The Vatican says gender reassignment and surrogacy are threats to human dignity

The Vatican on Monday released a new document endorsed by Pope Francis saying the Church believes gender fluidity and transition surgery, as well as surrogacy, amount to an affront to human dignity.

The sex with which a person is born, the document claims, is an “irrevocable gift” from God and “any sex change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity that the person has received from the moment of conception”. Those who desire “personal self-determination, as prescribed by gender theory”, risk giving in to “the ancient temptation to make themselves God”.

The document also unequivocally states the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to surrogacy, whether the woman carrying a child “is forced to do so or chooses to submit freely” because the child “becomes a mere means subservient to gain or arbitrary desire of others.” .”

The document was intended to be a broad statement of the Church's views on human dignity, which included the exploitation of the poor, migrants, women and vulnerable people. Although it has been five years in the making, it comes just months after Pope Francis shocked the most conservative corners of his church by explicitly allowing LGBTQ Catholics to receive blessings from priests and allowing transgender people to be baptized and serve as godparents.

While the Church's teachings on culture war issues that Francis has largely avoided are not necessarily new, their consolidation now could be welcomed by conservatives for their hard line against liberal ideas on gender and surrogacy.

The document could also cause deep consternation among LGBTQ rights advocates in the church, who fear the document will be used as a cudgel to condemn transgender people, even as it warns of “unjust discrimination,” especially in countries where they are criminalized and imprisoned and in some cases executed or subjected to aggression or violence.

“The Vatican is once again advocating and spreading ideas that lead to real physical harm to transgender, nonbinary and other LGBTQ+ people,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that advocates for gay Catholics, adding that the Vatican's defense of human dignity excluded “the segment of the human population that is transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming.”

She said it presented an outdated theology based only on physical appearance and was blind to “the growing reality that a person's gender includes the psychological, social and spiritual aspects naturally present in their life.”

The document, he said, showed a “startling lack of awareness of the real lives of transgender and non-binary people” and that its authors ignored transgender people who shared their experiences with the church and “dismissively,” and wrongly , they dismissed them as purely Western phenomenon people.

While the document represents a clear setback for LGBTQ people and their supporters, the Vatican is committed to finding a balance between protecting personal human dignity and clearly stating Church teaching, reflecting the tightrope which Francis has tried to walk in his more than 11 years as pope.

Francis has made meeting with gay and transgender Catholics a hallmark of his pontificate and has made it his mission to convey a message for a more open and less judgmental Church. But he has refused to change Church rules and doctrine that many gay and transgender Catholics say have alienated them, revealing the limits of his drive for inclusivity. The Church teaches that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

The Vatican acknowledged that these were burning issues, but said that, at a time of great turmoil around these issues, it was essential, and hopefully helpful, that the Church reaffirmed its teachings on the centrality of human dignity. .

“Some topics may have more resonance in some sectors of society than in others,” wrote Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who heads the Vatican's doctrinal office, in the introduction to the document, “Declaration Dignitas Infinita, on human dignity.” , which he said on Monday was of great doctrinal importance, in contrast to the recent statement authorizing blessings for same-sex Catholics, and was intended to provide clarity.

“However, they all seem necessary to us,” he writes, “so that we do not lose our way and expose ourselves to further wounds and deep suffering amid the numerous worries and anxieties of our time.”

While receptive to gay and transgender followers, the pope has also consistently expressed concern about what he calls “ideological colonization,” the idea that wealthy nations arrogantly impose views — whether on gender or surrogacy — on people and religious traditions that do not necessarily agree with them. The document states that “gender theory plays a central role” in that vision and that its “scientific coherence is the subject of considerable debate among experts.”

Using the language “on the one hand” and “on the other,” the Vatican's Office for Teaching and Doctrine writes that “the fact that, in some places, quite a few people are imprisoned should be denounced as contrary to human dignity , tortured and even deprived of the good of life solely because of their sexual orientation.”

“At the same time – he continues – the Church highlights the precise critical issues present in the genre theory.”

In his introduction, Cardinal Fernández described the long process of developing a document on human dignity, which began in March 2019, to take into account the “latest developments on the topic in academia and the ambivalent ways in which the concept is understood today. ”

In 2023, Francis sent the document back with instructions to “highlight issues closely related to the theme of dignity, such as poverty, the situation of migrants, violence against women, human trafficking, war and other topics.” Francis signed the document on March 25.

The long journey, writes Cardinal Fernández, “reflects the gravity” of the process.

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