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What does the Vatican’s new declaration on human dignity say? 


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 04/08/24

Gender theory, sex changes, surrogacy, euthanasia ... Some of the themes addressed in the Vatican's text on "violations" of human dignity.

“In the face of so many violations of human dignity that seriously threaten the future of the human family, the Church encourages the promotion of the dignity of every human person.” This is what is written in the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith’s doctrinal declaration Dignitas infinita (“infinite dignity,” in Latin), published on April 8, 2024.

This document outlines the Church’s position on various hot-button issues, and firmly condemns, among other things, gender theory, sex changes, surrogacy, and euthanasia.

The more than 20-page document is the result of five years’ work by experts from the Vatican body that is responsible for preserving the dogma in the Catholic Church. A first draft drawn up in 2019 was revised several times, notably at the request of Pope Francis, who wished to highlight certain themes (war, migrants, poverty, women….). The final text, signed by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery, was approved by the pontiff on March 25.

After a lengthy theoretical section defining the concept of human dignity, the document proposes a non-exhaustive list of “grave violations of human dignity.”

I.MEDIA presents a summary below.

Condemnation of “gender theory”

The declaration denounces “gender theory,” which “intends to deny the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.”

“In the male-female couple, this difference achieves the most marvelous of reciprocities,” the document explains, highlighting in particular the birth of children. “Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes, […] amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God.”

Criticizing an ideology that “envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family,” while denying “respect for both one’s own body and that of others,” the document judges as “unacceptable” the “proliferation of claims to new rights advanced by gender theory.”

“All attempts to obscure reference to the ineliminable sexual difference between man and woman are to be rejected,” writes the Dicastery, for whom the “scientific coherence” of this theory “is the subject of considerable debate.”  The Church does not deny the socio-cultural role of gender and considers that it can be distinguished, but not separated, from biological sex.

However, the declaration also takes care to emphasize that any “discrimination,” imprisonment, torture or murder of a person “solely because of their sexual orientation,” as is practiced “in some places,” is contrary to human dignity.

No to sex changes

“Any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception,” the declaration states, insisting on the importance of the dignity of the human body, particularly “in its sexed condition.”

Dignitas infinita nevertheless recognizes that there are certain exceptions in terms of surgeries intended to aid “a person with genital abnormalities that are already evident at birth or that develop later.”

In such cases, receiving “the assistance of healthcare professionals to resolve these abnormalities” does not fall within the scope of the Vatican’s warning against sex changes.

The document condemns surrogacy

The Church “takes a stand against the practice of surrogacy, through which the immensely worthy child becomes a mere object” and calls for a universal ban on the practice. The document emphasizes that a “child has the right to have a fully human (and not artificially induced) origin and to receive the gift of a life that manifests both the dignity of the giver and that of the receiver.” 

“The legitimate desire to have a child cannot be transformed into a ‘right to a child’ that fails to respect the dignity of that child,” the text continues. It also emphasizes the extent to which the practice of surrogacy undermines the dignity of women, who are reduced to “a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others.”

Renewed criticism of abortion

Dignitas infinita recalls that “the Church’s magisterium has always spoken out against abortion.” However, the document explains that “reason alone is sufficient” to take a stand against the practice, and denounces the development of “ambiguous terminology, such as ‘interruption of pregnancy,’” which “attenuate its seriousness in public opinion.”

The text insists that all life is sacred “at every stage of development.” Citing as an example “St. Teresa of Calcutta’s generous and courageous commitment to the defense of every person conceived,” the text encourages all to defend “the unborn” with “force and clarity.” It also underlines the Church’s opposition to the practice of keeping embryos alive for experimental or commercial purposes.

The false dignity of euthanasia and assisted suicide

The declaration also denounces euthanasia and assisted suicide as a “human dignity violation that is quieter but is swiftly gaining ground.” The text condemns a “ mistaken understanding of human dignity” that then turns “the concept of dignity against life itself,” highlighting for example when politicians enact laws on these issues as “death with dignity acts.” 

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith insists that “suffering does not cause the sick to lose their dignity.” The text calls for the alleviation of suffering through “appropriate palliative care and by avoiding aggressive treatments or disproportionate medical procedures.”

The document underlines that euthanasia and assisted suicide, on the other hand, are “an objective offense against the dignity of the person asking for it, even if one would be thereby fulfilling the person’s wish.” The text deplores the fact that the idea that human dignity is compatible with these practices is “widespread” today. Finally, Dignitas infinita stresses the importance of respecting the bodies of the deceased.

A voice against femicide

The declaration focuses in detail on the “global scandal” of violence against women. It opposes all inequalities between women and men, whether in salaries, careers, family law or civil rights.

Condemning ” the types of sexual violence which frequently have women for their object,” in a “widespread hedonistic and commercial culture,” the Vatican also mentions “coercive abortions, which affect both mother and child, often to satisfy the selfishness of males.” The practice of polygamy is also cited as a violation of women’s dignity.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith also especially speaks out against “the phenomenon of femicide,” which “one cannot condemn enough.” It calls for a “coordinated and concrete commitment” from the entire international community to combat this “scourge.”

The dark side of the Internet

Throughout the text, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith warns of the “dark side of digital progress,” underlining that “the digital environment is also one of loneliness, manipulation, exploitation, and violence.” Social networks “can expose people to the risk of addiction, isolation, and gradual loss of contact with concrete reality,” the declaration warns.

Among the trends of greatest concern to the Catholic Church are “cyberbullying,” the spread of pornography, the exploitation of people for sexual purposes or through gambling, and the “extreme case of the dark web.” The DDF wants the “human community” to be “proactive” in ensuring that the Internet is a space offering more “possibilities for encounter and solidarity” for all. 

Unconditional dignity for people with disabilities

Dignitas infinita highlights how people with disabilities can often be marginalized or oppressed or treated as “rejects.” The declaration urges for “the inclusion and active participation of those who are affected by frailty or disability,” and calls for “taking responsability” for those with “situations of utter marginalization and anguish.”

In Cardinal Fernández’s introductory text at the beginning of the document, he affirms the importance of human dignity “regardless of physical, psychological, social, or even moral deficiencies.”

Putting an end to all types of abuse in the Church

Dignitas infinita devotes a paragraph to the issue of sexual abuse, which leaves “deep scars in the hearts of those who suffer it.” Recognizing that this widespread phenomenon in society “also affects the Church and represents a serious obstacle to her mission,” the text reaffirms “the Church’s ceaseless efforts to put an end to all kinds of abuse, starting from within.”

Other themes dear to Pope Francis

The document lists other injustices that undermine human dignity, such as “extreme poverty, linked as it is to the unequal distribution of wealth”; wars, “in our time when it has become commonplace for so many innocent civilians to perish beyond the confines of a battlefield”; the exploitation of migrants; and human trafficking. All themes dear to Pope Francis, and central to his magisterium.

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