Takeaways From the Vatican’s Document on Human Dignity

The document issued on Monday by the Vatican puts human dignity at the center of Catholic life, but in doing so, it broaches some of the most difficult and sensitive social issues, those that Pope Francis has spent his papacy avoiding.

On Monday, though, his church leaned hard into them in the document, called “Infinite Dignity.” It argued that the exploitation of the poor, the outcast and the vulnerable amounted to an erosion of human dignity. But it was the restating of the church’s rejection of abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia, and especially gender fluidity, transition surgery and surrogacy, that church liberals worried would be used as ammunition by the right.

Here are four takeaways.

Pope Francis’ inclusive message, which has included allowing L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics to receive blessings from priests and transgender people to be baptized and act as godparents, has a limit: Catholic doctrine.

The pope’s conservative critics have for a decade argued that his tendency to speak off the cuff and in overly welcoming ways toward L.G.B.T.Q. people, the divorced and remarried, along with others who sin in the church’s eyes, had sent the wrong signal.

But the document released on Monday, and remarks by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the prefect of the Vatican department with oversight over doctrine, underlined that the pope’s message was just that — a signal that the church was more open to the world, but that the substance, what it considers immutable “truth,” remained the same.

That dissonance, though, between Francis’ style and his defense of Catholic doctrine was highlighted by the document, and for many supporters of great change within the church, it amounted to a declaration that they would not get what they want.

As if to highlight that tension, Cardinal Fernández responded to a question on Monday about the church’s teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” — what many supporters of L.G.B.T.Q. faithful consider the insurmountable obstacle to true acceptance — by saying that the problem may be the terminology, not the meaning.

It was, he said, a “very strong expression” and that perhaps “more suitable words” could be found to express the thought that homosexual sex could not produce the “mystery” of childbirth.

The Vatican argues that gender fluidity, or the idea that people can decide their own sex, erodes human dignity because it blurs the difference between men and women, which it considers a gift from God.

Francis, while personally welcoming to transgender people — he has met many throughout his papacy — is convinced that powerful lobbies are pushing what the Vatican calls “gender theory” as a form of “cultural colonization” on more traditionalist societies.

This ideology, the Vatican said in the document issued on Monday, “envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.” It was unacceptable, the Vatican said, that such ideologies managed to “assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised.”

The Vatican document reiterates its opposition to surrogacy, arguing that even though the process may fulfill the wishes of couples longing to have children, it does so at the cost of a wider human dignity because it reduces women, in the Vatican’s view, to simply carriers and children to what Francis has called products of “commercialization.”

The church’s opposition to surrogacy and in vitro fertilization stems from its ethical and theological teachings on the issue of life. Though Francis has made it clear that while the church opposes surrogacy, children born from surrogacy can be baptized.

“First and foremost, the practice of surrogacy violates the dignity of the child,” who “has the right to have a fully human (and not artificially induced) origin and to receive the gift of a life that manifests both the dignity of the giver and that of the receiver,” the document states.

“Surrogacy also violates the dignity of the woman, whether she is coerced into it or chooses to subject herself to it freely,” as it detaches the women “from the child growing in her and becomes a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others.”

The Vatican document is adamant in its rejection of transition surgeries, what it calls “Sex Change.” It argues that the physical sex a person is born with — male or female — is an equal gift from God, who has made the human in his image. It is not a gift you can give back, the Vatican says.

Changing sex, the church argues, is to put individualism before “the need to respect the natural order of the human person,” and “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

The church, however, made an exception for people with “genital abnormalities that are already evident at birth or that develop later,” which could be resolved through “health care professionals” because it would “not constitute a sex change in the sense intended here.”

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