New Vatican document lists ‘grave violations’ of human dignity

Vatican News reports:

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s new document ‘Dignitas infinita’ took five years to complete, and builds on the papal magisterium of the last decade: from war to poverty, from violence against migrants to violence against women, from abortion to surrogate motherhood to euthanasia, from gender theory to digital violence.

By Andrea Tornielli

Three chapters offer the foundations for the fourth, which is dedicated to “some grave violations of human dignity”.

That’s the structure of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s new Declaration 

Dignitas infinita

which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirms “the indispensable nature of the dignity of the human person in Christian anthropology ” (Intro.)

The main novelty of the document, which is the fruit of five years’ work, is the inclusion of a number of key themes from the recent papal magisterium that accompany the bioethical ones. In the ‘non-exhaustive’ list that is offered, abortion, euthanasia and surrogate motherhood are listed as violations of human dignity alongside war, poverty and human trafficking.

The new text thus contributes to overcoming the dichotomy that exists between those who focus exclusively on beginning-and-end-of-life issues, while forgetting so many other attacks against human dignity and, conversely, those who focus only on defending the poor and migrants while forgetting that life must be defended from conception to its natural conclusion.

Fundamental Principles

The first three parts of the Declaration recall fundamental principles.

“In the light of Revelation, 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” (1).

This is an “inalienable dignity”, corresponding to “human nature apart from all cultural change”(6). It is a “gift” and therefore present in “an unborn child, an unconscious person, or an older person in distress (9).

“The Church proclaims the equal dignity of all people, regardless of their living conditions or qualities” (17), and she does so on the basis of biblical revelation: women and men are created in the image of God.

Christ, by becoming incarnate, “confirmed the dignity of the body and soul” (19), and, in His rising, revealed to us that man’s dignity man rests “above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God” (20).

The dignity of every person

The document highlights the misunderstandings of those who prefer the expression “personal dignity” to “human dignity”, “since they understand a person to be only ‘one who is capable of reasoning’” (24).

Thus, according to them, “the unborn child would not have personal dignity, nor would the older person who is dependent upon others, nor would an individual with mental disabilities. On the contrary, the Church insists that the dignity of every human person, precisely because it is intrinsic, remains in all circumstances” (24).

Furthermore, the document stresses that “the concept of human dignity is also occasionally misused to justify an arbitrary proliferation of new rights … as if the ability to express and realize every individual preference or subjective desire should be guaranteed.” (25).

The list of violations

The Declaration then presents the list of “some grave violations of human dignity”.

This includes “all offences against life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and willful suicide” must be recognized as contrary to human dignity “, but also “all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures “.

And, finally, it includes “all offences 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”.

The death penalty is also cited, since it “violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances” (34).

Poverty, war and human trafficking

The first issue mentioned is poverty, “one of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world” (36).

Then there is war, “another tragedy that denies human dignity”, and always a “defeat of humanity” (38), to the point that “it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’”(39).

The Declaration also discusses the “travail of migrants”, whose “lives are put at risk because they no longer have the means to start a family, to work, or to feed themselves” (40).

The document then dwells on “human trafficking”, which is taking on “tragic dimensions” and is described as ” vile activity, a disgrace to our societies that claim to be civilized “. The Declaration invites “exploiters and clients” to make a serious examination of conscience (41).

Similarly, it calls for the fight against phenomena such as “the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism, and international organized crime” (42).

The document also mentions sexual abuse, which leaves “deep scars in the hearts of those who suffer it”: these are “sufferings that can last a lifetime and that no repentance can remedy” (43).
Discrimination and violence against women are then discussed. Among the latter are listed “coercive abortions, which affect both mother and child, often to satisfy the selfishness of males” and “the practice of polygamy” (45). Femicide is also condemned (46).

Abortion and surrogacy

The condemnation of abortion is strong: “Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable”, and reference is made to the fact that “defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right” (47).

The Declaration’s rejection of surrogacy, by means of which “the immensely worthy child becomes a mere object”, is also strong. This is a practice that “represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child …  A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract.” (48)

The list goes on to mention euthanasia and assisted suicide, confusingly defined by some laws as ” death with dignity”. The document stresses that “suffering does not cause the sick to lose their dignity, which is intrinsically and inalienably their own” (51).

The Declaration then speaks of the importance of palliative care and the avoidance of “aggressive treatments or disproportionate medical procedures”, reaffirming that “Life is a right, not death, which must be welcomed, not administered” (52).

A further serious violation of human dignity is the marginalization of differently-abled persons (53).

Gender theory

The document begins the section on this topic by stressing that “every sign of unjust discrimination” against homosexual persons “is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence”.

It is “contrary to human dignity”, the Declaration says, that in some places “not a few people are “imprisoned, tortured and even deprived of the good of life solely because of their sexual orientation” (55).

Gender theory, which is “extremely dangerous since it cancels differences in its claim to make everyone equal”, is then criticised (56).

The Church, we read, recalls that “human life in all its dimensions, both physical and spiritual, is a gift from God. This gift is to be accepted with gratitude and placed at the service of the good. Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes … amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God” (57).

Gender theory “intends to deny the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference” (58).

Therefore, ” all attempts to obscure reference to the ineliminable sexual difference between man and woman” are “to be rejected” (59).

Sex change is also judged negatively since it “risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception”. This does not mean, however, excluding the possibility that “a person with genital abnormalities that are already evident at birth or that develop later may choose to receive the assistance of healthcare professionals to resolve these abnormalities” (60).

Digital violence

The final item on the list is “digital violence”. “New forms of violence are spreading through social media”, we read, such as cyberbullying, and “the internet is also a channel for spreading pornography and the exploitation of persons for sexual purposes or through gambling” (61).

The Declaration ends by urging that “respect for the dignity of the human person beyond all circumstances be placed at the centre of the commitment to the common good and at the centre of every legal system” (64).

You can find the full text of the Declaration Dignitas infinita on the Holy See 


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  1. roy donovan says:

    Soline, thank you for putting Daniel’s enlightened analysis of the Vatican Document before us and helping us to live in the freedom of the children of a very big God. The Catholic Church has great ‘backs’/defence but very few forwards!

  2. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Re the site, my security software reports that: “The connection for this site is not secure. uses an unsupported protocol.”

    Re ‘Dignitatis Infinita’ I appreciate Pope Francis’s insistence that for each of us our dignity is intrinsic, fixed and therefore not socially determined. However, I wonder if he is anywhere close to realising that the differentiated dignity that was for so long accorded to clergy by the highest authorities in the church – and especially the unanswered questions re the episcopal cover-up of clerical sex abuse – are still seriously undermining the credibility of whatever the DDF or other bodies may think of saying about human sexuality or gender.

    In the absence of a full, systematic and independently verifiable account of when and why the universal practice of secrecy in relation to clerical sex abuse began – in obvious defiance of the clear and emphatic censure of Jesus himself in Matt 18:6 – the suspicion must grow rather than diminish that it was concern for the credibility of the rule of clerical celibacy – and the scale of episcopal connivance at breaches of this rule – that determined this.

    With this very issue of mandatory celibacy now to be a subject of study by a Vatican commission – and Archbishop Charles Scicluna arguing that an end to mandatory celibacy could end the practice of Catholic priests leading ‘double lives’ – how credible will any further delay in ending this requirement be if these questions remain unanswered?

    For the Catholic clerical institution in Ireland, including the religious orders, it is probably no exaggeration to call this question ‘existential’.

  3. Soline Humbert says:

    I have emailed Seán directly, but for others who may have the same issue with the Newways Ministry website, here below is the text of the article. For those who can access the website more responses are being posted everyday like this one:

    Fr. Daniel Horan
    Earlier today, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released a new document on human dignity, titled Dignitas Infinita, which included sections on gender identity and gender transitions. Bondings 2.0 will feature reactions to the document throughout this week.

    The following initial commentary is from contributor Fr. Daniel P. Horan, OFM, a Professor of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Theology and Director of the Center for the Study of Spirituality at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. A columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, he is the author or editor of more than fourteen books, including Catholicity and Emerging Personhood: A Contemporary Theological Anthropology.

    The recent declaration Dignitas Infinita, published today by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), gives the impression in title and purpose that it seeks to reaffirm and defend the universal dignity and value of human personhood. Indeed, according to an introductory note by the dicastery’s prefect, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the Latin title Dignitas Infinita comes from Pope John Paul II’s teaching that human dignity can be understood as “infinite.” This is, on its face, a very good thing, but this declaration fails to live up to its claim to affirm and support the ”infinite dignity” of all people.

    Specifically, the document misunderstands and misrepresents both the scholarly and scientific work in the areas of sexuality and gender. Moreover, like previous church documents on sexuality and gender, it once again ignores the experiences of actual persons who do not conform to the church’s conceptualization of gender as only male or female. I offer the following points as an initial reaction to the text.

    First, Cardinal Fernández writes in his introductory preface that the five-year-long work on this document sought to “take into account the latest developments on the subject in academia.” However, for all its talk about “theory,” the text fails to directly engage any specific theorist, philosopher, theologian, or other scholar who works on the subject of gender ostensibly under consideration here. Not a single citation points to any source this text intends to critique.

    Instead of accounting for real research, this document constructs a strawman called “gender theory,” whose tenets represent no actual theory or study with which I am familiar. The vagueness of the concept is presented at once as a catch-all and an ominous threat, which serves the purpose of establishing a boogeyman to be feared but does little to advance any real dialogue or understanding.

    Rather strikingly, this DDF document creates its own original “gender theory” according to the patchwork of concepts it weaves in paragraphs 56 to 59. Just like the adage of the caricature of “God” that both atheists and theists do not believe in and can reject, the Frankenstein’s monster called “gender theory,” created by the DDF, is something I also find problematic and incoherent. It should be expunged.

    Second, there is an inexplicable confusion throughout this document between sexuality and gender. For example, paragraph 55 draws on Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetetia and the Catechism to affirm church teaching against discrimination of gay and lesbian persons, calling for respect for all persons “regardless of sexual orientation.” And then, in the opening line of paragraph 56, the text says: “At the same time, the Church highlights the definite critical issues present in gender theory,” bringing these two concepts together in a way to suggest they are directly linked or even interchangeable. This suggests that the authors of this document do not understand even the basics of human sexuality, sex, sexual orientation, or any facets of gender.

    Third, as noted above, this document fails to recognize the complexity and range of gender-affirming treatments and therapies for trans and nonbinary people. A whole paragraph (no. 60) is dedicated to “sex change,” which implies that the DDF document authors are not considering the whole panoply of medically and psychologically prescribed and supervised treatments and therapies available. What is, again vaguely, referred to as “sex change” seems to presume medical surgical intervention, which is in fact only one way that some trans and nonbinary persons seek gender-affirming care, and always after a long period of discernment and medical consultation.

    Other gender-affirming care outside of surgical intervention includes hormone therapy or using pronouns that align with their gender, among many others. That this section acknowledges the reality of intersex individuals (without using that term), and allows for certain medical treatments for such persons, is a good thing. But the final line of this section reinforces a gender essentialism, claiming that any “sex change” procedures do not, in fact, change the sex someone was assigned at birth.

    Finally, one thing remains glaringly true about how this document addresses transgender and nonbinary persons: there is absolutely no evidence that the document’s authors consulted actual gender diverse people, whom this part of the document most directly impacts. This omission is a persistent limitation in ecclesial texts, whether at the diocesan or Vatican levels, and it would seem to baldly contradict the intended claim of this document to affirm the “infinite dignity” of all human persons.

    In truth, this document could have been a lot worse. It could have been even more dehumanizing, as many of the diocesan statements in the United States about transgender and nonbinary people have been in recent years. Read with a hermeneutic of generosity, I take Cardinal Fernández’s desire to (eventually perhaps) engage “the latest developments on the subject in academia” as a sign that the conversation is not over nor definitively settled. And this hope is further supported by the fact that, in order for such a definitive claim to be made, it would require direct teaching by the Pope himself, and not a declaration by a Vatican dicastery. Clearly, however, much work remains to be done.
    –Fr. Daniel P. Horan, April 8, 2024

  4. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #4 Re ‘Dignitatis Infinita’ Fr Daniel Horan laments what he sees as ‘an inexplicable confusion throughout this document between sexuality and gender’. It is unfortunate therefore that as far as I can see he does not himself present in his article definitions of these terms that clearly distinguish them.

    Is there in fact an academic consensus on any such distinction, given the profound difficulty in agreeing any difference in meaning between the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ that is not sexual?

    And if at present it is academic disagreement and confusion that reigns, rather than clarity and consensus, how are the dignity and safety of young persons to be protected from all of that, in the age of Internet ‘Influencers’ – given the danger signals raised re social media by this week’s ‘Cass Review’ of gender services in the UK?

    The pope’s concern for the dignity of all is surely timely and genuine. Is there not some room for thinking of ‘gender theory’ as merely the view that gender is not to be considered already assigned by biological sexuality from birth but as determined by personal preference?

    If there is indeed an academically agreed distinction between sexuality and gender, what is it? If there isn’t, aren’t all attempts at academic putdown of those who disagree necessarily ‘over the top’?

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Sex/Gender distinction is a pillar of feminism.

    “Definitions of sex and gender
    A number of definitions have been put forward by different organisations. They provide a useful starting point for discussion.
    “The World Health Organisation summarises the difference between sex and gender in the following way:
    Sex refers to “the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females, such as reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones, etc.”
    Gender refers to “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed. The concept of gender includes five important elements: relational, hierarchical, historical, contextual and institutional. While most people are born either male or female, they are taught appropriate norms and behaviours – including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and work places. When individuals or groups do not “fit” established gender norms they often face stigma, discriminatory practices or social exclusion – all of which adversely affect health17.”

    “The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is the first international human rights document that contains a definition of gender. In Article 3, gender is defined as “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.”
    “The European Institute for Gender Equality, an autonomous body of the European Union, provides very extensive definitions of sex and gender:
    “Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define humans as female or male. These sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, but these characteristics tend to differentiate humans as females or males.”
    “Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being female and male and to the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as to the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialisation processes. They are context- and time-specific, and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man in a given context. In most societies, there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader sociocultural context. Other important criteria for sociocultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.””

    The distinction is crucial for trans folk. Gender is not just a matter of “personal preference”; gender dysphoria is an extremely painful condition, the sense of being a man in a woman’s body or vice versa.

  6. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #6 “A number of definitions have been put forward by different organisations.”

    That seems to confirm that there is indeed no academic consensus on this issue.

    If gender is indeed socially constructed rather than sexually determined, is anyone arguing that gender dysphoria may also be socially constructed – i.e. caused by social intolerance of supposedly male personality characteristics in those who are sexually female, and vice versa?

    Feminism has already changed western society so what society can ‘construct’ is therefore obviously subject to change. If we were all properly tolerant of human diversity – and agreed on the equal dignity of everyone, whatever the differences, would painful gender dysphoria necessarily still occur?

    The recent escalation of gender distress among young people in the UK, as measured by the Cass report, seems to indicate that much of this distress is also socially constructed.

    We all have a lot of work to do to love one another unconditionally, as God obviously loves us – and to make sure that the Internet especially, now intrusive into everyone’s personal space, is a safe space for all.

  7. Soline Humbert says:

    My personal experience as somebody trained and ministering in spiritual direction/accompaniment echoes that of Sr Louise Durouen, as described in the links below (albeit on a much more limited scale than hers).
    I have been blessed by these encounters and testimonies.
    I regret that transgender people were apparently not included in the DDF study for this document.
    Will there be some present in Rome at the October Synod, or will they remain excluded? Will there be some present at our Irish Synodal Pathway gatherings?
    If not, our talk of listening to the Holy Spirit present in the peripheries will remain empty lip service.

  8. Sean O’Conaill says:

    Thanks Soline. Those articles are most helpful, especially the second. Full acceptance of how anyone may self-identify is maybe not always easy if one’s experience is as limited as my own, but we need to rise to this challenge if the church is to be the ‘field hospital’ that Pope Francis envisages. That hormones in gestation could cause a mismatch between one’s assigned sexuality and one’s brain is news to me. That answers the question re whether gender dysphoria, strictly speaking, is ‘socially constructed’. The answer is no.

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