Action Alert!
Catholic World News

Vatican document condemns assaults on human dignity [News analysis]

April 08, 2024

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) has released a 20-page document, Dignitas Infinita (Infinite Dignity), denouncing contemporary attacks on human dignity.

The long-awaited document, the product of five years of work, decries a wide range of threats to human dignity, including poverty, warfare, and inequality in a familiar “seamless garment” approach. However, in what an AP report accurately described as “its most eagerly anticipated section,” the declaration strongly opposes gender theory and sex-change operations.

Pope sought a wider focus

Introducing the document, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernadez, the prefect of the DDF, said that the dicastery originally drafted a statement on human dignity in 2019, but the prelates of the DDF “found it to be unsatisfactory.” A fresh draft was prepared and edited, and at the request of Pope Francis, altered to “highlight topics closely connected to the theme of dignity, such as poverty, the situation of migrants, violence against women, human trafficking, war, and other themes.” The declaration in its current form was approved by the Pontiff in March of this year, and released on April 8.

Dignitas Infinita is divided into four sections, with the first three sections providing the “fundamental principles and theoretical premises,” Cardinal Fernandez explained, before the fourth section applies that logic to contemporary issues. Thus although the DDF document has been heavily anticipated as a formal Vatican statement on gender theory, only a few paragraphs of the declaration are directly addressed to that subject.

No to surrogacy, gender theory, sex changes

Dignitas Inifinita does, however, unequivocally condemn surrogate motherhood, warns against gender theory, and denounces sex-change procedures. These passages in the document immediately roused protests from radical activists, with some critics quickly charging that the Vatican should be held responsible for violence against transsexuals.

In its opposition to surrogacy, the document said that the practice “violates the dignity of the child,” and questioned assertions about a “right to a child,” noting that the rhetoric seems to treat the child as something like a consumer item.

As for gender theory generally, Dignitas Infinita states:

Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes, apart from this fundamental truth that human life is a gift, amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God…

At the same time the Vatican document strongly insists that every human person retains his dignity, regardless of any wrong choices or offenses. Specifically, the statement condemns mistreatment of homosexuals, and says it is an offense against human dignity when, “in some places, not a few people are imprisoned, tortured, and even deprived of the good of life solely because of their sexual orientation.”

The ontological basis of human dignity

At its very beginning, Dignitas Infinita explains that the dignity of the human person should be inviolable. “In the light of Revelation,” the first paragraph states, “the Church resolutely reiterates and confirms the ontological dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed in Jesus Christ.”

This ontological dignity is “indelible,” the statement continues, and “remains valid beyond any circumstances in which the person may find themselves.” (Oddly, here and elsewhere in the document, in a bow to a less aggressive form of gender theory, the English translation uses the plural pronouns “they” and “them” to refer to the singular person, thus avoiding the masculine or feminine pronouns.)

The DDF notes that the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 75th anniversary is now being observed, also recognizes the “ontological” nature of human dignity. “Only this inalienable character of human dignity makes it possible to speak about human rights.”

This innate dignity remains intact, the document insists, even when a human person is unable to act properly on his own behalf—as might be the case for “an unborn child, an unconscious person, or an older person in distress.” Moreover, Dignitas Infinita says that “it is essential to point out that dignity is not something granted to the person by others based on their gifts or qualities, such that it could be withdrawn.”

The DDF warns that without a proper understanding of this unchanging basis for human dignity, faulty arguments can be produced “to justify an arbitrary proliferation of new rights, many of which are at odds with those originally defined and often are set in opposition to the fundamental right to life.”

Grave violations

Having laid the conceptual groundwork for its analysis, the DDF finally turns, more than halfway through the document, to consider the “grave violations of human dignity” today. But even then, in the fourth part of the declaration, the DDF leads with a very general statement, citing the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes in its denunciation of “all offenses against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where individuals are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons.”

In fact, Dignitas Infinita then makes a special point of denouncing the death penalty, “for this also violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.”

The document goes on to list a litany of affronts to human dignity, including war, hostility to migrants, human trafficking, sexual abuse, and violence against women. The Vatican statement reiterates the unchanging opposition of the Church to abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. And a final few paragraphs at the end of the declaration warn against the “digital violence” that takes the forms of cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, and the promotion of violent and addictive behavior.

Cardinal anticipates critics

At a Vatican press conference introducing the new document, Cardinal Fernandez offered a pre-emptive defense against his critics. First he defended the controversial DDF statement Fiducia Supplicans, which has been widely criticized for recommending church blessing of same-sex couples. Then he read from the Code of Canon Law (#751), noting that the faithful are obliged to give “religious submission of the intellect and the will” to statements of the magisterium.

At the same time, Cardinal Fernandez declined to defend the statement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that a homosexual orientation is “intrinsically disordered.” He suggested that the Church will eventually find better words to express the proper complementary of the sexes.


For all current news, visit our News home page.

Further information:
Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Apr. 12, 2024 6:10 AM ET USA

    "Oddly, here and elsewhere in the document, in a bow to a less aggressive form of gender theory, the English translation uses the plural pronouns “they” and “them” to refer to the singular person, thus avoiding the masculine or feminine pronouns" and signaling a preference for grammatical violence. I expect that put a big smile on the face of my sixth grade grammar teacher, Sister St. John Mary. May your readers ALWAYS expect your own writing to ALWAYS follow those guidelines?

  • Posted by: feedback - Apr. 09, 2024 9:44 AM ET USA

    The 15,000 word "Dignitas Infinita" does not address redefinition of marriage in the West (aka gay "marriage"), sex "education" of children, artificial birth control, or IVF in relation to human dignity. The chapter on migration (#40) doesn't mention forced illegal mass border crossings. Half of the footnotes are references to pope Francis.

  • Posted by: feedback - Apr. 09, 2024 5:08 AM ET USA

    St. Paul calls homosexuality a degrading passion, unnatural lust, and perversity (Romans 1:26-27). In other words: A grave sin against God-given human dignity. How does a 15,000 word supposedly "magisterial" document on human dignity miss that?