Some initial thoughts on the Vatican declaration ‘Dignitas Infinita’ on human dignity

April 8, 2024 at 4:48 p.m.
Palestinians inspect destroyed residential buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip April 7, 2024, after the Israeli military withdrew most of its ground troops from the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. War is among more than a dozen issues covered by a new Vatican document on human dignity. "Dignitas Infinita" ("Infinite Dignity") was released April 8, 2024, by the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. (OSV News photo/Ahmed Zakot, Reuters)
Palestinians inspect destroyed residential buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip April 7, 2024, after the Israeli military withdrew most of its ground troops from the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. War is among more than a dozen issues covered by a new Vatican document on human dignity. "Dignitas Infinita" ("Infinite Dignity") was released April 8, 2024, by the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. (OSV News photo/Ahmed Zakot, Reuters) (Ahmed Zakot)

A message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

I have just finished my first reading of the newly released Vatican document on human dignity “Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity” or “DI”), published by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the March 25, 2024 approval of Pope Francis. Five years in the making after several revisions and modifications, the declaration “DI” “does not set out to exhaust such a rich and crucial subject” --- human dignity ---  but, rather, attempts “to offer some points for reflection that can help us maintain an awareness of human dignity amid the complex historical moment in which we are living (Fernandez, Presentation).”

The declaration itself warrants more careful study than a simple “first reading” represents.  At the same time, “DI” does not seem to break much “new ground” on the topics it attempts to consider, quoting heavily from the writings of Pope Francis, his recent predecessors, conciliar documents and past statements from the doctrinal office.

With regard to particular issues and concerns, “DI” appears to adopt elements of the “seamless garment” approach to moral questions that hearkens back to the 1970s and 1980s.

The declaration begins by affirming that,

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. … 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 … always insisting on “the primacy of the human person and the defense of his or her dignity beyond every circumstance (Pope Francis, Laudate Deum, no.39, October 4, 2023).”

After several paragraphs of commentary on the notion of “dignity” itself from an ontological, moral, social, existential, biblical, and theological perspective, “DI” attempts to address “some frequent misconceptions concerning human dignity and some serious and urgent related issues.”

In light of the declaration’s reflections on “the centrality of human dignity,” the text goes on to consider “some specific and grave violations of that dignity.” 

The document is not long or difficult to read and I recommend it to your reading and reflection. Among the topics considered are:

The Drama of Poverty (36-37): the increasing disparity of wealth and resources results in an unjust inequality among people that comprises human dignity.

War (38-39): all war is a tragedy that deny human dignity, not solving problems but compounding them.

The Travail of Migrants (40): every migrant is a human person, deserving of dignity and respect, that is denied in their country of origin.

Human Trafficking (41-42): trade in people is a vile, disgraceful activity in societies that claim to be civilized.

Sexual Abuse (43): those who experience sexual abuse suffer real wounds to their human dignity in mind and body.

Violence Against Women (44-46): women possess the same human dignity as men and deserve our care, protection, and defense especially in the face of any and all unjust discrimination.

Abortion (47): the dignity of every human being has an intrinsic character and is valid from the moment of conception until natural death.

Surrogacy (48-50): surrogacy reduces the child conceived as a mere object and violates their dignity. A child is a gift of God and not the mere basis of a commercial contract,

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (51-52): the dignity of all human beings at all stages of life must be fully respected at all times.  Appropriate care must be extended to protect the dignity of those who are critically or terminally ill.  Their destiny is God’s to decide.  Life is a right not death.

The Marginalization of People with Disabilities (53-54): those with disabilities or other physical or mental impairments must be respected, cared for and protected, regardless of their vulnerabilities.  They are loved by God and should not be considered part of a “throwaway culture.”

Gender Theory (55-59): human life in all its dimensions, both physical and spiritual, is a gift from God.  Gender theory denies the God-given difference between living human beings.  We cannot separate the masculine from the feminine in God’s work of creation nor treat it as a matter of personal choice.

Sex Change (60): sex-change intervention risks threatening the unique dignity a person receives at conception.

Digital Violence (61-62): the advancement of digital technologies offers both positive and negative consequences.  The “dark side” of technology (slander, defamation, manipulation, exploitation, cyberbullying, pornography, addictive behaviors, etc.) can be seen as doing genuine violence to a person’s wellbeing, dignity, and rights.

The declaration concludes by urging that “respect for the dignity of the human person be placed at the center of the commitment to the common good and at the center of every legal system. … Each individual and also every human community is responsible for the concrete and actual realization of human dignity.”

              


I have just finished my first reading of the newly released Vatican document on human dignity “Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity” or “DI”), published by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the March 25, 2024 approval of Pope Francis. Five years in the making after several revisions and modifications, the declaration “DI” “does not set out to exhaust such a rich and crucial subject” --- human dignity ---  but, rather, attempts “to offer some points for reflection that can help us maintain an awareness of human dignity amid the complex historical moment in which we are living (Fernandez, Presentation).”

The declaration itself warrants more careful study than a simple “first reading” represents.  At the same time, “DI” does not seem to break much “new ground” on the topics it attempts to consider, quoting heavily from the writings of Pope Francis, his recent predecessors, conciliar documents and past statements from the doctrinal office.

With regard to particular issues and concerns, “DI” appears to adopt elements of the “seamless garment” approach to moral questions that hearkens back to the 1970s and 1980s.

The declaration begins by affirming that,

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. … 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 … always insisting on “the primacy of the human person and the defense of his or her dignity beyond every circumstance (Pope Francis, Laudate Deum, no.39, October 4, 2023).”

After several paragraphs of commentary on the notion of “dignity” itself from an ontological, moral, social, existential, biblical, and theological perspective, “DI” attempts to address “some frequent misconceptions concerning human dignity and some serious and urgent related issues.”

In light of the declaration’s reflections on “the centrality of human dignity,” the text goes on to consider “some specific and grave violations of that dignity.” 

The document is not long or difficult to read and I recommend it to your reading and reflection. Among the topics considered are:

The Drama of Poverty (36-37): the increasing disparity of wealth and resources results in an unjust inequality among people that comprises human dignity.

War (38-39): all war is a tragedy that deny human dignity, not solving problems but compounding them.

The Travail of Migrants (40): every migrant is a human person, deserving of dignity and respect, that is denied in their country of origin.

Human Trafficking (41-42): trade in people is a vile, disgraceful activity in societies that claim to be civilized.

Sexual Abuse (43): those who experience sexual abuse suffer real wounds to their human dignity in mind and body.

Violence Against Women (44-46): women possess the same human dignity as men and deserve our care, protection, and defense especially in the face of any and all unjust discrimination.

Abortion (47): the dignity of every human being has an intrinsic character and is valid from the moment of conception until natural death.

Surrogacy (48-50): surrogacy reduces the child conceived as a mere object and violates their dignity. A child is a gift of God and not the mere basis of a commercial contract,

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (51-52): the dignity of all human beings at all stages of life must be fully respected at all times.  Appropriate care must be extended to protect the dignity of those who are critically or terminally ill.  Their destiny is God’s to decide.  Life is a right not death.

The Marginalization of People with Disabilities (53-54): those with disabilities or other physical or mental impairments must be respected, cared for and protected, regardless of their vulnerabilities.  They are loved by God and should not be considered part of a “throwaway culture.”

Gender Theory (55-59): human life in all its dimensions, both physical and spiritual, is a gift from God.  Gender theory denies the God-given difference between living human beings.  We cannot separate the masculine from the feminine in God’s work of creation nor treat it as a matter of personal choice.

Sex Change (60): sex-change intervention risks threatening the unique dignity a person receives at conception.

Digital Violence (61-62): the advancement of digital technologies offers both positive and negative consequences.  The “dark side” of technology (slander, defamation, manipulation, exploitation, cyberbullying, pornography, addictive behaviors, etc.) can be seen as doing genuine violence to a person’s wellbeing, dignity, and rights.

The declaration concludes by urging that “respect for the dignity of the human person be placed at the center of the commitment to the common good and at the center of every legal system. … Each individual and also every human community is responsible for the concrete and actual realization of human dignity.”

              

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