Vatican says sex change, gender theory are 'grave threats' A document called "Infinite Dignity" details what the Vatican sees as grave violations of dignity. Poverty, war and the abuse of migrants lead the list.

The Vatican says surrogacy and gender theory are 'grave threats' to human dignity

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The Vatican has released a new document titled "Infinite Dignity." It calls poverty, war and the plight of migrants threats to human dignity, but it also calls abortion, surrogacy and gender theory grave threats facing humanity today. Joining us to talk about this document is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Hey, Jason.


CHANG: Can you just help us understand what the Vatican even means by the phrase human dignity?

DEROSE: Sure. Well, it starts off by saying that each person's dignity comes from the love of the creator, quote, "who has imprinted the indelible features of his image on every person." Now, this is familiar Christian language, that humans are made in God's image. And the document goes on to say that this dignity is inalienable beyond any circumstance or situation the person might encounter. Because a person exists, they have intrinsic dignity.

CHANG: OK. And then I understand that it goes into detail about what it calls grave threats to that dignity, right? What does it say about those threats?

DEROSE: Well, it gives quite a list, some of which, given other Catholic teaching, could be expected. It talks about the drama of poverty and how unequal distribution of wealth denies humans God-given dignity. It also describes war, the abuse of migrants, sexual abuse, violence against women, the marginalization of people with disabilities, assisted suicide and abortion - all of them affronts to human dignity. Now, no real surprises there, especially given the church's stance on issues around life. But then the document also lists among the grave threats to human dignity surrogacy, gender theory and what it calls sex change.

CHANG: OK. Well, what have been some of the reactions to this document from the Vatican so far?

DEROSE: Well, in more conservative Catholic circles, it's being lauded. They've largely felt embattled during Pope Francis' leadership. You'll recall that last year, the Vatican, under Francis, OK'd both the baptizing of transgender Catholics and, perhaps the most surprising move, it allowed for priests to bless people in same-sex relationships.

CHANG: Right.

DEROSE: But many transgender Catholics and their families are extremely unhappy with the document "Infinite Dignity." Here's Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic group New Ways Ministries (ph).

FRANCIS DEBERNARDO: When it gets to the section on people who are transgender or nonbinary, it doesn't apply the principles of human dignity to them. In a sense, it's not infinite dignity. It's a very limited dignity that the church is offering.

DEROSE: Limited dignity - DeBernardo says he fears this document will be used to further persecute trans people, and he thinks it'll cause transgender Catholics and their families to leave the church. And he also worries the sections on gender theory and sex change, as it calls sex change, will eclipse what he calls the very good parts of the document on war and poverty and migrants.

CHANG: I mean, why even include really politicized issues like gender theory or sex change, as they put it, in a document like this?

DEROSE: Well, I think it's important to think about the framework of the document. If a person is made in God's image, as I said earlier, this document calls into question whether God would create a person in the wrong gender. It says that the understanding of humanity as divided into the two sexes - male and female - is deeply meaningful, deeply biblical, important for procreation. And this document says the concept of human dignity can be misused to justify what it calls an arbitrary proliferation of new rights, and it describes those as individual preference or desire.

Now, the language is very similar to much of what we often hear here in the U.S. that suggests being transgender is a choice, something that major medical and psychological groups have disputed. Of course, that's what gender theory argues, that a person's gender can be different from the sex that that person was assigned at birth, and that's what this document argues against.

CHANG: That is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Thank you so much, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome.

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