Finally, EWTN is happy with Pope Francis. Recall that in one media interview, he was asked about his position as regards homosexuals, and off the cuff, his answer was, “Who am I to judge?” Since that time, the conservative Catholic TV station, especially Ramon Arroyo, one of its executives who moonlights as a Trump apologist in Fox News, has questioned the Pope’s orthodoxy. But with the latest Vatican Document that came out last month, its doubts have been dispelled. Indeed, the clear takeaway from Dignitas Infinita is that Pope Francis is not veering away from age-old Catholic doctrines on many moral issues especially on sexual ethics. To the delight of conservative Catholics like EWTN’s audience and the chagrin of the liberal ones who have seen in Pope Francis a very progressive and pastoral leader.

There was for a while a creeping suspicion that the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith which produced the document was trying to make up for the flak it got when its head Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez came out early this year with the controversial but mostly misinterpreted brief Fiducia Supplicans. The latter allegedly allowed the blessing of irregular unions when in fact it only provided for a more pastoral approach to the problem. In the ensuing uproar the Catholic world over, the academic background and the past of the Argentinian Cardinal was dug up. But as the short introduction of Dignitas Infinita clarifies, this document was five years in the making, starting way back when Cardinal Fernandez was not yet the head of the Dicastery. In fact, it was ready to be published in November last year, in time for the 75th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in December 2023. But Pope Francis insisted on expanding the document to cover more moral issues.

In truth, the document could not have been released at a more opportune time. As the last section of the document observes, in the last decade, we have seen the emergence of grave threats to Human Dignity. Indeed, many inventions and innovations in science and technology, for example, have surfaced seemingly gray ethical issues like in-vitro fertilization or cloning. On the other hand, the rise of identity politics has challenged traditional institutions including the Church with new ideologies or ways of thinking, for instance, on the issue of gender. Then there is the perennial bane that is unbridled Capitalism that has wreaked havoc on the environment, caused wars, and fostered increasing global poverty and inequality. We cannot of course forget about the dizzying advance of the internet and social media which has bred widespread disinformation or misinformation that in turn has been weaponized by populists and authoritarians around the globe. Yes, in the midst of all these galloping developments, and in the chaos and confusion left behind, the Church seems to be playing catch up in the areas of morality and ethics. 

Three salient points then from Dignitas Infinita. First, it grounds our understanding of human dignity nowhere else but in God and God alone. Every human being has dignity precisely because he is made in the image and likeness of God; he is the child of God. It is God therefore in the mystery of Creation that gifts us this dignity and thus makes it sacred, inviolable and inalienable. Governments and institutions can only recognize it but cannot take it away from anyone. Our own eventual personal situations or conditions in terms of our health, state of life, or social identities also do not destroy, abrogate or diminish this God-given dignity. Significantly, the document repeatedly mentions the phrase “in all circumstances” to emphasize this point. That is, we will possess that ontological dignity of being children of God no matter what, in all circumstances of life. Second, having given that solid foundation, the document now tries to clarify the Church’s position on the many ethical issues and questions we now face. It observes that the world seems to be creating or discovering “new rights” or asserting one right against another. One example of this is pitting the right of women over their bodies versus the right of the unborn, or the right to or primacy of self-expression over traditionally held gender and sexual roles or identities. The Dicastery asserts that there has to be coherence and consistency in these so-called rights. The Gender Theory, for instance, which has posited more than a hundred identities to choose from including being a tiger or a penguin, seems to be problematic and confusing at the get-go. In contrast, natural law provides us with clear-cut, rational, and systematic understanding of the world and its parts. There are two different sexes so that the species can multiply and populate the world. In sum therefore, the age-old moral positions of the Church are upheld and clarified in this document: no to abortion, no to euthanasia or assisted suicide, no to sex change, no to surrogacy, no to gender theory. (We cannot discuss here each one of these controversial issues as considered by the document; we invite the readers to read the document for themselves which is just 24-page long.)

Third point, and here one sees the spirit of Pope Francis in the document, there are other important moral or ethical issues that we should devote our time, resources and energies to. It has been said that many Catholics talk passionately about sexual issues but are mum about poverty or injustice. As one writer puts it, while many can be so obsessed with what has been known as “pelvic theology,” Dignita Infinita calls our attention to the question: “what about the poor?” This was then the reason for the delay of the document’s publication last year. As Cardinal Fernandez admits, the Pope insisted that they also tackle other pressing moral issues beyond the usual ones. Affecting billions of people for example are the life-threatening issues of poverty, war, migration, trafficking, sexual abuse, and digital violence. 

Since the release of Dignita Infinita last April 8, 2024, there have been mixed reactions. As mentioned, while the conservative sectors of the Catholic Church have hailed it, the progressive ones have seen it as a setback. Let the conversations begin.