WHAT IS THE DIGNITATIS HUMANAE INSTITUTE?
Whereas the true nature of Man is that he is not an animal, but a human being made in the image and likeness of God, his creator.” – The opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity. We are a Catholic-inspired ecumenically-based NGO that aims to uphold human dignity based on the anthropological truth that man is born in the image and likeness of God, and therefore has an innate human dignity of infinite worth to be upheld. We promote this understanding by supporting Christians in public life, assisting them to present effective and coherent responses to increasing efforts to silence the Christian voice in the public square.
WHY IS THE INSTITUTE NEEDED?
We exist because of a growing secularist intolerance to Christians of all confessions that has led to a myriad of attacks against human dignity across a number of different levels. In response to this, we are asking for a greater spirit of respect and tolerance, such as that given to those with radically different views from us. We are also very aware that what is really needed is an evangelisation of culture, because only then will society be able to limit its own extremisms.
HOW DOES THE INSTITUTE WORK?
The DHI supports Christian politicians by coordinating its affiliated parliamentary working groups on human dignity throughout the world. Each such group is based on the Institute’s founding document: the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity (see next question). This enables such politicians to speak out more effectively in defence of the human person in all of life’s stages. TheInstitute also tries to keep others abreast of news and developments on human dignity issues through its own research, press releases, articles, and conferences. Furthermore, it is also establishing outreach partners – charities offering practical help to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. By necessity, much of the Institute’s work is discreet and behind the scenes.
WHAT IS THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN DIGNITY?
This is the basis of all the Institute’s work. The Declaration is endorsed by parliamentary working groups on human dignity in various legislatures around the world. It codifies what is meant by human dignity, and does this by listing three main principles: that man is made in the image and likeness of God; that this image and likeness proceeds in every single human being without exception from conception until natural death; and that the most effective means of safeguarding this recognition is through the active participation of engaged Christians in the public square.
WHY IS THIS DOCUMENT SIGNIFICANT?
The Declaration gives a solid basis and framework upon which human dignity, based on the truth that man is born in the image and likeness of God, can be safeguarded and promoted in the public square. Many Christian lay people as well as politicians have signed it. In fact, we strongly invite you to sign the Declaration yourself here: by doing so, you will strengthen the position of all those who seek to use its principles to safeguard their own public testimony to Christ in their daily lives.
HOW DID THE INSTITUTE GET STARTED?
The DHI was founded in 2008 by a small group of Catholics working in Brussels, under the leadership of Benjamin Harnwell, who was at that time chief of staff to Nirj Deva, a British Member of the European Parliament. Deva is now the President of the International Committee on Human Dignity – the Institute’s most influential political arm. Harnwell came up with the idea for theInstitute in 2004 after the mainstream Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione was forced to withdraw his candidacy as Italy’s nominee for Vice President of the European Commission because of his Catholic views on homosexuality. Mr Buttiglione, who is also a philosophy professor and was a friend of the late Pope John Paul II, was rejected not for anything he had ever said but for what, as a Catholic, he might think. Deeply disturbed by this, Harnwell set about creating the Institute by forming the parliamentary working groups on human dignity throughout Europe.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION?
From the start, Harnwell envisioned the Institute not as a federation or confederation, so much as “a convoy or flotilla”. He foresaw a body that stands ready to defend any Christian in public life from being cowed into silence by radical secularists. “The way militant secularists work is by picking off key people through a mixture of character assassination, intimidation and bullying,” Harnwell says. “So we’re bringing together people who feel self-consciously part of this convoy, in order not to leave them so isolated and vulnerable to attack.”
WHAT THREATS TO HUMAN DIGNITY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
People of the world today face countless threats to their dignity: Governments are applying pressure to legalise euthanasia or promote abortion; efforts to reduce world hunger and poverty or to tackle human trafficking are either lacking or misdirected; many young people suffer from spiritual poverty while the elderly suffer loneliness and lack of care; traditional marriage and the family is under increasing threat from efforts to redefine marriage; a growing reliance on the state for welfare, entitlements and other assistance is undermining human dignity by removing a person’s own sense of duty and personal responsibility. These are just some of the many attacks on human dignity today.
DO YOU AIM TO PROSELYTISE?
There is nothing wrong in proselytising, in fact it is an imperative commanded to the disciples by Jesus Christ himself. But proselytising directly is not part of the Institute’s charism as our focus is more precisely to safeguard the place of Christianity in the public square. Clearly, we will do all we can to do this in such a way that supports the Church in its presenting the evangelical proposition to society.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
You can make an important difference by signing the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity, which can be done here. You can also donate to us and/or our outreach partners, or you can volunteer to help us/them. We also run an internship programme at our office in Rome. Details on all of these possibilities can be found on this website.