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Vatican Declaration on Human Dignity Slams Death Penalty, Abortion, Criminalization of Homosexuality

Updated: May 17

Seeking to combat “grave violations of human dignity,” including abortion, euthanasia and surrogacy, the Vatican has published a magisterial declaration affirming the “infinite dignity” of every person as a doctrine supported by revelation.


“Every human person possesses an infinite dignity, inalienably grounded in his or her very being, which prevails in and beyond every circumstance, state, or situation the person may ever encounter,” Dignitas Infinita asserts categorically in its prologue.


Capital Punishment, Abortion Condemned

Controversially, the declaration regards the death penalty as a violation of “the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances”— an assertion that contradicts biblical and previous magisterial teaching.


Citing Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, the declaration notes that “the firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe.”


The document unequivocally condemns abortion, warning that “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.”


Commemorating, in part, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, reaffirms the dignity of “every person, regardless of sexual orientation.”


Criminalizing Homosexuality violates Human Dignity

Posing a challenge to the criminalization of homosexuality, Dignitas Infinita denounces as “contrary to human dignity the fact 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.” 


Releasing the declaration at a press conference on Monday, Cdl. Victor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the DDF, noted that the Catholic Catechism’s labeling of homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” needed “to be explained and perhaps we could find an expression that explains more clearly what we mean.”


Fernández began the press briefing by defending Fiducia Supplicans—Pope Francis’ recent declaration permitting informal blessings for same-sex couples. The cardinal slammed laws banning homosexuality, remarking that “even some Catholics defend these iniquitous laws.”


While not taking a position on the morality of homosexual practice, the declaration “highlights the definite critical issues present in gender theory,” whose “scientific coherence is the subject of considerable debate among experts.”


Gender Ideology Poses Threat

Gender theory affirms a “personal self-determination” which “amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God, entering into competition with the true God of love revealed to us in the Gospel,” Fernández warns in the document.


“It follows that any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception,” Fernández writes, noting that gender ideology also denies “the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.”


“The Church also takes a stand against the practice of surrogacy, through which the immensely worthy child becomes a mere object,” the document asserts. Surrogacy violates the “dignity of the child” and “the dignity of the woman, whether she is coerced into it or chooses to subject herself to it freely.”


Euthanasia, digital violence, war, human trafficking condemned

Attacking euthanasia, Fernández warns that “the helping the suicidal person to take his or her own life is an objective offense against the dignity of the person asking for it, even if one would be thereby fulfilling the person’s wish.”


The document introduces the new category of “digital violence” that violates human dignity by endangering “a person’s good name with fake news and slander” and exploits people through cyberbullying, pornography, and gambling.  


In a section condemning war, Dignitas Infinita labels “war, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution” as “always a ‘defeat of humanity’” and “affronts to human dignity.”


Omitting any reference to “just war” theory, Fernández urges moving away from the “logic of the legitimacy of war” and claims that “all wars, by the mere fact that they contradict human dignity", are “conflicts that will not solve problems but only increase them.”


In another section, the declaration highlights “the travail of migrants” who “are among the first victims of multiple forms of poverty” and whose dignity is denied in their home countries and often in their host countries.


A section on human trafficking calls for the Church and humanity to fighting against “the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism, and international organized crime.”


In a muted rebuke to the phenomenon of clerical sex abuse, the document notes that “this phenomenon is widespread in society, and it also affects the Church and represents a serious obstacle to her mission.”


Traditionalist Catholics Contest Teaching on Human Dignity

The doctrine of human dignity has been hotly contested by traditionalist Catholics since Dignitatis Humanae—Vatican II’s declaration on human dignity.


Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who signed the declaration at Vatican II later dissented from it, stating: “The phrase of the schema quoted in the intervention is monstrous, and it is odious to credit the Catholic Church with this claim.”


In 2023, Bp. Athanasius Schneider published his Credo as an alternative catechism for traditionalist Catholics challenging the biblical doctrine of the “dignity of the human person rooted in his creation in God’s image and likeness.”


“This was true for Adam, but with original sin the human person lost this resemblance and dignity in the eyes of God. He recovers this dignity through baptism and keeps it as long as he does not sin mortally,” Schneider declared. 


On religious freedom, Schneider argued that since “the dignity of man consists in the right use of freedom,” hence, “no true and proper right can be given to the human person that contradicts divine truth in the natural or positive law of God.”

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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