What Does Dignitas Infinita Say about Gender?

Francisca Pérez-Madrid is Professor of Law and Religion at the University of Barcelona.

The declaration Dignitas Infinita prepared by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith seeks to consolidate the affirmations of recent Popes on human dignity. The text is a voice raised to the world on the inalienable and unconditional dignity of every human being, which corresponds to an individual’s nature beyond any cultural change. The document’s argumentation is based on faith and reason and refers to sacred scripture and on the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The declaration has attracted many positive reactions. The intention to defend the weakest and most needy, whether materially, spiritually, or emotionally, has been emphasized. However, the declaration has also provoked some criticism. The list of behaviors that, according to the document, violate the dignity of the person is considered incomplete by some observers. (The document warns, however, that it is not intended to be exhaustive.) Other commentators are disappointed because of the declaration’s conservative approach to gender issues.

The document, which is meant to speak to everyone, not just Catholics, lists 13 attacks on dignity. It refers specifically to abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, gender theory, sex reassignment, surrogacy, persons with disabilities, the death penalty, and war. It also mentions sexual abuse, violence against women, human trafficking, the drama of poverty, the dignity of migrants, and digital violence.

The Dicastery clarifies some current misinterpretations relative to dignity. It asserts that to speak of “personal dignity” instead of human dignity may imply the denial of human dignity to a subject who does not possess the full or partial capacity to reason; this would be the case, for example, of a fetus or a person with a cognitive disability. The Catholic Church insists that the dignity of every human person is intrinsic and “remains ‘in all circumstances’” (para. 24).

Another error denounced in the document is the proliferation of new human rights that contradict even some of the most basic ones, for example, a purported “right to abortion” versus the right to life. Dignity is identified in such cases with an isolated and individualistic freedom that seeks to impose certain subjective desires and preferences as “rights” (para. 25). Human dignity cannot be based on individual standards or identified solely with the psychophysical well-being of the individual, says the declaration. It also denounces the use of euphemisms such as “interruption of pregnancy” (para. 47) and “death with dignity” (para. 51).

Dignitas Infinita has attracted particular attention in relation to its paragraphs discussing gender theory and sex-change procedures (paras. 55­–62). The proximity of the approval of Fiducia Supplicans and the controversy that followed were likely the cause of increased expectations. It is the first magisterial pronouncement of the Catholic Church on both these issues. The declaration affirms

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 (para. 55).

Criminal prosecution of people for their sexual orientation is, therefore, contrary to human dignity (id.). Dignity excludes any kind of rejection, fear, or justification of possible marginalization. The document also refers the Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 2358). This text declares the duty to welcome homosexual persons with respect, compassion, and gentleness, avoiding any sign of unjust discrimination. However, Dignitas Infinita omits the Catechism’s statement that “this inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most [homosexuals] a trial.” It is therefore clear that reference to the moral evaluation of homosexual acts is avoided.

The text then rejects gender theory “since it cancels differences in its claim to make everyone equal” (para. 56). The sexed physical body is “a gift from God” to be “accepted with gratitude and placed at the service of the good” (para. 57). This acceptance contrasts with the desire for personal self-determination, which “amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God” (id.). Moreover, gender theory denies the sexual difference that makes reciprocity and fecundity possible (para. 58). Quoting Pope Francis, the document insists that gender theory is an ideological colonization that contradicts a basic biological fact and eliminates the anthropological basis of the family (paras. 56, 59).

The declaration takes a clear stance on sex change. It affirms that the dignity of the body cannot be considered inferior to that of the person as such. Consequently, generally, sexual reassignment must be rejected as a threat to the dignity of the person (para. 60). It does not specify in which cases sex change would be admissible; it only mentions the case of persons with genital anomalies, who could ethically undergo surgery or treatment to clarify their sexual identity. (The document, however, does not mention the issue of sex change or “transition” for children and adolescents, which has been seriously questioned in the April 2024 Cass Report of the British National Health Service.)

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith had already referred to homosexuality and transsexuality when answering a question raised by a Brazilian bishop. He asked whether transsexual and homosexual persons could receive baptism, be godparents, or be witnesses to marriage; he also asked whether an adopted or surrogate child of a same-sex couple could be baptized. The Dicastery responded that the sacraments should not be denied for any reason, especially in the case of baptism. However, the risk of scandal, or undue legitimation of the applicant, must be considered. In most cases, the question can be decided according to pastoral prudence.

According to the Prefect of the Dicastery, the answer to this question provided a pastoral solution that did not affect doctrine; therefore, its orientation can be considered compatible with criteria provided by Dignitas Infinita. (However, in my opinion, the distinction between the pastoral and the doctrinal needs further reflection.)

Moreover, this response contradicts a 2015 response from the same Dicastery. The Bishop of Cadiz and Ceuta (Spain)asked whether a woman living as a man could be godfather to her nephew. The answer was negative, stating that transsexual behavior publicly revealed an attitude opposed to the moral requirement to resolve questions of sexual identity according to one’s sex at birth. Therefore, such a person did not meet the requirement to lead a life in conformity with the faith and the responsibilities of godparent (see Code of Canon Law, canon 874 §1.3). Consequently, the person lacked the necessary requirements to assume such a responsibility and could not be a godmother or godfather.

It is also worth mentioning that since Dignitas Infinita was issued, several Catholic Bishops’ Conferences have issued guidelines on these gender issues.

The UK Bishops’ Conference published Intricately Woven by the Lord in 2024. The document states that Catholic medical institutions should refuse to provide sex-change treatments as harmful to the body. It also states that Church institutions should avoid adopting the language of gender ideology.

The U.S. Bishops’ Conference may soon issue similar guidance. In March 2023, its Committee on Doctrine approved the Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body. The document states that Catholic hospitals should not perform interventions that transform “the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex.”

In conclusion, Dignitas Infinita has declared that gender theory and sex change procedures are contrary to human dignity, within the framework of the legitimate autonomy of the Catholic Church. The declaration is a binding document for the Catholic faithful and their institutions. One may foresee that cases of conscientious objection will multiply in those places where legislation compels professional action to the contrary.

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