Metro Weekly

Vatican Calls Gender-Affirming Care a “Violation of Human Dignity”

Document from the Vatican's doctrinal office likens surrogacy and transition-related treatments to human trafficking, torture, and genocide.

Pope, Vatican
Pope Francis – Photo: Instagram

On Monday, the Vatican declared that gender-affirming care and surrogacy are among several ills that constitute grave violations of human dignity.

The declaration puts them on par with abortion and euthanasia, classifying them as practices that reject God’s plan for human life.

Infinite Dignity,” a 20-page declaration crafted over five years and approved by Pope Francis in March, was released by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department in charge of religious discipline for the Catholic Church.

The document calls for unconditional respect for human dignity, regardless of “the person’s ability to understand and act freely,” reiterating Catholic Church teaching that “offenses against life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and willful suicide” are contrary to human dignity.

According to the Vatican, other infringements upon human dignity include “subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where individuals are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons,” the torture of prisoners, and the death penalty.

The document specifically states the Church’s opposition to the practice of surgery “through which the immensely worthy child becomes a mere object,” likening the practice to human trafficking, and calling on the international community to prohibit all forms of commercial surrogacy.

According to the Vatican, surrogacy “violates the dignity of the woman, whether she is coerced into it or chooses to subject herself to it freely. For, in this practice, the woman is detached from the child growing in her and becomes a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others.”

In a much-anticipated section, the doctrinal document, while reaffirming that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, should be respected — with an aside briefly denouncing the criminalization of homosexuality and imprisonment, torture, and death sentences carried out under anti-sodomy laws as “contrary to human dignity” — the Church also comes squarely out in opposition to any form of gender-affirming care for transgender individuals.

The document denounces gender theory on the grounds that it conflicts with Church teachings that human life is a gift from God that people are to accept willingly, that respect for one’s own body is essential, and that “gender theory” denies the inherent biological differences between the sexes as designed by God.

“Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes, apart from this fundamental truth that human life is a gift, amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God, entering into competition with the true God of love revealed to us in the Gospel,” it states.

The document also denounces gender-affirming treatments for gender dysphoria, declaring that “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

However — some would say hypocritically — the Vatican condones surgical interventions on a person with “genital abnormalities,” effectively saying that individuals with intersex conditions may choose to receive “the assistance of healthcare professionals to resolve these abnormalities.”

The Associated Press notes that the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Argentine Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, a close confidant of the pope, had previously confirmed the document’s existence.

He cast it as a nod to conservatives within the Catholic Church, some of whom have become practically unhinged over the church’s recent gestures toward gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, such as allowing priests to offer narrowly-defined, limited blessings for same-sex couples. 

The release of the new doctrinal guidance has disappointed LGBTQ advocates, who have generally seen Pope Francis as more of a sympathetic figure with respect to LGBTQ individuals’ inclusion in the church.

However, Francis has made clear in past statements that while transgender individuals who remain in their natal sex can be welcomed in the church community, the church itself stands in opposition to the concept of affirming a gender identity that differs from one’s assigned sex at birth.

Liberal-leaning LGBTQ Catholic organizations criticized the document as outdated, harmful, and contrary to Francis’s oft-repeated statements about respecting the dignity of all of God’s children.

“While it lays out a wonderful rationale for why each human being, regardless of condition in life, must be respected, honored, and loved, it does not apply this principle to gender-diverse people,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBTQ Catholic group, told the AP.

LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD said in a press release  that the document “demonstrates that the pervasive disinformation about transgender people that has fueled anti-transgender laws in the United States and attacks around the world, is also flowing through the Vatican.”

“People are not a ‘theory’ or ‘ideology,’ and the church now risks further perpetuating harm against an already-marginalized population by denying their personhood,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.

 DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said it is “shocking to see gender affirmation treatments classified as the same kind of threats to human dignity as war, impoverishment, human trafficking, and sexual abuse. If people suffering from congenital heart or kidney disease can get medical treatment, why not those who suffer from gender dysphoria? If untreated, this can also be life-threatening.”

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