Vatican rejects gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy in new document

April 10, 2024 - 2:39 PM
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People attend the Regina Caeli prayer led by Pope Francis at the Vatican, April 7, 2024. (Vatican Media/­Handout via Reuters)

 The Vatican on Monday reaffirmed its opposition to gender-affirming surgery, “gender theory” and surrogate parenthood, drawing criticism from advocates for LGBTQ Catholics.

The declaration by the Vatican’s doctrinal office (DDF) comes four months after another document in which it supported blessings for same-sex couples, triggering fierce conservative pushback, especially in Africa.

The 20-page text called gender theory “extremely dangerous” and accused it of trying “to deny the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.”

The Vatican also said via the head of the DDF, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, that it opposed the anti-LGBTQ laws enforced by a number of countries with the support of local Catholic groups.

Monday’s declaration said having a child via surrogacy violates the dignity of both the surrogate mother and the child, and recalled that Francis in January called it “despicable” and urged a global ban.

Surrogacy is regulated and widespread in the United States and Canada, but illegal in many other countries, and is one way for infertile or same-sex couples to have a child.

There is no suggestion that the new text, called “Dignitas infinita” (Infinite dignity) and describing what the Church perceives as threats to human dignity, was prepared in direct response to the rows over same-sex blessings.

It has been five years in the making and has undergone extensive revisions over the period.

Pope Francis approved it last month after requesting that it also mention “poverty, the situation of migrants, violence against women, human trafficking, war, and other themes”, Fernandez said in a statement.

‘Gender theory’

On gender theory, it said “desiring a personal self-determination… amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God, entering into competition with the true God of love revealed to us in the Gospel”.

The declaration said that “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception”.

It acknowledged the possibility of surgery to resolve “genital abnormalities”, but stressed that “such a medical procedure would not constitute a sex change in the sense intended here”.

New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for LGBTQ Catholics, criticized Monday’s document, saying its “outdated theology” would contribute to continued discrimination against non-heterosexual people.

“The Vatican is again supporting and propagating ideas that lead to real physical harm to transgender, nonbinary, and other LGBTQ+ people,” Francis DeBernardo, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

The Vatican has, nevertheless, tried to reach out to transgender people, who have been cleared by the DDF to be baptized and serve as godparents, and have been among invitees to the Vatican.

Abortion, euthanasia, death penalty 

Fernandez, a liberal theologian and friend of the pope, a fellow Argentine, defended Francis’ right to update Church positions in line with the times, noting how, in the past, it had gone from supporting to condemning slavery.

“It now seems that Pope Francis cannot say anything different from what has been said before, as if the teachings of the Church had been permanently set by previous popes,” the cardinal lamented.

Monday’s declaration doubled down on the Vatican’s standing condemnation of abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty.

It also mentioned sexual abuse as a threat to human dignity — calling it “widespread in society”, including within the Catholic Church — as well as cyberbullying and other forms of online abuse.

— Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Lisa Shumaker