Rome: A New Declaration from the DDF

Source: FSSPX News

Palace of the Holy Office

On Monday, April 8, 2024, this year’s postponed feast of the Annunciation, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) published the Declaration Dignitas infinita on human dignity. This document was approved by Pope Francis on March 25, 2024.

The Presentation which precedes the Declaration, signed by the Prefect of the DDF, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, explains the origin of the text whose composition had been decided on more than five years ago. After several drafts, the Declaration was finally approved in May 2023, but in November the Pope requested some additions before accepting the current version.

The first part describes the “Growing Awareness of the Centrality of Human Dignity.” The second part affirms that “The Church Proclaims, Promotes, and Guarantees Human Dignity.” The third part presents dignity as “the Foundation of Human Rights and Duties.” Finally, the last part describes “Some Grave Violations of Human Dignity.”

A Misguided Notion of Human Dignity

The Declaration takes up, and exacerbates, the misguided or unbalanced notion of human dignity which was at the heart of Vatican II, and affirmed in the declaration on religious freedom (Dignitatis humanae). The Council spoke of the dignity possessed by all men, “in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will” (Dignitatis humanae), a dignity referred to “ontological.”

The Council founded religious freedom on this ontological dignity, which produces a relativization of the Catholic Faith by giving a ‘right to error’ in religious matters. A ‘negative’ right, but a right all the same. This point was one of the most contested by the faithful bishops meeting in the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, which detected in it a denial of the Kingship of Christ.

An Important Distinction

From no. 1 of the Introduction, the Declaration talks of this dignity as “infinite,” and notes in the next section that it was proclaimed “authoritatively” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

In no. 7, the text presents “a fourfold distinction of the concept of dignity: ontological dignity, moral dignity, social dignity, and existential dignity.” The last two elements are rather accidental; the first two, on the other hand, are essential, and they should be explained well.

The human soul, created directly by God, is united by Him to a body: it then exercises a double role. It first gives human nature to the individual created, who from this fact itself is a person, according to the famous definition of Boethius, cited in footnote no. 17 of the document. The soul is thus the source of ontological dignity, which is therefore the same for all human beings.

Secondly, the soul is the principle of human action by his faculties: intelligence and will. This action constitutes the moral domain. When human actions allow us to fulfill our humanity by directing us toward our end, which is God, they are characterized as “good.” When, on the contrary, they distance us from this end, these are “bad” actions.

The moral dignity of a person therefore depends on his action: the man who does good to reach his final end possesses a dignity that is all the greater the more he seeks this end. But he who turns away from his end and does evil forfeits this dignity: he strips himself of it.

This fact is recognized at the natural level in societies--familial, social, or political. Thus, the citizen who does good is rewarded in various ways: he can even be made an example by distinctions--mentions, medals, honors. But he who does evil is punished by the law. These rewards and these punishments give the subject what he has deserved--in good or in evil--and allow society to defend itself against those who threaten it.

How Vatican II and Dignitas infinita Misconstrue Human Dignity

It is obviously not a matter of denying ontological dignity, quite the contrary. It corresponds to the fundamental dignity of man and indicates in particular the intangibility of innocent human life. The child in his mother’s womb, the child before the age of discretion, the man deprived of reason, all possess this dignity which excludes any violation.

On the other hand, for all others, for all those who are capable of moral action, it is moral dignity which becomes essential, particularly in the eyes of society. Because finally, how is it possible to punish a person endowed with an inalienable and inviolable dignity? It can only be from the angle of this moral dignity, which the Declaration recognizes in no. 7.

But the new doctrine, by introducing an imbalance between the two aspects of human dignity, limits authority in its prerogatives intended to protect society and the Church. Thus the third part on “Dignity, the Foundation of Human Rights and Duties” focuses on ontological dignity, only partially making use of moral dignity, without even naming it.

This characterizes itself by an erroneous insistance on the objective level (ontological dignity), thereby neglecting the subjective level (moral dignity). This first manifests itself through the doctrine of religious freedom which does not allow a Catholic political authority to adequately defend the Faith.

This is again manifested by a radical change regarding the death penalty, which pertains to the authority of the State. While Catholic doctrine has always accepted and justified capital punishment, it is now stated that this is no longer the case. Always in the name of this inviolable ontological dignity and ignoring the moral indignity of the guilty, who has become a danger to society and his members.

An Infinite Dignity?

It’s important to note in passing the aggravation of this doctrine by the use of the term “infinite” associated with ontological dignity. Which is no longer even a deviation, but an aberration. Only God is infinite. Even the angels, these pure spirits, do not have infinite dignity.

From the point of view of human nature, only One possesses this infinite dignity: the holy humanity of Christ united hypostatically to the divine Word. It is possible to add, through a certain connection, the saints of Heaven who enjoy the Beatific Vision, because they are united in this manner with the very dignity of God.

“Grave Violations of Human Dignity”

The fourth part addresses “some of the many grave violations of human dignity today” (no. 34): poverty, war, the travail of migrants, human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence against women, abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia and assisted suicide, the marginalization of people with disabilities, gender theory, sex change, and finally, digital violence.

All these subjects are certainly important and it is good to see certain condemnations repeated, as well as read arguments which can be used by defenders of Catholic doctrine. Nevertheless, it remains dismaying to note the repeated appeal to the authority of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (no. 2, 23, 56, 63). And to think that it alone can inspire men with true respect for human dignity.