Dignitas infinita, Part 4

Section 4. “Some Grave Violations of Human Dignity”

 Pondering this section, and with the benefit of time for reflection, it seems to me that in this document the Pope and the Dicastery are forging a new and fundamentally humanist and universalist ideology. It has points of connection with Catholicism but it cannot be considered Catholic because it abstracts from Catholic tradition and teaching only the principle of dignity, and asserts this principle to be self-sufficient for its ethics, and omits intrinsically Catholic teaching on the sacraments, virtue and sin. Neither does its bedrock tenet depend on Catholic teaching, because human dignity is defended by many non-Catholics, not excluding atheists. It seems obvious once it is stated, but unlike obeying the commandments of God from love of Him, “human dignity” does not have to be a religious principle. In fact, it can be argued that it flourishes best as a secular humanist principle for the simple reason that God and what pertains to Him is above humanity. Thus, the fact that this declaration does not say that infinite dignity pertains to God alone, is troubling. To put it another way, if infinite dignity is being ascribed to humanity, the dignity of God is displaced. Scripture and all the components of Catholic tradition are quoted in support, more than appealed to as an authority.

Having said that, I will briefly treat of section 4, “Some Grave Violations of Human Dignity.” commences a critique of certain issues, but first it restates the foundation principle of this document. It refers back to: “the previous reflections on the centrality of human dignity …” Exactly. Nothing human can be central in Catholic thought. God is always central. The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith then quotes Francis as having said: “Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity.” Once more, what about Christianity? It seems that the imperative to teach the Gospel and baptise in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been forgotten. Christ is the Prince of Peace, no one else, nothing else.

In No. 34, we are given an overview of what will follow: “all offenses against life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and wilful suicide … violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures … all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions …” I am not sure what is meant by “undue psychological pressures” or who is responsible for “subhuman living conditions (and) degrading working conditions” or why deportation should be among this number.

Also mentioned in this paragraph is the death penalty. The Dicastery quotes Francis as saying: “If I do not deny that dignity to the worst of criminals, I will not deny it to anyone. I will give everyone the possibility of sharing this planet with me, despite all our differences.” But if the person is a psychotic murderer they may merit the death penalty. The church has always taught that the death penalty may be used where there is no reasonable alternative, until Francis. Why should we accept that he is right? But there is another point: Genesis 9:6 actually mandates the death penalty for murder, because the murderer slays someone made in the image of God: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This would indicate the arbitrariness of the use of the cloudy concept of “human dignity,” and why it is no alternative to the commandments of God as a basis for human behaviour.

In No. 36 poverty is mentioned as an offence against human dignity. In this respect, the declaration condemns the indifference of neighbours who could help others. Much is said in Scripture about helping our neighbour: e.g. the Good Samaritan. It is not based on “dignity.” I am baffled by what is written about poverty in No. 37: “… if some people are born into a country or family where they have fewer opportunities to develop, we should acknowledge that this is contrary to their dignity, which is the same dignity as that of those born into a wealthy family or country. We are all responsible for this stark inequality, albeit to varying degrees.” How can an accident of birth possibly be inimical to dignity?

In No. 38 and 39, Francis is quoted, and Paul VI and JPII are used to support, a call to no war under any circumstances. It states that there is a right to defend the innocent and oneself, but I think there is a tension here. The Dicastery goes so far in its criticism of war, and says so little about just war, that I think it lays the foundation for an absolutely pacifist position: something new in the Church. The same document states that it reaffirms “the inalienable right to self-defence.” I hope I am wrong on that, because there are signs that the Demon of War is on the march, and we need to be able to defend righteousness. All in all, I doubt anyone would disagree with what is written here about the horror of war: so to whom is this peroration addressed?

When it comes to migrants, there is a strange and arbitrary assertion at the very beginning: “Migrants are among the first victims of multiple forms of poverty. Not only is their dignity denied in their home countries, but also their lives are put at risk because they no longer have the means to start a family, to work, or to feed themselves.” (No. 40) This would be, on its terms, true of all migrants: but that is not the reality.

In No. 41-42, the Dicastery condemns human trafficking as “among the grave violations of human dignity.” There is a condemnation of sexual abuse in No. 43, expanded in No.44-46 “Violence against Women.” No. 47 is about Abortion. Dignity applies from conception until death. It notes that unborn children are defenceless and innocent. Surrogacy is dealt with in No. 48-50: “The Church also takes a stand against the practice of surrogacy, through which the immensely worthy child becomes a mere object.”

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are opposed in No. 51 and 52. It is noted that these are advanced on the very basis of human dignity, but use it “against life itself.” The Dicastery affirms, quite truly, that:

suffering does not cause the sick to lose their dignity, which is intrinsically and inalienably their own. Instead, suffering can become an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of mutual belonging and gain greater awareness of the precious value of each person to the whole human family.

“The Marginalisation of People with Disabilities” is found in No. 53 and 54. It attacks what it calls a “throwaway culture” even for those “experiencing physical or mental limitations …” It states that these conditions raise the question of “what it means to be a human person, especially starting from the condition of impairment or disability.” It continues: “… every effort should be made to encourage the inclusion and active participation of those who are affected by frailty or disability in the life of society and of the Church.”

Gender theory is addressed in No.55-59. Sex change, a related topic is dealt with in No. 60. This is opposed on the grounds that: “…… any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception. This is not to exclude the possibility that a person with genital abnormalities that are already evident at birth or that develop later may choose to receive the assistance of healthcare professionals to resolve these abnormalities.”

The last topic covered is what is called “Digital Violence.” It concerns personal isolation and social breakdown, cyberbullying, the spread of pornography, sexual purposes exploitation and gambling.

No. 63-66 comprise the conclusion. It repeats the principles seen above.

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