Sunday, August 28, 2011

Attention Marylike Modesty Supporters: Your help is needed...

About ten years ago, I was given a few pamphlets and photocopies that addressed modesty; specifically, information from a movement called Marylike Modesty. This movement was started sometime 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 all my information in it, and moved on.

The discussion has recently come up again in some circles I travel in and I attempted to find that old file. It's been almost 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.

Since then, I have been approached multiple times very recently by women hoping that I have some of those details. One young mother is being harangued by older Catholic women in her community because she will not conform. She doesn't know how to respond to their steady pressure and negative personal attacks that she is sinning in her manner of dress. She is hurt and alone. I am digging up the issue here for people like her; good Catholic women who aught not be lied to.

A lie? Yes. Show me one binding Church document that supports the specific manner of dress that this quote deals with 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 a reasonable range and the Church allows you this freedom. I am not bothered by long 
shirts and skirts. I am bothered with the idea that individuals (even well-meaning 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. Perhaps I will 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.


  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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  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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:
    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.

  9. 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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