VATICAN CITY — Warning of the modern tendency to judge human life on the basis of utility rather than dignity, Pope Francis Thursday urged the need to protect the lives of the smallest and most vulnerable.

“A society deserves the title of 'civilized' … if it recognizes the intangible value of human life,” Pope Francis said Jan. 30 in a meeting with the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF).

“The current socio-cultural context is progressively eroding awareness of what makes human life precious. In fact, it is increasingly evaluated on the basis of its efficiency and usefulness, to the point of considering 'rejected lives' or 'unworthy lives' as those which do not meet this criterion,” the pope warned.

Pope Francis applauded the CDF for dedicating its plenary assembly to the topic of care for the terminally and critically ill.

“Around the patient it is necessary to create a real platform of human relationships while promoting medical treatment, open to hope, especially in those borderline situations,” he said.

The dignity of each person “imposes a duty to never abandon anyone,” Pope Francis said.

“Human life, because of its eternal destination, retains all its value and dignity in all conditions, including precariousness and fragility, and as such is always worthy of the utmost consideration,” he said.

“When illness knocks on the door of our life, the need to have someone looking us in the eye, holding our hand, showing his tenderness and taking care of us, like the Good Samaritan of the Gospel parable,” Pope Francis said.

Hospices can be places where terminally ill people are accompanied by qualified medical, psychological, and spiritual support to live with dignity, comforted by the closeness of their loved ones, the pope said.

“I hope that these centers will continue to be places where ‘therapy of dignity’ is practiced with commitment, thus nurturing love and respect for life,” he added.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the Vatican department responsible for protecting and promulgating the doctrine of the Catholic Church. It is headed by Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., and consultors include cardinals, bishops, priests, canon lawyers, and lay theologians.

Pope Francis congratulated the CDF for its publication of the document “What is Man? An Itinerary of Biblical Anthropology” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission last December.

The CDF is currently reviewing the rules for delicta graviora (the most serious crimes) outlined in the “Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutelage”, a motu proprio issued by John Paul II in 2001 on safeguarding the sanctity of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and confession.

“I urge you to continue firmly in this task, to offer a valid contribution in an area in which the Church is directly involved in proceeding with rigor and transparency in protecting the sanctity of the sacraments and the human dignity violated, especially of the little ones,” the pope told the CDF.

“Christian doctrine is not a rigid and closed system in itself, but neither is it an ideology that changes with the passing of the seasons; it is a dynamic reality which, remaining faithful to its foundation, is renewed from generation to generation and is summed up in a face, a body and a name: the Risen Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis said.