Dignitas Infinita’s Whistling in the Dark

Various commentaries I have read so far about the latest declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith have been marked by a kind of relief. Some feared that the dicastery would be forging ahead in controversy and were surprised by the orthodoxy (o tempora, o mores) of the summary of teachings it represents.

I think that one aspect of the declaration has been ignored. That is its naiveté about a supposed consensus of moral thinking. In paragraph seven, it reads: “There is widespread agreement today on the importance and normative scope of human dignity and on the unique and transcendent value of every human being.” The endnote for that affirmation refers to the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a 1966 United Nations “Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” and the 1975 Helsinki “Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

Widespread agreement was not even the case when the documents were written. To say that there is a moral consensus now is just not true. It is whistling in the dark to pretend that by simply restating the Church’s position there can be a resolution of all the issues it addresses. The fact that it must address such issues gives the lie to the pretension that there is for the most part a common ground about the respect due to persons.

The Nation, the old Stalinist periodical, had a commentary about the declaration that implied secularists should welcome the declaration as a starting point for understanding, even though the list of threats to human dignity contains elements that are repugnant to the magazine’s usual audience. The commentator called the declaration “bewildering” and claimed that the text itself contradicted what it said about gender and the author’s “transgender and nonbinary friends.” The declaration “sprawls,” according to the critic, because it includes so many disparate elements, which he points out is “the direct result of Francis’ intervention in the drafting of Dignitas Infinita.”

His point is well-taken about the profile of Pope Francis in the declaration. His Holiness is mentioned 24 times in the text, as compared with nine times for “Jesus,” “Christ,” and “The Son.” Of the 116 endnotes of the document, 58 are references to the present Holy Father’s encyclicals and discourses. There is not one reference to Veritatis Splendor, St. John Paul II’s exposition of the bases of moral theology. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is mentioned five times, which had me thinking this was another celebration of the anniversary of the document last year.

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