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Vatican's human dignity document lacks ‘critical self-reflection'

One wonders how many lay/women experts were consulted in creating this declaration
Women's groups demonstrate at  the Vatican Vatican demanding the Synod of Bishops listen to all sections of women to do justice to them in the Church.

Women's groups demonstrate at the Vatican demanding the Synod of Bishops listen to all sections of women to do justice to them in the Church. (Photo: Virginia Saldanha)

Published: April 24, 2024 05:04 AM GMT
Updated: April 24, 2024 05:21 AM GMT

The Vatican declaration on the infinite dignity of the human person released on April 8 affirms the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations adopted in 1948.

It seems to be the Church’s first wide-ranging declaration that clarifies and asserts some rights but sadly negates other rights given to humans by the secular world, based on the Church’s understanding of human dignity.

The introduction takes great pains to explain the word “dignity.” It points out that dignity is the foundation for human rights and duties and asserts that removing injustices promotes human freedom and dignity.

The declaration covers a range of human rights violations ranging from rights deprivation of the poor and migrants; harvesting of human organs, exploitation of women and children for sex trafficking and pornography; the trading of drugs and weapons; terrorism; the death penalty; slavery; violations of international crime syndicates, the exploitation of people with disabilities or limitations; and degrading conditions of those incarcerated.

Poverty is focused upon extensively.  It’s causes and effects on dignity of the human person, for example, the economic policies of modern businesses cutting labor costs, and the “destructive effects of the empire of money; there is no poverty worse than that which takes away work and the dignity of work.”

It denounces war that attacks human dignity both in the short and long term.  It states, “No war is worth the poisoning of our common home; and no war is worth the despair of those who are forced to leave their homeland and are deprived, from one moment to the next, of their home and all the family, friendship, social and cultural ties that have been built up, sometimes over generations.”

All wars, by the mere fact that they contradict human dignity, are “conflicts that will not solve problems but only increase them.”

A great part of the declaration has the ‘Francis’ stamp on it.

Sexual Abuse (#43) is a small paragraph. While it acknowledges the deep wounds and scars of sexual abuse and points first to society “where it is widespread,” it avoids acknowledging the fact that it is equally widespread in the Church.

It lauds “the Church’s ceaseless efforts to put an end to all kinds of abuse, starting from within.”

As an advocate in touch with numerous survivors of abuse from around the world who cry out for justice, I find this statement an underserved pat on the back, that the Office for the Doctrine of the Faith (ODF) gives itself.

It also refers to violence and inequalities (#44-46), between women and men in various countries that degrade the dignity of women but fails to see the same that exists within the Church, which also gives rise to much exploitation and violence against women in the Church, especially women religious.

An international movement of Catholics called, We Are Church International, in its statement, commented that the Church document speaks on the “inability for critical self-reflection seen in the statements on violence against women.”

It also demands "actual equality of the rights of the human person,” "equal pay for equal work” and "fair advancement in professional careers.” But fails to mention this does not exist in the Catholic Church, which “marginalizes and discriminates against women by excluding them from ordained ministry and thus from the highest offices of leadership.”

There is not only a large paragraph on abortion (#47), but the whole document is peppered with references to it.

Surrogacy (#48-50) does not take into account the complex situations that render a couple unable to conceive in the normal way. While most countries have banned commercial surrogacy, altruistic surrogacy is allowed only for relatives who do it out of love and will remain connected to the child. The option gives childless couples the chance to become parents.

How many children are really conceived in love, when we are aware that marital rape is common?

Scholars such as Diane T. Veloso, who specializes in gender studies, told me the document shows “a subtle hostility in the response of the Catholic Church to ‘Gender theory’ (# 55-59).

Veloso, assistant professor at De La Salle University in Manila, explained that personal self-determination is not about making oneself God. It is about reclaiming human agency and making healthy choices as part of becoming one’s best self.

When the Church looks at gender from an essentialist or fixed perspective, without considering to what extent gender differences are socially constructed, it overlooks the similarity of needs and traits across genders.

To presume gender complementarity in sexual difference is simplistic and can be used to perpetuate inequality, which has occurred for centuries in the Church. It also perpetuates binary identities and thus overlooks the fluidity and multiplicity of gender.

She said the Church’s statement conflates sex and gender without considering how people’s identification is not necessarily determined by their biological makeup. The centrality of heteronormativity, as emphasized by framing relationships as being oriented toward the “male-female couple” only, also perpetuates the exclusion of LGBTQIA++ people and relationships between people of the same sex/gender.

Veloso pointed out that the term ‘Sex Change’ (#60) is outdated and patronizing. The more politically correct and dignified term is “gender confirmation surgery.”

She explained that from the perspective of the transgender community, body dysphoria is real. The gender they identify with is not aligned with their assigned sex at birth. In the spirit of respect and full acceptance, we should respect the trans community and leave it to them to decide whether or not they want to undergo gender confirmation surgery, rather than judge them for what they do or do not do with their bodies.

Shaming people who wish to undergo gender confirmation surgery for their own valid reasons lacks the compassion of Jesus.

Paragraph #61 covers digital violence.  While appreciating the positive contribution of the internet in connecting people, it expresses concerns about its dark side.

In conclusion, Pope Francis expresses gratitude to all those “who, without fanfare, in concrete daily life, fight and personally pay the price for defending the rights of those who do not count.”

While there are a lot of positives in the declaration, there are a vast number of people who feel 'left out' of the Church’s purview of human rights.  I wonder how many lay/women experts were consulted in creating this declaration?

Only when women are given equal seats at the decision-making tables in the Church, can the Church claim to be truly a champion of human rights. 

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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