Tuesday, August 19, 2014

UPDATED: There is no Catholic dress code


Reposting this from 2011, because the debate always rages... and I never got an answer...

Attention Marylike Modesty Supporters: Your help is needed

About 15 years ago, I was given a few pamphlets and photocopies that addressed modesty. The information came from a movement called Marylike Modesty which was started in the 1940's by a Catholic priest and still attracts a small but faithful following. The intention of this post is not to explore the entire Marylike mission but to find out one piece of information, which I will get to shortly.

Included in the papers given to me was a quote that read exactly as follows:

"But where do you find the Marylike standards in either of these letters? The Liberals ask with an air of triumph, thus implying, if not claiming outright, that these standards are not authentic. But after many years of research, these standards are now full authenticated as having been issued by the Cardinal-Vicar of Pius XI in Rome, in these words:

“in order that uniformity of understanding prevail in all institutions of religious women ... we recall that a dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper ...”


"Rufino J. Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, quotes these standards as “The Church’s stand concerning modesty in dress” in his Pastoral of December 6, 1959. He attributes them to Pope Pius XI Himself, and gives the exact date of issuance, September 24, 1928. The Marylike Crusade codified these standards, making only a small (ecclesiastically approved) temporary concession because of impossible market conditions in the United States. This modified form has been officially adopted by the entire Philippine Hierarchy."

I had never heard anything like it before and, of course, wanted to know if this was indeed something we are bound to. I assumed not, since even the most faithful and pious females I knew did not adhere strictly to these guidelines. Is it possible that this was in fact Church teaching?

At that point, I began to do research. I dug into everything I could find and even poured over the Acta Apostolicae Sedis from the appropriate year and month and beyond. I eventually found the document somewhere (not in English) and discovered that this was not addressed to laywomen at all. If I had those papers I could tell you whether it was directed at religious sisters or the female students under their care in the context of institutional education. I just don't recall. The first line of the above statement confirms it was at least one of these. I created a file, put my documentation in it, and moved on.

Since then, the discussion has come up many times in my Catholics circles and always somewhere on the internet. In response to recent debates, I attempted to find that old file. It's been over a decade and we've moved to a new home. Somewhere in the middle of all that, the papers went missing. Empty file. I probably took them out to share with someone and lost them forever.

(UPDATED: Thanks to a reader, I have the direct link HERE. See pages 26-28)

I have been periodically contacted by women hoping that I have some of those details. One young mother was being harangued by older Catholic women in her community because she will not conform to the Marylike standards. She didn't know how to respond to their steady pressure and negative personal attacks that she was sinning in her manner of dress. She was hurt and alone in her small community. I am digging up the issue here for people like her; good Catholic women who ought not be lied to.

A lie? Yes. Show me one binding Church document that supports the specific manner of dress presented by the Marylike crusaders down to inches and sleeve length. There isn't one for all laywomen. And yet it is repeated over and over in popular books and magazines and all over the internet. Out of context. Never a source document sited. I am not anti-modesty. I am anti-deception.

So, I want to be clear about this for myself, for you, for every Catholic woman out there who is being harassed into believing that she has fallen into the clutches of satan himself for wearing a short-sleeved shirt...

Please find me the original source document for the guidelines I've quoted above.

If you cannot do this, then stop bothering people with it. I fully support your decision to dress as you wish (within reason) and the Church allows you this freedom. I am not bothered by long shirts and skirts. I am bothered by the idea that individuals (even well-intentioned ones) find it acceptable to use deceitful tactics to promote their preferences -- a Catholic modesty crusade believing that the end justifies the means.

I am willing to be wrong on this. God's will be done. Just find me the source document.

NB... I predict that I will get hit a little hard over this topic. I may be accused of being against modesty. It won't be true. Throw the tomatoes if you will. But don't throw them until you find that document. I'll update this post as soon as it is found.

UPDATE:
July 2012. It is has been one year since I posted this and I have received no response from anyone who supports the Marylike modesty crusade. Zero.

UPDATE:
August 2014. It has been been three years since I originally posted this challenge and it has been viewed thousands of times. In that time, not one Marylike supporter has come forward with any documentation. Still waiting...

UPDATE:
Document found HERE. Anyone know Italian? :)

Photo attribution

37 comments:

  1. I hope you don't get hit too hard in the combox on this one!

    I agree that when I read the words I thought they were for women religious and not a standard for lay people.

    I think those who hammer others with these standards as an absolute code do more harm then good. I can just imagine what my reaction would have been to these, even five years ago...

    Good luck finding the originals! I've only seen them quoted online... although now that I think of it... is this quote in Dressing with Dignity? I just ran across my copy the other day so I'll look after the girls are asleep and see what I can find!

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  2. Great topic! A tough one for sure, though. I am also a stickler for sourcing on something this controversial, so good for you! No religion or group deserves to have people interpreting or teaching something as truth that is not in that group's official teachings.

    Have you heard of Pure Fashion? It's a non-denominational Christian program that teaches teen girls about dressing modestly AND about finding themselves as dignified daughters of Christ. A local Catholic group runs a branch of Pure Fashion here in Houston as its apostolate, and I actually gave a talk to group this past spring. (I used to model in my teen years, so I have a few things to say about fashion!) I love that Pure Fashion shows girls that modesty can absolutely still mean you're fashionably dressed. So many proponents of modesty that I've met aren't great dressers, to be honest. But I have had the pleasure of meeting a few women who really showed me how to be gorgeously dressed and modest at the same time, something I'm truly thankful for!

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  3. Cam is right. You can find these quotes in Dressing With Dignity by Colleen Hammond in Ch 4 pg 63. She was citing Marylike Crusader and Marylike Modesty. I did enjoy her book. She has great references and what I got out of Dressing with Dignity was inspiration to dress with modesty. She defines her version of modesty in her last chapter but she also cites the CCC and its definition of modesty. I wear pants most of the time but I enjoy wearing skirts too. I liked Dressing with Dignity but I'm choosy as to its application.

    There is no papal/church mandate on what people are to wear to Mass other than that it be modest according to the culture in which they live in (CCC 2524). I think that gives you plenty of wiggle room.

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  4. Thanks for the comments, Ladies. :)

    I have read Colleen Hammond's book and aware that she repeats the quote in it. She sites the Marylike sources but does not provide an original source. That seems to be the problem in general with the use of the quote; some people who really like those specific guidelines are so excited about having an official word supporting their preferences that they are not careful.

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  5. I'm old enough to remember when there was a dress code at church. Absolutely always "dressed up" (certainly no slacks), but we also had to have our heads covered. As a child I always thought that was a silly rule and I didn't get it, but of course I followed the dress code!

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  6. I just love you. You bring such greatly needed subjects to the table. The thing that deeply saddens me is that (from my experience) I see much of the judgement on this issue happens primarily in the homeschool circles. Great comments and I will watch for more discussion. Thank you.

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    1. I have seen the same thing, Tiffany, but not too often. Mostly families that are more "traditional" who also have a tendency to lean toward sede vacante ideas.

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  7. I'd never hear of this until now. But I've since found out my nieces are into it. I decided to look it up and found this site: http://www.national-coalition.org/modesty/moddecre.html
    It still doesn't seem clear to me that the standards set out are meant for laywomen. Near the bottom of the site, it says, "in order that uniformity of understanding prevail in all institutions of religious women ... we recall that a dress cannot be called decent, etc." It targets institutions of religious women.
    Regardless, I think the Church trusts Her daughters to dress appropriately - neither immodestly nor so extremely traditional that we attract attention. In the world, but not of the world kind of thing.

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    1. In some ways, it would be easier to have a dress code...lol. But the Church allows that freedom and we end up with a very beautiful variety. :)

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  8. I have been searching for this post! And I am so thankful that you wrote it. I've had these quoted at me all day today on my blog, with the intimation that I'm probably going to hell for asking if shoulders should be covered when I'm out exercising with the girls... and I needed this post tonight!

    I knew it was out there! And I'm so glad to have found it!

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    1. You have definitely touched on the modesty topic many times in your writing and taken a LOT of heat for it. And have handled it all so graciously, I might add! You are lovely in pants, skirts, head coverings or none... I enjoy seeing the colorful and unique style of different Catholic women. God bless you!

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  9. It's a lie. It's a lie. It's a lie. As a former modesty crusader it has destroyed my womanhood. The effects have been more negative then positive.

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    1. Colleen - I just want to let you know that you are a beautiful woman of God. I have watched you grow and blossom and I am so deeply proud and grateful of the person you have become. I understand what you are saying here and I am sorry that you have been hurt. And I just praise God for the blessings that I see in your life. I can't wait to see you walk down the aisle to your beloved. :) Thank you for your faithfulness to our Lord. He will shower down His blessing and mercy upon you and shower your soul with healing.

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  10. I really liked Colleen Hammond's book and I think dressing with modesty is important for both men and women. In the comment to this post on Catholic Answers, the author says the standards were compiled by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1950's. http://www.catholic.com/blog/michelle-arnold/the-blessed-virgins-guide-to-catholic-modesty

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    1. Hi Linda- Thanks so much for commenting! Just to clarify...
      This post is not set up against modesty. Not even a little bit. My primary point is that the claim that there are universal standards to dress (as claimed by the quote used by the Marylike crusade) is absolutely false and cannot be substantiated. And yes, the Marylike crusade was started by a priest in the 1940's.

      As for Colleen Hammond's book... I thought she had a good bit of truth mixed in with some unsupported claims. One of the mistakes she makes is to repeat this quote without providing the proper context.

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    2. Oh, I didn't think you were speaking against modesty--not even a little bit (-: I guess I just wanted to preface my comment with my support of it. Anyway, the above mentioned commenter says the quote comes from an "Instruction..." but doesn't footnote the source or say who it's directed to. And I have to agree, I mean if there were universal standards of dress issued by the Church would they really be so hard to find?

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    3. It's funny you say that because I've always thought the strongest evidence that there are no universal standards to be that we have to search high and low for them. For as many rules as the Church sometimes seems to have, specific guidelines for dress certainly do not seem to be among them. The admonitions against immodesty are VERY prevalent though! Discerning what immodesty means in the specific culture though is the place where the real hard work is. God bless you, Linda!

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  11. I have always read those standards in the context of to whom it was originally addressed. In fact, I have rarely seen the guidelines not quoted from the original document.
    I don't know who would harangue a woman about short sleeves, but you must admit there is a lot worse than that being worn in the pews.

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    1. Hi Katharine - I'm surprised that you say you have rarely seen this quote apart from the original document. Can you provide a direct link? I have done many hours of research and find it almost impossible to find. That's pretty much the point of this post. If it were regularly quoted in context and sourced, people would not be able to claim that the Vatican has issued fashion directives.

      And I agree with you about the fashions in the pews, especially in the Summer months!

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  12. Melody
    Great post, and the main thrust of the post 'go to the original source in context' can be applied to many areas within Catholic circles that are upheld with great passion and yet... might not be the Church's full teaching.
    To Colleen S and your original young lady, my heart bleeds, I too have felt that judgement (fortunately living 'remotely' not too often) but enough to bite. Hugs ladies{{}}

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    1. You're right and I think you highlighted most important reason for a post like this. We need to know how to follow truth. It is so easy to get blown off course and put our own preferences where they don't belong, even if they are good. If I discern that modesty for me means long skirts and sleeves, I am free to dress that way... but I am not free to pass on my conviction as doctrine. God bless!

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  13. The dress code that you mention is the same as the one that my mom told me was posted at the Vatican when she visited many years ago. The quote describes what Catholic school uniforms were still like for girls in the '80s. This website http://www.national-coalition.org/modesty/moddecre.html shares the actual document and where it can be found. I searched for the document and easily found it on the Vatican's website http://www.vatican.va/archive/aas/documents/AAS%2022%20[1930]%20-%20ocr.pdf Please see pages 26-28 of this pdf. It is in Italian. If you don't believe the translation given, you can have it translated. If you need me to find the 1928 document too, I can do so.

    You might appreciate Pope Benedict XV's words in Sacra Propediem too http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xv/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xv_enc_06011921_sacra-propediem_en.html Read 19.

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    1. Thanks so much for the direct link, Anonymous! I added it to the post. That is exactly what I was looking for. And it is still not binding on the Catholic lay faithful outside of that specific context. (I did not translate it again now but I remember what I read... I will look again when I have more time.)

      I love that quote from Pope Benedict! Thanks for sharing! God bless.

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  14. I have to admit I haven't really run into a whole lot of people who think the guidelines are binding. I've encountered a few online yes but overall not very many. I am terribly sorry to hear that some ladies have been badgered about this in a most unkind and uncharitable way. That kind of thing is never acceptable --even it it WERE a matter of doctrine.

    Personally I do find the guidelines helpful in terms of it being nice to have SOMETHING to go on. But I do see them as "guidelines" and not absolutes.

    I was just looking at the updated link and am struck by this section: ". . .one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the in decency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toilettes as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly Author of purity."

    Yikes! That was 1921, clothing is even more immodest now. :/ We've just gotten so used to it I think.

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    1. Hi Michele - I also have not run into many people who hold to this position, but I have known a few well both online and personally. I have had local friends present the Marylike information to me in love, hoping that I would embrace it as doctrinal truth. I have seen a little boy scream with horror and cover his eyes when my toddler son took off his lemonade soaked shirt. I have had another boy refuse to acknowledge that my baby girl was a female because she was wearing pants (pink ones with boys on them). Those are two small examples of my experience but there are many more...it is a real issue for some families and communities and can have very damaging affects.

      I love that paragraph you quoted. I'm definitely a modesty fan! (And, by the way, a lover of the Extraordinary Form and a wanna-be mantilla wearer.) So this is not a modesty down-grade post. I wrote it primarily as an outreach for those who need someone to help them work through the Marylike confusion. Honestly, most of us will never need it. Many of us need a kick in the other direction. :)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and God bless!

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    2. BOWS on her pants, not "boys." Oy.

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    3. OK glad you clarified that because I was thinking "boys on her pants?" Huh? ;)

      The children thing well I've seen that too but not necessarily from families who are diehard into the Marylike standards. Some children are just funny like that and my own children have said and done things that had me shaking my head wondering where they got an idea from. But that's not to discount that some have had very real and difficult circumstances. I do understand that and they have my sympathy for sure.

      Would that we could all work together towards promoting modesty without hammering one another.

      God bless!

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    4. Oh and I wasn't saying you were hammering anyone, just agreeing that we need to be charitable about the whole thing!

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    5. Yes, kids are funny like that! These were in a specific context and representative of young and old. But I know what you are saying.

      Yes, hammering is bad. I hope I didn't come across as hammering. Honestly, these teachings affected my view of my femininity as a young mother. I was 19 when I married, a new convert and rather vulnerable. I was struggling to find my Catholic womanly identity. I went from being a secular worldly teen to being ashamed of my femininity because of the words of my female Catholic mentors. It was confusing. I have healed past that point but I think I could have very much benefited from women like you in my life at the time. :)

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    6. I was 17 when I got married and a new[ish] convert as well (became Catholic at 16). Older women can and should be helpful and I am sorry that you didn't have that experience. It certainly does have an effect and I am grateful for the beautiful examples that I was able to have as a young mother ( via the Catholic women's group at the military chapel in Germany). Looking back I can see how much those examples influenced me in a positive way.

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  15. So, not knowing Italian (or Latin?) could you tell me who that instruction was directed to and in what context? I am so sorry to hear that women have been judged and hurt by comments about their dress. Thank you so much for this informative post and may God continue to bless your apostolate!

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    1. I'm running around like a headless chicken right now so I haven't had time to get to it. My recollection is that it was directed toward certain institutions/schools and was either for the sisters or students or both. I put a call out on the Facebook page for someone who knows Italian but haven't gotten any bites yet. :) I'll set aside time this weekend to wrestle with google translate...lol. If you find someone in the meantime who can read it, it's pages 26-28.

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  16. Also, that one on p 26-28 is dated Jan of 1930. So we gotta keep looking!

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  17. And it doesn't have any specific exhortations, just a general one to modesty.

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  18. In addition to the usual excellent points made above, I'd like to toss this out about this pamphlet. As usual with this sort of document, citations are few and far between.

    "Although, again private revelation, which given for our direction in a time when it is most needed, has been very explicit about men's clothing. Our Blessed Mother has stated that tight fitting clothing that reveals the body is not to be worn. Our Lady has also stated that men should wear darker clothing and loose fitting. Bright or loud colors in shirts and pants are not to be worn by men. She also warned against such attire as checkered and flowery pants and shirts. Men should wear the darker colors and plain material. The bright and patterned material belongs to the attire of women."

    WHAT private revelation? Where? And why am I willing to bet money that it's not one approved by the Church? In any case, private revelation *never* dictates Church teaching. Ever. Though I, as many do, believe that Our Lady appeared at Fatima and Lourdes (and many other places, but just citing the most popular locations here), one needn't believe that she appeared in either place in order to be a Catholic in good standing.

    The cherry-picking of Church teaching, obscure, non-binding Church documents, documents pertaining to the saints, and unapproved visions that goes on in extreme Trad groups to support their positions never ceases to amaze me.

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  19. I read part of the document that you posted. i'm Italian and i know latin: by what i see, the Pope said that parents and teachers should teach young girls to be modest and not let them be an occasion of sin for others but I don't see any precise standard about what is modest and what isn't; If you find other documents in italian or latin feel free to email them, I will be very happy to translate them for you

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