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


The Vatican is drawing scrutiny for a newly released document that lays out what it calls threats to human dignity.


That list includes war, poverty, abortion and the suffering of migrants, all very familiar stances to those who follow the Catholic Church. Then it goes further. The document describes surrogacy, gender theory and what it calls sex change as, quote, "grave threats facing humanity today."

FADEL: Joining us with more is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Hi, Jason.


FADEL: Good morning. So how does the Vatican define, quote, "human dignity"?

DEROSE: Well, the document describes it as this inalienable character of being human. Because a person exists, he or she has intrinsic value, and people have this value regardless of the circumstance of their life - poor, undocumented, male or female. It references the Bible as describing human beings made in God's image. In fact, the document says each person's dignity comes from the love of the creator, quote, "who has imprinted the indelible features of his image on every person."

FADEL: And then it details grave threats, as it says, to that dignity. What are those?

DEROSE: Right. It talks about 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, all of them affronts to dignity and therefore reasons to not wage war, to care for migrants, etc. Again, these are not new issues for the Catholic Church, but then it also lists these issues - surrogacy, gender theory and what it calls sex change.

FADEL: So what's the reaction been to this because it seemed like the Vatican was moving kind of in a different direction? I mean, just last year, Pope Francis allowed priests to bless people in same-sex relationships.

DEROSE: Well, I think the Vatican would say this is not a change, but rather it's just an extension of already-existing teaching. As far as reaction goes, conservative Catholics seem largely pleased, especially after years of their thinking Pope Francis was too interested in LGBTQ rights. And the church does still allow priests to bless people in same-sex relationships, as you said, but people who've been working for LGBTQ rights in the Catholic Church are very unhappy with this new document. Francis DeBernardo is with New Ways Ministry.

FRANCIS DEBERNADO: It shows no evidence that they have examined new scientific, medical, psychological understandings of gender, which have been very healing and really very holy for some people.

DEROSE: DeBernardo worries that in a church already losing members, even more people will leave Catholicism over this document.

FADEL: So how is the Vatican explaining its rebuke of gender theory?

DEROSE: Well, Leila, what gender theory argues is that a person's gender identity or self-understanding can be different from the sex that person was assigned at birth. If God creates people in his image, as this document says, and creates them good, how could a person be born the wrong gender? It's like saying God made a mistake. The church argues that there are two genders, male and female, for good reasons, among them procreation. It says the concept of human dignity can be misused to justify what it calls arbitrary proliferation of new rights, and it describes those rather as individual preference. And that language echoes what we often hear from those who oppose transgender rights, that being trans is a choice, and of course, that's something most medical and psychological groups dispute.

FADEL: NPR's Jason DeRose. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.