Bishops’ Conference department welcomes Vatican declaration on Human Dignity

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Two bishop members of the Department for Social Justice at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have welcomed the Vatican declaration on human dignity Dignitas infinita released by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Monday, 8 April 2024.

Department Chair, Bishop Richard Moth, and Lead Bishop for Life Issues, Bishop John Sherrington assert that the promotion and defence of human dignity lie at the heart of the mission of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Full statement

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales welcomes the declaration on human dignity, Dignitas infinita, published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith earlier this week. In our troubled times, it is important for Christians to proclaim the inherent and unconditional dignity of all human beings, without exception, as being the basis for authentic human rights. Although human rights have increasingly been codified in secular documents, such as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our dignity and rights originate in the Gospel preached by Christ. As Cardinal Fernandez states in presenting the document: “we cannot separate faith from the defence of human dignity, evangelisation from the promotion of a dignified life, and spirituality from a commitment to the dignity of every human being.” The promotion and defence of human dignity continues to be at the heart of the mission of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

There are many areas where human dignity is misunderstood and human rights are under attack. These include questions about the dignity of human life from conception to natural death as well as the recognition of the unity of the person, body and soul, created as masculine and feminine. Although our faith and reason teach us that human rights are inviolable and apply to the most vulnerable in society including the unborn, our abortion laws promote a false understanding of human dignity based on age, level of development, and mental capacity rather than on our shared humanity from conception until natural death. In addition, our laws and culture must allow us to recognise the difference between and complementarity of male and female whilst resisting the sometimes intolerant imposition of a gender theory that ‘cancels differences in its claim to make everyone equal’. (Dignitas inifinita, 56).

In our own country, we also face the threat of the legalisation of assisted suicide. Dignitas infinita emphasises the links between the dignity of the sick and dying, our duty to care for them, and need to resist the growing threat of assisted suicide and euthanasia. “Helping the suicidal person to take his or her own life is an objective offence against the dignity of the person asking for it, even if one would be thereby fulfilling the person’s wish” (Dignitas infinita, 52). Instead, we must respond to the suffering of the sick and dying with appropriate forms of personal and medical care. As the Declaration reminds us, to undermine the human dignity of the most vulnerable is to undermine the human dignity of us all.

The protection and promotion of human dignity is critical to addressing many other social justice challenges. As the document explains, by proclaiming that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the humble, the despised, and those who suffer in body and spirit, Jesus recognised the dignity of every person, especially those who were considered ‘unworthy’. (Dignitas infinita, 19) In our parish, civic and political life, we must, therefore, never forget the human dignity and human rights of the poor, prisoners, the sick, and those living with disabilities.

We also echo the Dicastery’s call to bring an end to all war and end the scourge of violence within our local communities and in our homes. There is an urgent need for all of us to be peacemakers. This requires us to welcome migrants, work to tackle human trafficking and speak up for women who “endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment, and violence” (Dignitas infinita, 44).

The Declaration concludes by reminding us: “Each individual and also every human community is responsible for the concrete and actual realisation of human dignity.” (Dignitas infinita, 65). It is our hope that recognition of this shared responsibility will strengthen the social action of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and transform our civil and political life.

Bishop Richard Moth
Chair, Department for Social Justice

Bishop John Sherrington
Lead Bishop for Life Issues