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When the always well-written and often wrongheaded New Yorker dislikes something, chances are good that I’ll like it—a principle that holds, with certain reservations, in the case of Dignitas Infinita, the April 8th “Declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Human Dignity.” The Declaration underscores the Catholic Church’s commitment to the defense of every human life from conception until natural death, calls Catholics to compassionate care for the most vulnerable among us, defends the biblical idea of the human person as defined in Genesis 1:27–28, and offers a welcome critique of gender theory and the legion of demons it spawns (this last being, predictably, what upset the New Yorker). 

What’s not to like, then? Perhaps that’s putting it too sharply. The question is whether the Declaration could have been even better. I think that’s the case, and in several ways.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark. Dignitas Infinita has 116 endnote references to magisterial teaching cited in its text; over half of them are to documents and statements of Pope Francis. What is most striking, however, is the absence of any reference to Pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) and its teaching that certain acts are intrinsically evil: gravely wrong by their very nature, irrespective of circumstances. That rationally demonstrable conviction—that some actions are wrong, period—is the ground on which the Church condemns sexual abuse, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and modern forms of slavery like sex trafficking. These are all “grave violations of human dignity,” as the Declaration says. But why is that the case? Not because they offend our feelings or sensibilities about human dignity, but because we can know by reason that they are always gravely wrong. That should have been clearly stated. 

Thus, the tenderness displayed during this pontificate toward moral theologians who reject the teaching of Veritatis Splendor on intrinsically evil acts weakens the defense of human dignity the Declaration wants to mount. 

Defending Pre-Born Human Life. Dignitas Infinita is passionate in its rejection of abortion, and rightly links the abortion license to the erosion of “solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights.” The Declaration would have been strengthened, however, had it taken a lesson from the American bishops, who have made the pro-life case for over half a century by teaching two truths that any reasonable person can grasp: 1) It is a scientific fact, not a philosophical speculation, that the product of human conception is a human being with a unique genetic identity. 2) A just society will ensure that innocent human beings, in all conditions and stages of life, are protected in law. And while the Declaration concludes its section on abortion with a reference to St. Teresa of Calcutta’s “generous . . . commitment to the defense of every person conceived,” it makes no reference to the thousands of U.S. crisis pregnancy centers where women are offered care during pregnancy and support after a child is born. Thus, the essential pro-life complement to public advocacy on behalf of the unborn—solidarity with women in crisis pregnancies—is left understated in Dignitas Infinita.

The “Sex Reassignment” Fraud. The Declaration states, correctly, that “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.” This statement might have been developed further. Most urgently, Dignitas Infinita ought to have explicitly condemned the “transitioning” of confused and suffering children and adolescents—the most despicable form of the “trans” phenomenon—as child abuse. If a report commissioned by the British National Health Service could call out this medical malpractice as thoroughly unwarranted by clinical evidence, surely the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith could have highlighted the dangers posed to children and adolescents by trans ideologues, woke physicians, and unscrupulous plastic surgeons. 

There Are, in Fact, Just Wars. Quoting Pope Francis, the Declaration asserts that “it is very difficult, nowadays, to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’” One must respectfully and firmly disagree. Those “rational criteria” undergird Ukraine’s self-defense against a murderous aggression the Russian aggressor has openly declared to be genocidal. Those same criteria are the foundation of, and the moral framework for, Israel’s defensive war against Hamas, Hezbollah, and their Iranian sponsor. The just war criteria would buttress Taiwan’s resistance to any Chinese communist attempt to destroy the independence of the first Chinese democracy in millennia. 

The global culture war is indeed a contest to defend and promote human dignity. Dignitas Infinita helps those of us fighting that unavoidable war. It could have helped more.

George Weigel’s column “The Catholic Difference” is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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Image by Colin licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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