we are told, is the heart of Jesus’ message, and it is also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind’s positive energies and directing them toward the world’s future. “Kingdom,” on this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation.

Does that ideal sound familiar? Does it not much the goals set by the Declaration on Human Fraternity? Pope Benedict grants its superficial appeal, but warns:

On closer examination, it seems suspicious. Who is to say what justice is? What serves justice in particular situations? How do we create peace?

Once we agree that all men are our brothers (and all women are our sisters, I must add, because these statements are nothing if they are not inclusive), we must face hard political choices. How do we secure justice, when standards of justice vary? How do we bring peace, when aggressors will not relent? Which policies will bring an end to hunger, and which will preserve the environment—and what should we do when those two goals conflict? The debates on those questions will inevitably strain the bonds of fraternity that high-sounding statements have supposedly secured. And if religious leaders have signed on to those high-sounding statements, without recognizing the likely implications, they may have squandered their moral authority.

Political leaders do the difficult and necessary work of resolving those tough practical questions, for better or for worse. Religious leaders can certainly encourage their efforts. But for Christians, the pursuit of even the most desirable earthly goals is tempered by the recognition that Christ’s Kingdom will not be attained by our poor efforts. As Pope Benedict remarked, in concluding his critique of a secularized vision of the kingdom: “This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus’ third temptation.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jun. 24, 2023 10:13 AM ET USA

    In isolation, when asked "Are you Christ-centered?" "Oh yes, we are". Look for the evidence of that in recent documents and you can't find it.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jun. 20, 2023 5:39 PM ET USA

    The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. GS 22

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Jun. 19, 2023 12:44 PM ET USA

    After reading the gospel this Sunday, exhorting the apostles to go out to spread the faith, I find this new Declaration on Human Fraternity a scandalous dereliction of duty (or even sabotage) by the Vatican and its sycophants. The timing could not be more accusing.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Jun. 16, 2023 2:07 PM ET USA

    Thanks, Mr. Lawler, for reading this statement and summarizing it so the rest of us don’t have to! Beyond the third temptation of Christ, we have this temptation, where are we are tempted to believe that merely stating some words, effects change in the world. “By their fruits you shall know them,“ so merely making statements is next to nothing, barren and empty. Bergoglio and his crew can truly be known by their churlish deeds and empty words.