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The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith will publish next week a long-promised document on human dignity, with a press conference scheduled for April 8.

The declaration, titled Dignitas infinita, will be launched at the press conference by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the doctrinal dicastery’s prefect, along with Fr. Armando Matteo, the department’s doctrinal secretary, and an Italian theologian.

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández attends the consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 2, 2023. © Mazur/

Cardinal Fernández has been talking up the new declaration since December, indicating it will be less controversial than Fiducia supplicans, the DDF’s last declaration, issued late last year. 

As the cardinal sought to calm controversy over the reception of Fiducia, which provided for priests to offer blessings to persons in same-sex relationships, Fernández has said that the dicastery’s upcoming document will treat “not only social issues but also a strong criticism of moral questions such as sex-change surgery, surrogacy, and gender ideology,” and predicted it would prove less controversial than Fiducia.

But with the declaration set to treat a perennially controversial subject, what might the text say, exactly — and what Vatican recent documents will it likely draw on?


Unpublished texts

Fernández has said that Dignitas infinita has undergone a rigorous consultation process, with publication following a recent round of final consultation with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s full slate of cardinal members after several previous drafts.

However, published and unpublished texts from the doctrinal department may already give a likely indication of what the DDF plans to say in their declaration next week.

While some activists in and around the Church have pushed for dioceses to adopt secular attitudes to sex and gender, many sought guidance from their local bishops’ conferences and from Rome on how to deal with individual cases of people presenting themselves as transgender and requesting either access to certain sacraments or to fulfill some roles in ecclesiastical life.

In 2018, the then-CDF already had a text prepared for a document treating gender theory, so-called trangender issues, and a range of related topics. 

As The Pillar has previously reported, the USCCB also had its own document on the same issues prepared and ready for publication. However, after sending it to the DDF for review, the text was effectively shelved upon Roman request, pending an eventual release from the Vatican on the same subject. 

In the interim, several dioceses took to issuing guidance and policies of their own to answer pending or pressing local cases.

While the final declaration set for publication next week has undergone several rounds of consultation and revision, the text is likely to be strongly informed by the DDF’s unpublished 2018 text, previously obtained by The Pillar, which stated that “the sex of a person is a complex reality, the identity of which is composed of physical, psychological and social elements.”

“Some [people], starting from an erroneous vision of the person, want to separate and even contrast the different elements that make up the sex of a person. They create a dichotomy between the bodily and the psycho-sexual aspects of the person,” the CDF wrote in 2018.

The 2018 draft offered guidance on sacramental ministry to people who identify as transgender — a much debated issue in several dioceses in recent years.

On marriage, the 2018 draft text explained that “it is difficult for pastors to admit someone to marriage when, in the judgment of prudent and wise people, the transsexualism of the subject is sufficiently apparent from external actions. Given that transsexualism can have differing levels of intensity, it is necessary to attentively evaluate each situation, such as to not unjustly deny the natural right to marry.”

“A person who undergoes a surgical procedure for sexual reassignment cannot validly contract marriage; this is true in both cases of the attempt to reassign from female to male and from male to female, because such a surgical procedure does not change the sexual identity of the person,” the text added.

Catholic theology establishes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And canon law requires that a person be capable of engaging in sexual intercourse in order to contract marriage, which would seem to be ordinarily impossible even if a person who had undergone a “sex change” operation wished later to marry someone of the opposite the sex.

On sacred orders, the draft explained that a person “who has the physical traits of a male who felt himself, psychologically, to be a woman” would not be suited to become a priest, and a woman who identified as a male “is incapable of validly receiving Holy Orders.” 

The draft also urged bishops to discern, “on a case by case basis” whether a person who identified as transgender could become a baptismal or confirmation sponsor, an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, or a catechist.

“Beyond full adherence to the teaching of the Church and a good reputation, carrying out these roles requires maturity, equilibrium and appropriate formation, as well as the exclusion of any form of scandal for the faithful,” the draft text explained.  

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On baptism, the CDF’s draft text explained that “an adult who has undergone psychological or hormonal treatment or a surgical procedure for attempted sexual reassignment, may receive baptism, after proper preparation.”

Similarly, the draft text addressed the Eucharist by explaining that “adults who have undergone a surgical procedure for attempted sexual reassignment can be admitted to the Eucharist, under the same conditions as all other faithful if there is no danger of scandal.”

A footnote in the text referenced sections in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, an encyclical of Pope St. John Paul II. The referenced sections, 36, 37, and 38, explain the necessity of ecclesial communion and sacramental confession for Catholics intending to receive the Eucharist.

Dubia answered

Many of these same themes and issues were also addressed last year, when the DDF issued responses to several formal questions put to the dicastery on the role of people who identify as LGBT at Catholic baptisms and weddings.

In November 2023, the dicastery issued answers to questions posed by Brazil’s Bishop José Negri posing questions “regarding the possible participation in the sacraments of baptism and marriage by transgender and homoaffective persons.”

While the dicastery did not define the term “homoaffective persons,” which it appeared to use to mean a person who forms same-sex bonds, it summarized the questions as follows:

  1. Can a transgender person be baptized?

  2. Can a transgender person be a godfather or godmother at baptism? 

  3. Can a transgender person be a witness at a wedding?

  4. Can two “homoaffective” persons be counted as parents of a child who must be baptized and who was adopted or gained by other methods such as surrogacy?

  5. Can a person who is “homoaffective” and cohabiting be godfather to a baptized person?

  6. Can a “homoaffective” and cohabiting person be a witness at a wedding?

In response, the DDF said that a transgender person who has undergone so-called reassignment surgery can receive the sacrament of baptism “under the same conditions as other believers, if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating public scandal, or disorientation among the faithful.”

The document added a detailed series of considerations, intended to address cases where “there are doubts about the objective moral situation in which a person finds himself, or about his subjective dispositions toward grace.”

It added that children or adolescents with “problems of a transgender nature” could also receive baptism if they are well prepared and willing to be baptized.

Canon law itself does not establish specific criteria regarding the parents of children presented for baptism, stipulating only that the minister of a baptism should have a “founded hope” that a baptized child will be raised as a Catholic. 

It has been the consistent guidance of the Holy See for several decades that baptism of a child is not to be deferred indefinitely because of pastoral concerns about the parents’ state of life, since this would deprive the child of the means of salvation. Instead, pastors are urged to ensure a suitable sponsor for the child.

Responding to the second question, the DDF said last year that transgender adults who had undergone surgery could serve as godfathers or godmothers “under certain conditions.”

“However, since this task does not constitute a right, pastoral prudence demands that it not be permitted if there is a risk of scandal, undue legitimation or disorientation in the educational sphere of the ecclesial community,” the dubia responses said.

For its part, canon law establishes that a baptismal sponsor, or godparent, should be a Catholic who is confirmed, “who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on.”

The dicastery also said last year that there is no prohibition in canon law on a transgender person acting as a witness at a Catholic wedding.

Turning to the fourth question, the DDF emphasized that there must be a well-founded hope that a child presented for baptism will be educated in the Catholic faith.

The answer did not specifically address the questions which seemed to be asked, namely whether both persons in a homosexual union should be regarded as “parents” when assessing the requisite permissions for the baptism of an infant, and when recording the baptism in parish registers — both questions frequently discussed among canon lawyers.

Regarding the fifth question, the dicastery noted that canon law requires baptismal sponsors, or godparents, to possess an aptitude for the role and lead “a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on.”

Addressing the sixth and final question, the DDF said: “There is nothing in current universal canonical legislation that prohibits a cohabiting, homoaffective person from being a witness to a marriage.”

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Dialogue and education

Another key text which could feed into the thought and language of Dignitas infinita could be a 2019 document from the Dicastery for Catholic Education, titled “Male and Female He Created Them — Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.”

That text addressed developing trends in educational practice and curricula which “allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason.”

“The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilise the family as an institution,” the educational dicastery said, “bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.”

Addressing the “ideology that is given the general name ‘gender theory’, which “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family,” the 2019 text said that this agenda reduces human identity and dignity to “the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”

“The Christian vision of anthropology sees sexuality as a fundamental component of one’s personhood,” said Male and Female. “As each person grows, such diversity, linked to the complementarity of the two sexes, allows a thorough response to the design of God according to the vocation to which each one is called.”

The educational dicastery, quoting Pope Francis, set out the framework for which the Church can and should seek to engage in the wider discussion on issues of sex and gender, but without compromising either the Church’s teaching, or denying the created order and dictates of natural law. 

“While the ideologies of gender claim to respond, as Pope Francis has indicated, ‘to what are at times understandable aspirations,’ they also seek ‘to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised,’ and thus preclude dialogue.”

“However,” the text continued, “other work on gender has been carried out which tries instead to achieve a deeper understanding of the ways in which sexual difference between men and women is lived out in a variety of cultures. It is in relation to this type of research that we should be open to listen, to reason and to propose.”

Addressing specifically the emerging school of argument which seeks to frame gender, biological sex, and personal sexual expression as facets of individual self-expression and fulfillment, the 2019 document re-presented the Church’s teaching in answer to what it highlights as, essentially, a modern form of existential gnosticism:

“Gender theory (especially in its most radical forms) speaks of a gradual process of denaturalisation, that is a move away from nature and towards an absolute option for the decision of the feelings of the human subject,” the dicastery wrote.

“The problem here does not lie in the distinction between the two terms [sex and gender], which can be interpreted correctly, but in the separation of sex from gender. This separation is at the root of the distinctions proposed between various ‘sexual orientations’ which are no longer defined by the sexual difference between male and female, and can then assume other forms, determined solely by the individual, who is seen as radically autonomous.”

“This,” the 2019 text said, “culminates in the assertion of the complete emancipation of the individual from any a priori given sexual definition, and the disappearance of classifications seen as overly rigid.”

“There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated,” the dicastery concluded. “The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as

a sort of abstraction who “chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”

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Pope Francis says

Of course, in addition to previously drafted and published curial texts, the DDF’s declaration next week is also likely to be careful to reflect the tone and mind of Pope Francis personally on such sensitive issues as sex and gender.

Since even before he formally took office in September last year, Cardinal Fernández has spoken of his desire for the DDF’s output to reflect the “personal magisterium” of the pope.

Prior to coming to Rome in September last year, Fernández answered questions on previous DDF response to dubia regarding the blessings of same-sex couples, saying that his department’s answers — which stated that the Church “cannot bless sin” — did not “smell of Francis.” Several months later, the department issued Fiducia supplicans

Francis has spoken often of his opposition to gender theory. Last month, the pope called gender theory the “ugly ideology of our time.”

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