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U.S. bishops’ pro-life chair says ‘Dignitas Infinita’ speaks truth in love with ‘clarity’

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, delivers the homily during the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 19, 2023, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Bishop Burbidge told OSV News April 9, 2024, that a newly released Vatican document on human dignity provides “clarity” in charity “reaffirming the teachings of the Church.” (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

A new Vatican declaration on human dignity presents “clarity” in charity, amid “so much confusion,” the chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee told OSV News.

“It is … reaffirming the teachings of the Church, especially on issues that can never change as regards teaching on the sanctity of life,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, adding he “very much appreciated and welcomed the document.”

Dignitas Infinita,” released April 8 by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, recounts the biblical and magisterial basis for the Catholic Church’s understanding of human dignity as inherent, since it ultimately flows from the human person’s creation “in the image and likeness of God” and redemption in Jesus Christ.

The document, authored by dicastery prefect Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, was approved by Pope Francis March 25, following a five-year course of preparation that “reflects the gravity and centrality of the theme of dignity in Christian thought,” the cardinal wrote in his opening presentation.

The text addresses several key – and contentious – issues, such as poverty, war, threats to migrants, human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence against women, abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia and assisted suicide, the death penalty, the marginalization of people with disabilities, gender theory, sex change interventions and digital violence.

The list of these “grave violations of human dignity” was also not “exhaustive,” said the text.

Bishop Burbidge said the document “really spoke to the issues that are very much at the forefront in discussions and in all kinds of conversations that people are having – the moral issues of our day.”

“So, I think it’s wonderful that the Holy See has said, ‘Yes, these are issues in our day and age. And here’s the truth. This is what the Church has always taught,’” he added.

In presenting Church teaching, “language is important,” stressed Bishop Burbidge.

“More than ever, we have to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or the temptation ... of self-deception,” he said.

Such deception stems from the modern world’s varied and contested understandings of what it means to be human – but “Dignitas Infinita” squarely grounds that anthropology in God, explained Bishop Burbidge.

“When we say the ‘human person,’ we’re talking about God’s act of creation – God creating the person in his own image and likeness, in whom his very Spirit lives and dwells,” said the bishop. “God uniquely creat(es) the person, male and female, in his own image.”

The bishop said that the Church has to “use language that is very clear,” particularly amidst “opposition to what we believe about the human person, about the respect for life.”

“That’s what I think the document does so well,” he said. “It uses language that provides clarity, says things for what they are ... not allowing any room there for redefining certain things such as the human person.”

Bishop Burbidge said the task now is to communicate “Dignitas Infinita” at the pastoral level, with love and compassion as the guiding principles, during a “privileged moment” for direct preaching on difficult topics.

He said that he has asked his diocese’s priests to “read the document ... and especially at this time, where there is so much confusion, when there is so much untruth being spoken ... include the clarity and the time-tested, the longstanding and forever teaching of the Church as presented in this document” in their homilies.

“I always say that it is because we love that we must speak the truth,” said Bishop Burbidge. “The truth that we speak to others is rooted in our love for them, and in our care for them and their wellbeing. So we must speak the truth.

“Because we love someone or because we want to help them, that doesn’t mean we have to compromise that which is true and that which is real. We will accompany you as you may be dealing with issues ... that are causing you to not be able fully to embrace that truth and reality,” he said. “But we can’t compromise the truth – because it’s only the truth that’s going to lead to the freedom, the joy, the peace that you’re seeking.”