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Vatican’s ‘Dignitas Infinita’ Confronts Some Of The World’s Stickiest Moral Issues

This long-anticipated declaration offers essential guidance on major moral issues and presents wisdom any serious Christian should appreciate. 

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To those more familiar with Pope Francis from headlines and Father James Martin clips, the Catholic Church’s outright condemnation of surrogacy, euthanasia, and radical gender theory as grave violations of human dignity may come as a surprise. But it shouldn’t.  

Pope Francis was in the headlines again last week with the Vatican’s release of “Dignitas Infinita,” or “Infinite Dignity,” a phrase drawn from a 1980 address by Pope John Paul II. The new theological treatise reflects on these topics, as well as war, poverty, and human trafficking, in light of human dignity.  

“Dignitas Infinita” undercuts the popular perception of the Francis papacy as primarily liberal. With radical consistency, the document reflects on social issues associated with both sides of the American political divide, reminding us that faith transcends partisanship, offering a viable third way for Christians committed to reason and truth. 

The document offers essential, though not exhaustive, guidance on major moral issues of the 21st century. With its strong grounding in natural law, it presents wisdom any serious Christian should appreciate.  

This long-anticipated declaration has been in the works for years: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began drafting it in 2019. It has been subject to multiple major revisions, some at the behest of the pope, who asked that the document highlight “grave violations of human dignity in our time.”  

It’s consistent with Catholic social teaching dating back to the earliest days of the church, with the document referencing major Catholic theologians such as Clement of Rome, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Aquinas, as well as Francis’ predecessors Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II.  

“This dignity of every human being can be understood as ‘infinite,’” Cardinal Víctor Fernández wrote in the introduction, “regardless of physical, psychological, social, or even moral deficiencies.”  

This dignity is recognizable by reason and endures through every circumstance. 

Human Dignity 

Though the human person may compromise his or her moral, social, or existential dignity through sin or degrading circumstances, the fundamental, ontological dignity can never be annulled, the declaration states. 

The church firmly and unequivocally grounds the dignity of the human person not in his or her present abilities (as some attempt to do with the unborn or severely disabled) but in his or her creation in the “image and likeness” of God. This unconditional dignity, intuited in classical antiquity, gained its fullness through the person of Jesus Christ.  

As the “foundation of rights and duties,” human dignity serves as the basis of the church’s social teaching, which has much to offer Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  

Surrogacy and Euthanasia 

“Dignitas Infinita” draws attention to destructive disparities in wealth, the tragedy of near-constant wars, the plight of migrants, the marginalization of people with disabilities, human trafficking, sexual abuse, and abortion as grave violations of human dignity. Likewise, it calls out violence against women, whether through coercive abortions, the commercialization of women’s bodies, or injustice in the workplace.  

The church takes its stance on surrogacy as a “violation of the dignity of the woman and the child,” highlighting the way in which the practice turns a child into a commercial product. No adult has a right to a child — rather, children have a right to a “fully human” conception.  

With remarkable clarity, the document addresses the quiet evil of euthanasia and assisted suicide, which prey upon suffering people with a twisted conception of dignity. Suicidal, ill, or unhappy people need quality physical, mental, and spiritual care, not premature death. Their suffering does not diminish their infinite dignity but can strengthen the bonds of love around them.  

Transgenderism 

The document’s treatment of radical gender theory is similarly apt, first affirming the dignity of every person, no matter his or her sexual orientation. Thus, the church’s criticism of transgenderism comes from a place of love and concern, not hate or fear. Sexual embodiment — and life itself — is a gift from God, not one of our own making.  

We must reject the self-determination and deconstructionism embedded in gender theory to embrace the “most beautiful and most powerful” difference that exists between beings: sexual difference.  

“Dignitas Infinita” peels back layers of misleading language surrounding these issues, giving us a way to confront offenses against dignity with charity and courage. What Christians of all kinds can take away from the text is a radical consistency of approach to our world’s most difficult moral issues.  

Our challenge: to recognize the unconditional dignity of each man and woman we encounter and to live in the hope our infinite dignity entails. 


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