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Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández taking possession of his titular church, December 3, 2023Michael Haynes

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández has released his long-anticipated document on human dignity, written in line with Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti and modern teaching on dignity, which condemns abortion and surrogacy while notably remaining silent on homosexuality.

Released via press conference April 8 – the transferred feast of the Annunciation – the new text, Dignitas infinita, aims to highlight a line from Fratelli Tutti – namely, that “dignity exists ‘beyond all circumstances.’” 

“The Declaration strives to show that this is a universal truth that we are all called to recognize as a fundamental condition for our societies to be truly just, peaceful, healthy, and authentically human,” wrote Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) and from whose office the document emerged. 

As summarized by Andrea Tornielli (editorial manager for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication) the document aims to address issues outside of the bioethical sphere:

The new text thus contributes to overcoming the dichotomy that exists between those who focus exclusively on defending nascent or dying life 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.

Summarizing his lengthy text, Fernández wrote that “the Church, with the present Declaration, ardently urges that respect for the dignity of the human person beyond all circumstances be placed at the center of the commitment to the common good and at the center of every legal system.”

He had earlier decried how a modern misconception of dignity is “occasionally misused 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.”

While mentioning the Church’s condemnation of abortion and euthanasia, the text only mentions “sin” on two occasions – both of which occurred in the same sentence in section 22. The treatment of gender theory was critical, but only critical, whilst Pope Francis – under whose authority the document was written – has been much more condemnatory in his remarks.

Key also is the absence of any mention, much less condemnation, of homosexuality. In a text given to denoting teaching on human dignity, and the ways in which is is gravely violated, such an omission appears striking. 

Backdrop

The text has been in progress since 2019, with Fernández stating that the initial 2019 version was “unsatisfactory.” A new version was compiled in 2021, which underwent successive edits and abbreviations. While that version was approved by the Pope to the new DDF prefect in November last year, Francis then requested that the text highlight issues “such as poverty, the situation of migrants, violence against women, human trafficking, war, and other themes.”

In order to do this, Fernández wrote that a special body in the DDF was tasked with “an in-depth study of the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, which offers an original analysis and further consideration of the theme of human dignity ‘beyond all circumstances.’”

With such additional changes made, Francis approved the text on March 25, which is the customary date of the Annunciation.

“Although not comprehensive, the topics discussed in this Declaration are selected to illuminate different facets of human dignity that might be obscured in many people’s consciousness,” wrote Fernández in his introduction. 

Dignitas infinita, noted the cardinal, is timed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Fratelli Tutti a ‘magna carta’ for modernity

While the study of Fratelli Tutti only served to guide the document since late 2023, according to Fernández, the influence of the Pope’s controversial 2020 encyclical can be seen throughout.   

Outlining this in his introduction, Fernández wrote that “Fratelli Tutti, constitutes a kind of ‘Magna Carta’ of our contemporary tasks to protect and promote human dignity.”

Fernández outlined four kinds of dignity – ontological dignity, moral dignity, social dignity, and existential dignity – denoting ontological as the most important since it “belongs to the person as such simply because he or she exists and is willed, created, and loved by God.” The moral dignity, noted the cardinal, can be “lost” by virtue of sinning.

Fernández explained social and existential dignity as respectively referring to “the quality of a person’s living conditions” and “the type of dignity implied in the ever-increasing discussion about a ‘dignified’ life and one that is ‘not dignified.’”

Traditional Catholic teaching especially highlights supernatural and natural dignity –  two aspects and designations of human dignity which have been substantially left aside in recent years. In traditional Catholic teaching, the natural dignity of man in the image of God is based upon his ability to know and love God. St. Thomas Aquinas notes that this can be lost through sin, and uses this in his defense of the death penalty.

St. Thomas describes supernatural dignity – which is only found in baptized members of the Church, who are in a state of grace – thus: “Inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace.”

Drawing from man’s creation in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1: 26), Fernández stated that “to be created in the image of God means to possess a sacred value that transcends every distinction of a sexual, social, political, cultural, and religious nature.”

Citing what he noted as the “development” of thinking and understanding about dignity through history, Fernández quoted from the Second Vatican Council’ Dignitatis Humanae. “The Church’s Magisterium progressively developed an ever-greater understanding of the meaning of human dignity, along with its demands and consequences, until it arrived at the recognition that the dignity of every human being prevails beyond all circumstances,” he added.

‘Equal dignity’ that can ‘also grow and mature’

Before delving into specific violations of human dignity, the cardinal further expanded on dignity itself.

He stated that “the Church proclaims the equal dignity of all people, regardless of their living conditions or qualities.” This is based on three aspects, he noted:

  • “that the dignity of the human person comes from the love of the Creator.”
  • “that the dignity of the human person was revealed in its fullness when the Father sent His Son, who assumed human existence to the full.”
  • The fact that all men are called to spend eternity with God.

Dignity is “inalienable and intrinsic,” wrote the cardinal  in section 22, who added that “the choice to express that dignity and manifest it to the full or to obscure it depends on each person’s free and responsible decision.”

While each person is created in the image of God, “to the extent that the person responds to the good, the individual’s dignity can manifest itself freely, dynamically, and progressively; with that, it can also grow and mature,” Fernández wrote. 

He stated that “sin can wound and obscure human dignity, as it is an act contrary to that dignity; yet, sin can never cancel the fact that the human being is created in the image and likeness of God.”

In this section, Fernández appears to linguistically equate the dignity which comes from being created in the image of God with the supernatural dignity of a baptized Catholic, which corresponds to his conformity with grace.

Traditional teaching does indeed note an equal dignity among men with regard to the universal call to holiness and the call to spend eternity with God. But traditional teaching does not envisage a universal equality in supernatural dignity, the dignity which corresponds to man’s conformity with grace. 

Violations of dignity

In his penultimate section of Dignitas infinita, Fernández outlined certain “grave violations of human dignity.” Drawing from the list presented by Gaudium et Spes, Fernández added – perhaps unsurprisingly – that “one should also mention the death penalty, for this also violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.” This stems from Pope Francis’ repeated statements on the topic in this line, and his change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to declare the death penalty immoral, thus going against Catholic traditional teaching. 

Certain topics were dealt with in a self-professed non-exhaustive list by Fernández, including:

  • Poverty
  • War 
  • The trivial of migrants
  • Human trafficking
  • Sexual abuse
  • Violence against women
  • Abortion
  • Surrogacy
  • Euthanasia and assisted suicide
  • Marginalization of people with disabilities
  • Gender theory
  • Sex change
  • Digital violence

No just war

The text echoes another of Pope Francis’ key themes, namely denoting war as being always a “defeat for humanity.” Catholic social teaching traditionally outlines instances in which a “just war” might occur, but Dignitas infinita suggests that “today it is very difficult to sustain the rational criteria matured in other centuries to speak of a possible ‘just war.’”

“The intimate relationship between faith and human dignity means it would be contradictory for war to be based on religious convictions,” added Fernández, quoting from Francis’ 2016 “Address on the World Day of Prayer for Peace.”

Abortion and surrogacy

In one of the longest sections from the list of violations of dignity, Fernández decried how “the acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior, and even in law itself is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake.”

Condemning the use of phrases such as the “interruption of pregnancy,” Fernández wrote that: “we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception.”

The cardinal quoted from Evangelium Vitae to describe abortion as “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.” However, he did not note the penalty of mortal sin incurred by direct cooperation with abortion.

Fernández also noted how surrogacy “violates the dignity of the child,” along with the dignity of the woman who becomes “a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others.”

Euthanasia, assisted suicide

Turning to euthanasia, Fernández described it as “a special case of human dignity violation that is quieter but is swiftly gaining ground.”

He urged that those who are “critically or terminally ill” be given “all suitable and necessary efforts to alleviate their suffering through appropriate palliative care and by avoiding aggressive treatments or disproportionate medical procedures.” 

Contradicting the euthanasia advocates, he stated that “human life carries a dignity that must always be upheld, that can never be lost, and that calls for unconditional respect. Indeed, there are no circumstances under which human life would cease from being dignified and could, as a result, be put to an end.”

Gender theory and homosexuality

Beginning his treatment of “gender theory,” Fernández quoted from Amoris Laetitia:

The Church wishes, first of all, “to reaffirm 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.”

He condemned how “in some places,” individuals are “imprisoned, tortured, and even deprived of the good of life solely because of their sexual orientation.”

The DDF prefect stated how the Church notes “definite critical issues” with gender theory. The theory’s “scientific coherence is the subject of considerable debate among experts,” wrote Fernández, adding that “the Church recalls that human life in all its dimensions, both physical and spiritual, is a gift from God.”

He wrote that modern gender theory denies “the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference,” which is “the most beautiful and most powerful of them.” The difference between men and women becomes “the source of that miracle that never ceases to surprise us: the arrival of new human beings in the world.”

Writing that “respect for both one’s own body and that of others is crucial in light of the proliferation of claims to new rights advanced by gender theory,” Fernández added that “all attempts to obscure reference to the ineliminable sexual difference between man and woman are to be rejected.”

The discussion on gender theory strikes as being guarded in parts. Notable by virtue of its absence was any reference to homosexuality. The CDF’s 1975 documentPersona Humana, instructed that “[t]here can be no true promotion of man’s dignity unless the essential order of his nature is respected.”

While urging that individuals with homosexual tendencies be treated with “understanding” and helped to overcome their trials, Persona Humana added that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.”

The avoidance of any coverage of homosexuality in Dignitas infinita, therefore, appears noteworthy. 

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