Everyone has the same human dignity no matter what

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Vatican human dignity
Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, holds up a copy of the dicastery's declaration, "Dignitas Infinita" ("Infinite Dignity") on human dignity during a news conference at the Vatican press office April 8, 2024. (CNS photo/Pablo Esparza)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document on human dignity highlights Pope Francis’ decade-long insistence that every human being — independent of their circumstances, stage of development or state of sin — possesses infinite and inalienable dignity that must be respected and protected, said the dicastery’s prefect.

‘Dignitas Infinita’ document

The declaration, Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity”), gathers what recent popes have said about this “fundamental pillar of Christian teaching” and summarizes the novel approach offered by Pope Francis, said Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, dicastery prefect.

In fact, the nearly 25-page document was named a “declaration” to emphasize the doctrinal importance of the subject and the pope’s unique thinking, attitude and behavior toward “the sick, those who do wrong, the forgotten,” the cardinal said during a news conference at the Vatican April 8.

Unfortunately, not everyone is born with or has access to the same possibilities in life “and, therefore, it is not true that everyone is accorded the same dignity” in today’s market-based or individualist “model of the success of the strong,” the cardinal said.

This is why Pope Francis has repeatedly reinforced “the conviction of inalienable dignity” as being independent of anyone’s circumstance or situation, he said.

For example, those who are “slow, less gifted and weaker have infinite value,” and a child who has been born and one who has just been conceived have the same exact dignity, he said. “Their dignity does not depend on development, otherwise there will be no universally valid reasons to unapologetically defend human rights.”

Violations of human dignity

The document draws attention to about a dozen “grave violations of human dignity that are particularly relevant,” the document said. It is not an exhaustive list and each problem is only briefly addressed as “each of these themes would require its own entire paper,” Cardinal Fernández said.

The idea is to show that no matter the threat — war, poverty, violence against women, abortion, forced migration — the dignity of the human being remains the same, he said.

“All the topics chosen are important to understand the topic in a harmonious way. For example, it is true that there are at least two reasons not to accept gender ideologies,” reasons which are developed in the document, he said.

“Instead of helping recognize dignity,” he said, the ideologies “impoverish” the beauty and reciprocity of sexual difference and they reflect the temptation to be “omnipotent” and “create everything … as if there was no reality that was given.”

Pastoral response to gender dysphoria

When asked what the pastoral response to those who have undergone a sex change or who are experiencing gender dysphoria should be, Cardinal Fernández said that Pope Francis has made it clear that everyone must be welcomed and accompanied, even those whose thinking and choices are “different from what the Church says in its doctrine.”

“There are groups who look for a select minority that fully accepts everything the Church says and that is a pastoral option that some people make. It is not the option that Pope Francis proposes to us, which is to welcome everyone even if they think differently on these issues of sexuality, marriage, etc.” he said.

The cardinal was also asked why, since the Church sees sex change treatment as a violation of human dignity, the dicastery did not specifically mention the practice of medical interventions for children.

“Very few words are said about sex change” in the document, the cardinal said. But it is especially serious when it comes to children because it is a decision that “changes your whole life.”

Church’s stance on surrogacy

Asked about the Church’s position against the practice of surrogacy, seeing it as turning an “immensely worthy child” into a “mere object,” the cardinal said it refers to the child becoming the object of someone’s desire to have children.

The Church is sensitive to those who want to have children, he said, but they are invited to “transcend that desire” because the dignity of the people involved, including the surrogate mother, “is a much greater thing than the desire that one may have” and not every desire in life can be fulfilled.

“There is always the possibility of adoption for so many who need to have a family that not only receives them, but receives them with love,” he added.

Respect for every person

The document reaffirmed that “every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”

This reflects Jesus’ teaching, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Cardinal Fernández said.

But when the acts of violence or discrimination are explicitly called for by law, then “we are facing a big problem. It’s certain that we don’t agree with criminalization,” he said.

Cardinal Fernández said he is horrified when he reads about Catholics praising military governments for creating laws against homosexuals, saying he’s shocked that a Catholic would say such a thing given the Church’s “conception about human dignity.”

“It is certain that we are in favor of decriminalization, there is no doubt about it,” he said.

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.