Articles

The Vatican Statement on Human Dignity

The declaration explains why image bearers should reject all attempts to obscure sexual differences

04/23/24

John Stonestreet

Jared Hayden

Earlier this month, the Vatican released a “Declaration on Human Dignity under the title “Infinite Dignity.” The document offered significant clarity on important cultural issues, especially after a series of confusing claims from Pope Francis. For example, last December, the Pope announced that priests could bless same-sex couples. Though his statement specified that priests were not to perform such blessings during Mass and were only blessing individuals but not sanctioning the relationships as morally acceptable, progressive Catholics and observers saw the statement as a step toward acceptance of same-sex “marriage” within the Roman Catholic church.  

In contrast, the Vatican’s latest declaration left no such ambiguity, especially about issues related to sexuality and “gender.” Specifically, this document connects these issues to the notion of human dignity and clarifies what that dignity entails. Therefore, it cannot be confused by those who determine the morality of these issues based on notions of self-determination or autonomy.  

The declaration plainly states that dignity is rooted in “the love of the Creator” who has permanently marked each person with His image. As such, our dignity “is neither claimed nor deserved,” nor can it be taken away. The document also reminds readers that humans possess dignity not only with respect to the soul or the mind, but also in our very bodies. Human persons, as made in the image of God, are created as a unity of body and soul. Thus, humans reflect God’s image in our bodies, and therefore “dignity is also inherent in each person’s body.”  

Additionally, the statement points to the promise of bodily resurrection, which reaffirms the body as an essential part of us that is made to share in God’s glory. And, the dignity of the human person, body and soul, is revealed above all in the incarnation of Christ, who took on our humanity, and thus “confirmed the dignity of the body and soul.” Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection reveal that our dignity lies not only in how humans were initially created but also in our final purpose, which is to dwell in unhindered communion with God forever. 

The Vatican’s statement rightly acknowledged that LGBTQ-identifying individuals possess inviolable dignity by virtue of their creation. However, it also notes that this dignity is undermined when humans ignore the meaning of biological sex and sexual difference, and thus, their bodies. “Gender theory” is, according to the statement, not only the promotion of transgender ideology or so-called gender “transition” interventions. Gender theory is related to all attempts to suppress the meaning of sexual difference and, in this sense, includes things like homosexuality, hook-up culture, and the pill. Gender theory undermines human dignity because it seeks to deny or eliminate what it calls “the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.” Still more, it treats the “dignity of the body … [as] inferior” to the inner self.   

Even for those who are not Roman Catholic, this statement is clear, sound, and helpful. Neither the body nor sexual difference can be separated from our dignity as image bearers. Rather, “only by acknowledging and accepting [sexual] difference … can each person fully discover themselves, their dignity, and their identity.” It is for this reason that “all attempts to obscure … [the] sexual difference between man and woman are to be rejected.” 

On the basis of this same theological understanding of human dignity, Christians can and should condemn the grave violations of human dignity outlined here, such as murder, genocide, abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia, willful suicide, mutilation, torture, human trafficking, slavery, and prostitution, among other things.   

Another helpful resource is the Identity Project, a comprehensive library of on-demand videos and learning resources on issues of sexuality, identity, marriage, family, and the image of God. Visit identityproject.tv for a free trial. 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Jared Hayden. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org. 

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