(Our Lady of Fatima)

Fourth Edition (Slightly Revised September 2014)   © A.D. 2014 Robert T. Hart

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The Mind of the Catholic Church on Modesty in Dress

Often today we hear sensible people complaining about the immodesty in dress that is seen everywhere and unfortunately even in our churches. But, objectively speaking, where do we draw the line and call a garment immodest? And how can we be sure that we ourselves are dressing with proper Christian modesty that is pleasing to God? This booklet is provided to answer these questions. For on this subject, through his Church, God has made his Will clearly known. Perhaps for some, this booklet will be the litmus test to determine whether or not they are truly willing to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and follow Jesus.


1. The Need for this text

It is widely known that Pope Pius XII often said: “The greatest sin of our modern generation is that it has lost all sense of sin1”.  It is less known that more specifically he once stated:  Many women . . . give in to the tyranny of fashion, be it even immodest, in such a way as to appear not even to suspect that it is unbecoming.  They have lost the very concept of danger: they have lost the instinct of modesty 2.” 

These words spoken over 50 years ago ring more true today than ever (and not only for women).  For in today’s post-Christian society where indecent and improper dress have become the norm, even among good-willed and devout Catholics there is much ignorance as to what is meant by proper Christian modesty.  Yes, even the most virtuous of Catholics who attend daily Mass and have an intimate relationship with Jesus, frequently are not fully aware of the Church’s teaching in this matter. Could it be that this booklet is for you?  May Our Lady, our true Mother, be with you to enlighten you to understand and to be receptive to the Will of God in this matter — for indeed, it may be a challenge.

This booklet has been prepared, therefore, to provide all those who have been given the immense privilege of calling themselves Catholic the information they need to be well aware of the mind of the Church, and therefore the mind of Christ, on what constitutes proper Christian modesty and decency in dress.

A Cultural Revolution.

Now, how is it that there exists today this ignorance among devout Catholics regarding proper Christian modesty? We have passed through a Cultural Revolution — a revolution aimed at destroying the once Catholic culture on which Western Civilization was founded.  Although styles began changing for the worse soon after World War I, it was only 40-50 years ago that the true revolution took place.  Since that time, little has been done to preach against the new, unchristian fashions which have become the norm.   In a recent article, Catholic journalist, Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D. 3explained:  “If we understand the revolution as the abolition of a natural and good order of things so as to replace it with the opposite, we can begin to analyze the cultural revolution that has changed the customs, habits and ways of being of modern-day man.  The cultural revolution includes a revolution in style, in which a new “loose,” “relaxed,” egalitarian and vulgar type of clothing and way of being came to replace the existing order and values that had been cultivated by Christian Civilization.”

She went on to explain that this revolution, which began to take place in the 1960s, affects our way of thinking and the health of our society:

“Now, some thirty years after, we can see that this egalitarian revolution has produced profound transformations in the mentality of modern-day men — even of those who call themselves conservative.  Dress began to change in a way that increasingly accentuated the idea not only of equality among sexes — with increasingly unisex clothing — but also the notion of equality among social classes.  The differentiation in dress that still remained in the ’60s to indicate a class or office of life has largely disappeared.  The businessman and lawyer are removing their suits, the professor looks like the student, the doctor like his gardener.  In effect, the consequence of the underlying philosophy of this revolution was the creation of an egalitarian, vulgar and sexually liberated culture to replace the Catholic culture characterized by harmonic inequalities and chaste customs. … The new “anything-goes” dress and way of being gives no opportunity for souls to mirror the moral values and notion of hierarchy necessary for the good ordering of any sound society.

Dr. Horvat went on to say, “Christendom has always been understood as a projection of the Catholic principles into every aspect of the temporal sphere.”  This means Catholics are called to counter this anti-Catholic Cultural Revolution by reestablishing Catholic principles in societyOne way they can and must do this is by choosing clothing that truly reflects our Christian belief.  For as Horvat recognized, “The more a civilization becomes Christian, the more the clothing of men will be virile, dignified, noble — from the highest dignitary to the lowest worker.”

This booklet may seem lengthy for the topic it covers, but since this Cultural Revolution has “produced profound transformations in the mentality of modern day men — even of those who call themselves conservative,” many words are needed to point out the errors of this modern mentality.  The goal of this booklet is not to preach self-righteously to those who are erring, but as humbly as possible, to present the Catholic truth.  Thus it is hoped that the sincere Catholics will be assisted in replacing this false mentality with the truly Catholic one that is in full harmony with the Holy Will of God.


2. The Two Aspects of Christian Modesty


First Aspect: Avoid Being an Occasion of Sin

There are two aspects to Christian modesty.  The first is to avoid being an occasion of sin.  The second, more positively speaking, is to be instilled with the spirit of modesty inspired by a deep love for the virtue of chastity, and also by the proper understanding that our clothing is meant to enhance the dignity of the human body and to be a symbol of our state in life.  Both aspects, while in no way excluding men, are much more important for women.  Because of the natural differences in the genders, women are both far more prone to be occasions of sin, and, being “the weaker vessel” (1Pet. 3:7), to be treated with less dignity or respect.  Proper dress does much to overcome this, and this is why St. Paul wrote in the New Testament that women should appear “in decent apparel; adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety.” (1 Tim. 2:9).

With regards to the first aspect — avoiding being an occasion of sin — the late Archbishop Albert G. Meyer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has these words to say, taken from his Pastoral Letter to the Clergy, Religious and Faithful Laity of May 1, 1956:

“In the desire to fulfill the charge given to us as your pastor, whose duty it is to protect his flock against the enemy, and as an appointed watchman of God, who must speak out in clear and explicit warnings, lest the sins of those who err be charged to his account (Ezech. 33:8-9), we have decided to address this letter to you.  In this letter, it is our thought to consider the general subject of Decency… We are impelled to do this as we recall some of the recent forceful statements of our Holy Father (Pope Pius XII4).     With regard to clothing, modesty requires especially two things: first, care that one does not make purity difficult for oneself, or for others, by one’s own mode of dress; and, second, a prudent but firm and courageous resistance to the styles and customs, no matter how popular or widespread, or adopted by others, which are a danger to purity … We must emphasize in the strongest possible language that it is Catholic teaching, based on the most clear words of Christ Himself, that impure thoughts and desires freely indulged in are serious sins.  To invite such impure thoughts and desires through dress … [one] cannot help but participate [in] the grave sin of scandal and cooperation 5.”

Heaven too warned us to offer a firm and courageous resistance to the styles and customs,” for Our Lady of Fatima told Blessed Jacinta Marto in 1919:

Certain fashions are to be introduced which will offend Our Lord very much.  Those who serve God should not follow these fashions.  The Church has no fashions. Our Lord is always the same.6

Unfortunately many modern women do not understand the strong reaction men have to immodest dress.  For this reason, even fifty years ago Pope Pius XII was led to exclaim: “How many young girls there are who do not see any wrongdoing in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They would certainly blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them 7.”

Dear Catholic ladies, you must clearly understand that, while not all men are tempted in the same way or to the same extent, in general, bare thighs, mid-riffs, shoulders, and backs; low cut, sheer or see through blouses and shirts; and dresses with long slits are all sources of temptation. Therefore, all these must all be absolutely avoided to avoid serious sin.

Even when the body is adequately covered, be aware that clothes that adhere too closely to the flesh and reveal a woman’s form (so common in our time) are just as much a source of temptation. Pants on women are of special concern because by their very nature they conform more to the shape of the body than dresses or skirts. Therefore, it is generally more difficult for a woman to preserve modesty in them, especially when she stoops or bends.  Tight-fitting jeans — which unfortunately are most popular today — incite impurity in the most blatant manner.  They are certainly the source of innumerable mortal sins and have no place on Christian women.

Strong Admonitions from the Saints

Be well aware that the strict necessity of modesty in dress has been the constant teaching of the Church throughout the centuries.

As Fr. Stefano M. Manelli, FFI (once an altar boy for Padre Pio), stated in his marvelous book, Jesus Our Eucharistic Love:   “A strict insistence on this particular point is a constant in the lives of all the Saints, from the Apostle, St. Paul (telling the woman to wear a veil so that she may not need to have her head appear ‘as if she were shorn’: [1Cor. 11:5-6]), to St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, etc., down to Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who would permit no halfway measures, but always insisted on modest dresses clearly below the knees8.”

In fact, when coming to confess, if their dresses were low-cut or too short, Padre Pio would send the women away, refusing them this Sacrament.  As dresses in the 60’s became scantier and scantier, he sent larger and larger numbers of women away.  It finally came to pass — since he was sending so many away — that his fellow friars posted a sign on the door of the Church which read:

“By Padre Pio’s explicit wish, women must enter the confessional wearing skirts at least 8 inches below the knee.…”  If those whom he refused asked why he treated them in this manner, he would answer: “Don’t you know what pain it costs me to shut the door on anyone? The Lord has forced me to do so.  I do not call anyone, nor do I refuse anyone either.  There is someone else who calls and refuses them.  I am His useless tool9.”

Certainly this action was most appropriate, since it would not have been right to grant them absolution while dressed in an indecent manner.  For as St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, taught:

When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent?  Tell me, whom does this world condemn?  Whom do judges in court punish? T hose who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal potion?  You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death-dealing drink, and you are more criminal than are those who poison the body; you murder not the body but the soul.  And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity, nor provoked by injury, but out of foolish vanity and pride10.

These are some of those “hard sayings” (Jn. 6:61) of the Gospel which are often unpopular in our times.  Yet, since the Gospel must be preached “in season” and “out of season” (2Tim. 4:2) no compromise can be made.  The words of the Angelic Doctor help us to keep the proper perspective:

“The good of our soul is more important than that of our body; and we have to prefer the spiritual welfare of our neighbor to our bodily comforts11.

For precisely this reason, Pope Pius XII concluded that if a certain kind of dress “becomes a grave and proximate danger for the salvation of the soul…it is your duty to give it up 12.  If these words are not enough to convince our Catholic women of the grave necessity of modestly covering their bodies, we hope that the following anecdote from Fr. Schouppe’s book on Hell will do so:

“…[A] noble lady, who was exceedingly pious, asked God to make known to her what displeased His Divine Majesty most in persons of her sex.  The Lord vouchsafed in a miraculous manner to hear her.  He opened under her eyes the Eternal Abyss.  There she saw a woman a prey to cruel torments and in her recognized one of her friends, a short time before deceased.  This sight caused her as much astonishment as grief: the person whom she saw damned did not seem to her to have lived badly.  Then that unhappy soul said to her: “It is true that I practiced religion, but I was a slave of vanity. Rued by the passion to please, I was not afraid to adopt indecent fashions to attract attention, and I kindled the fire of impurity in more than one heart.  Ah! If Christian women knew how much immodesty in dress displeases God!”  At the same moment, this unhappy soul was pierced by two fiery lances, and plunged into a caldron of liquid lead13.”

Christian ladies should also remember that if men are stronger than women in their bodies, they are weaker in the area of sensuality.  If the man’s duty is to use his superior strength, not to bring harm to women, but rather to assist, protect and defend them physically, it is the woman’s duty to use her strength in the area of sensuality (by her conduct and by her dress) to help men to remain chaste.  As it is said: “Women are the guardians of chastity for the world.”  Christian gentlemen should be aware that women often dress with a desire to please men.  Therefore, they must be careful not to express — either by their words or looks — any approval for the appearance of women who dress in any manner displeasing to God.  In contrast, it can be useful to compliment those who dress with due reserve.

The Need for a Unified Standard

Seeing, then, what grave words have been spoken in the Church regarding modesty, one is left to ask:  How can I be certain that I am dressing in a manner that conforms with the Church’s understanding of modesty? The answer is found in a 1935 publication of the “League of Modesty”: “The adoption of a unified standard is necessary.”   Otherwise, everyone would do whatever suits them and the attempt to ensure that all clothe themselves in objectively modest attire would “shatter on the rocks of discordant opinions…. 14

Fortunately, the Church has (at least for women) given us just such a standard.  This standard came into being because of Pope Pius XI’s order on August 23, 1928 for a “Crusade Against Immodest Fashions, Especially in Schools Directed by Religious 15.”

As part of that Crusade, on September 24 of the same year, by order of the Pope, Cardinal Pompili (Pius XI’s Cardinal-Vicar) issued a letter in which the following standard was given:

In order that uniformity in understanding prevail…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 materials are improper16.

The Crusade was initially addressed only to the institutions directed by female religious in Italy.  However, in 1930 the Pope extended his Crusade to all the world.  By the Pope’s mandate, on January 12, 1930, a letter was issued from the Sacred Congregation of the Council to all the bishops of the world.   In this letter, the directives on modesty were given not only to institutes directed by female religious, but “they were extended to include also pastors, parents and the laity in general 17.”

It was from Pope Pius XI’s universal standard that an American priest, Fr. Bernard A. Kunkel, developed “The Marylike Standards For Modesty In Dress.”  Fr. Kunkel’s idea was to use Mary as the model of modesty and the Pope’s standard as a concrete guide, and thus with his “Marylike Standards,” women could be sure of pleasing God.   Fr. Kunkel’s Marylike Standards were submitted to the discretion of the Church, and, as a result, on December 8, 1944 with full ecclesiastical approval, the “Marylike Modesty Crusade” was born.  For a full quarter century (till his death in 1969) Fr. Kunkel led this Crusade, preaching that the universal standard of Pius XI was binding on all Catholic women and offering his Marylike Crusade to assist them in embracing it.  Though, for the most part, the Catholic hierarchy in the United States ignored the Papal standard, Fr. Kunkel courageously spread the Church’s teaching on modesty throughout the dioceses of the United States and beyond.  On two separate occasions Pope Pius XII imparted his Apostolic Blessing upon the Crusade.  In his blessing he called the Crusade a “laudable movement for modesty in dress and behavior,” and extended that blessing “to all who further 18it.

Considering the weight of approval the “Marylike Standards,” have received and that they are derived from the universal standard set by Pope Pius XI, could there be any other standards for Catholic women to adopt?  Following “The Marylike Standards” they will be following the approved teaching of the Church, and thus, they will never have reason to doubt that they are truly dressing in a manner that is pleasing to Jesus.  “The Marylike Standards,” are provided in Section 4 along with guidelines for men, children and youth.  [Editor’s note:  Section 4 will  part of PART 2 of this article, which will be coming soon…]

3. The Second Aspect (of Christian Modesty)

The Spirit of Modesty and The Traditional Form of Dress

This second aspect of proper Christian dress is something less apparent than the first.   Yet, though it is more subtle, because of the long-term effects of failing in this aspect, it may well be equally important to the Heart of God.  The second aspect of Christian modesty: being instilled with the spirit of modesty, does not deal with the danger of mortal sin by becoming an occasion of sin against purity.  Rather, this second aspect deals, more positively, with learning to dress in the manner that is proper to Christian dignity.  This means embracing the idea of dressing not so much with the view of seeking one’s own pleasure or comfort, as to honor and edify one’s neighbor, to be healthy yeast in the dough of society, and above all, to best please God.  For many, this may mean sacrifice: The sacrifice of one’s own desire, convenience, and habit, as well as the sacrifice of countering the popular fashions of the Cultural Revolution.

The Traditional Form of Dress

The few leaflets on modesty that can be found today generally say that for preserving purity, loose fitting pants are actually loose enough to conceal a woman’s form.  However, one current little leaflet distributed by the Franciscan Friars of Mary Immaculate says something more.  After presenting what is necessary for preserving purity, it goes on to state:

The ideal form of dress for a woman is a modest blouse and dress extending close to the ankles.  Men should wear loose fitting shirts and slacks 19.”

This ideal, it should be observed, is nothing more than the traditional form of dress for men and women approved in Christian society ever since males went from wearing robes to pants.*  It should also be noted that throughout centuries, from Apostolic times until the 1920’s, Christian women, as a rule, did not wear such things as tight-fitting or sleeveless tops, miniskirts, pants or shorts.  Rather, even though styles have greatly varied, they have generally worn loose fitting dresses extending near or to the ankle.  This is true even when women took part in activities such as riding on a horse or donkey (as Our Lady did en route to Bethlehem at the dawn of the Christian Era) or working in the fields (like St. Maria Goretti and her mother at the dawn of the 20th Century), though such activities are done more conveniently in pants or shorts.  The length of garment was indeed fitting, since in the Book of Isaiah God refers to a woman’s bare legs as “nakedness” and “shame” (Is. 47:2-3).

By and large, Catholics have always understood that there are good reasons for traditions and thus have regarded them with respect.  Traditions are simply good customs that help to safeguard and defend what we believe.  They were practiced by those that came before and they are, in turn, to be handed on.

Modern man seems to place little value on traditions (whether cultural or religious). Perhaps this is because our advancements in technology cause us to think of ourselves as superior to the generations that came before us.  Therefore, we easily discard traditions for the sake of expediency, convenience or even the desire for novelty.  Yet, there is always much wisdom bound up in good traditions.

For instance, in the Church we have the ancient ecclesiastical tradition of genuflecting in front of the Tabernacle.  This tradition safeguards our belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is really present in the Sacred Hosts reserved there and that when we are before the Tabernacle, we are in the awesome presence of Almighty God.  Thus, when the practice of genuflecting is maintained, we are continually reminded that the church is the House of God, a Sacred Place, to be entered with due respect.  Finally, it reminds us of His greatness and of our lowliness before Him.  The wisdom bound up in the tradition of genuflecting is clearly seen.  Certainly it is more expedient and convenient to forego the act of genuflecting when entering the church.  Yet, if this tradition is not preserved, Eucharistic faith and devotion begin eroding away.  In a similar manner, there is also wisdom bound up in the traditional form of dress of Christian culture.

The Need for Distinction

Notice first, that the traditional form of dress for men and for women is different.  And even in earlier times when men wore robes, their garments were distinctly different from women’s.*  There is a dangerous tendency in our modern culture to reduce or minimize the differences between men and women and their complementary roles.  As Horvat pointed out, we are becoming a “unisex” society.  Hasn’t the most common and popular form of dress for both men and women been reduced to denim pants and a cotton T-shirt?  God however, “created them male and female” (Gen. 5:2); therefore, though equal in dignity, they are indeed meant to be distinct from one another.  So much so that the Bible says:

“A woman shall not be clothed with man’s apparel: neither shall a man use women’s apparel. For he that doeth these things is abominable before God.” (Deut. 22:5).

On this same subject Fr. William C. Breda, O.S.A., wrote in an article entitled “Proper Attire Makes Us Human” in the September 10, 1981 issue of “The Wanderer”:

“There seems to persist among many people the mistaken belief that we clothe ourselves mainly against the inclemencies of the climate, for protection against the weather and the cold, and that when summer comes, and the warm weather, we can doff our suits and dresses and go about unclad and half-naked.  The whole idea is of course superficial… Without proper attire and without distinctive raiment we are simply not even human.  Chesterton somewhere points to the truth of the old phrase ‘clothed and in his right mind[Mk. 5:15]:  a sound and sane man moves around in his world in decent and proper apparel.

Our clothes are first and most of all the symbols of our state of life and of our social dignity. In the manner in which we dress and present ourselves, we express our masculinity and femininity…we manifest our beliefs and convictions, and we also proclaim our designs and intentions, and denote our tastes and tendencies.  We are able therefore, or should be [able], to recognize a man and a woman by the clothes they are wearing20. (Emphasis in the original).

(Men’s robes were narrower and shorter. Women’s robes were fuller and more colorful. This can still be seen today in some eastern cultures.)

From this we see the need for distinction in dress between the sexes.  But why is it that the traditional form of dress for women is a long dress or skirt?  The answer lies in the fact that dresses are a more dignified form of dress than pants, and thus they both adorn and safeguard a woman’s beautiful and delicate femininity.  In fact, Chesterton points out that because this style of clothing is more dignified, “when men wish to be safely impressive, as judges, priests or kings, they do wear skirts, the long, trailing robes of female dignity 21.”

Yes, even judges, priests, and kings traditionally wear distinguished robes signifying the special dignity of their office.  Their manner of dress evokes the respect of others.  And while it is fitting for a man to dress in robes (of masculine character), as was the custom in Biblical times, the thinking here is that it is not fitting for a woman to degrade her feminine dignity by wearing pants.  As was stated above, because of the natural differences in the genders, women are more prone to be treated with less dignity or respect than men.  Thus, Pope Pius XII taught that “the innate need to enhance beauty and dignity” is “more greatly felt by woman 22

A police officer might complain that he would be more comfortable working in jeans and a T-shirt.  Yet, if he were allowed to do this, he wouldn’t be recognized as an officer, nor would he be given the proper respect due to his position.  Thus policemen wear a uniform and are respected and obeyed as being officers of the law.  Likewise, a woman may seek comfort and convenience in wearing pants, but in doing so, she is less likely to be recognized and respected as a lady.  Rather, she will blend in and may well be treated as just another man.  By dressing in traditional feminine attire women are sure to be recognized as ladies, thus eliciting the admiration and commanding the respect of men, while also glorifying their God-given femininity.  They will also do much to combat the abuse to which they are often subject today.

Reverence for the Female Body

There is also another reason why “the innate need to enhance…dignity” is “more greatly felt by woman.”  The Franciscan Friars Leaflet (mentioned above) explains a special reverence due to the female body:

“The female body is, in a certain sense, more sacred than the male body because her body is capable of bringing to life a new human person created in the image and likeness of God and infused with an immortal soul that will last for all eternity.”

Reflecting on this “frightful privilege,” Chesterton was moved to express that “no one…can quite believe in the equality of the sexes 23.”

The leaflet goes on to say that “because the female body has this power and dignity it must be treated with reverence and should be kept ‘veiled’ with modest clothing.  Immodest clothing thus profanes its sacred character.”

Here again we note that dresses are far more suitable for a woman than pants.  Dresses drape over a woman’s form and veil in mystery and dignity her intimate center where new human life comes forth into this world.  And long dresses aid women in safeguarding modesty while bending, stooping, working and going about their daily tasks.  Pants on the other hand, by their nature are designed to fit a woman’s outline, thus, even when they are loose they can become a danger when bending, stooping, etc.  It is similar to the difference between a mitten and a glove.  Which one reveals more about the hand?

A Perceptive Cardinal’s Letter

The late Giuseppe Cardinal Siri explains some other important reasons for maintaining the traditional form of feminine attire.  These reasons have to do with the effects of women wearing pants on families and society.  The Cardinal explains them in a letter he wrote in 1960 when he first noticed “a certain increase in the use of men’s dress by girls and women, even family mothers” in his Archdiocese of Genoa 24.

This letter was addressed to all those responsible for souls (i.e. Priests, Teaching Sisters, Educators, etc.).  He began by mentioning that since trousers generally tend “to cling closer” than other forms of feminine attire, “the tight fit of such clothing gives us no less grounds for concern than does exposure of the body.”  Then, he went on to describe “a different aspect of women’s wearing of men’s trousers,” which he said, “seems to us the gravest.” He wrote:

The wearing of men’s dress by women affects firstly the woman herself, by changing the feminine psychology proper to women; secondly it affects the woman as wife of her husband, by tending to vitiate* relationships between the sexes; thirdly it affects the woman as mother of her children by harming her dignity in her children’s eyes.

He went on to carefully elaborate on each of these points. Being too long to quote in full, two of the points are summarized here:

With regards to the “feminine psychology proper to women,” he explained that “the motive impelling women to wear men’s dress is always that of imitating, nay, of competing with, the man who is considered stronger, less tied down, more independent.”

A little study of history will reveal that, indeed, it was the desire to be “like a man” that motivated women to begin to wear pants.  Today, of course, this can hardly be considered the conscious motive of all women in wearing pants.  Many probably wear them because they are considered acceptable and for their convenience.

Nevertheless, the Cardinal pointed out that the clothing a person wears, demands, imposes and modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior, such that from merely being worn outside, clothing comes to impose a particular frame of mind inside. Therefore, wearing trousers “is the visible aid to bringing about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man,'” and to some degree “indicates her reacting to her femininity as though it is inferiority when in fact it is only diversity.

Certainly not every woman’s psychology will be affected in the same way by the wearing of pants, but in reality, how many women have been affected without even realizing it, and by this, the whole of society?  Are they still the heart of their families, desiring to be at home with their children?  Are they still subject to the authority of their husbands as our holy religion teaches?

Or have they become more independent and taken interest in being out in the world, in competing with men at being the breadwinner and the head of the family 25?*  All evidence indicates that this trend has already very much changed the psychology of women in society.  How will Catholic women be able fulfill their God-given role as females if they do not preserve their true feminine identity?

With regards to “the woman as mother of her children,” the Cardinal explained that “all children have an instinct for the sense of dignity and decorum of their mother.”  Therefore, although “the child may not know the definition of exposure, frivolity or infidelity, …he possesses an instinctive sixth sense to recognize them when they occur, to suffer from them, and be bitterly wounded by them in his soul.”  Here we see the need for maintaining a dignified feminine modesty not only in public, but also within the sanctuary of the home.

Obviously, the Cardinal’s concern is not with restricting women, but in helping them preserve their beautiful and delicate femininity so vital to healthy families and to a healthy society.  God made them male and female; and, Oh! how the world suffers when it loses the female element!  As it is said: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

Further on in his letter, Cardinal Siri wrote:

“Out of charity we are fighting against the flattening out of mankind, against the attack upon those differences on which rests the complementarity of man and woman.  When we see a woman in trousers, we should think not so much of her, as of all mankind, of what it will be when women will have masculinized themselves for good.  Nobody stands to gain by helping to bring about a future age of vagueness, ambiguity, imperfection and, in a word, monstrosities.”

The Cardinal went on to warn that unlike the immediate harm done by “grave immodesty,” the damage caused by women wearing pants was not “all to be seen within a short time.” Rather the effects would be slow and insidious. During the past 40+ years since this warning, pants on women have become increasingly the norm.  Less and less has been seen of the traditional form of dress, and thus, the demarcation between masculine and feminine and their complementary roles has faded.  Unfortunately, those 40+ years have been long enough for us to witness the distressing consequences the clear-sighted Cardinal feared would come about in families and in society.  Sadly, there is ample evidence that the “masculinization” of women has helped to bring about an age of “imperfection” and “monstrosities”.  The Catholic Medical Association (CMA) in a recent open letter to the United States Bishops 26 explained that Gender Identification Disorder (GID) is the principal predisposing complex leading to the neurotic condition of homosexual attraction.  Boys and girls are certainly born male and female respectively, but they must learn (especially through their same-sex parent) what it means to be a man or a woman.  If this is not learned, and a child grows up with a weak sexual identity (GID), there is a strong possibility he will eventually develop same-sex attraction (SSA).  According to CMA’s letter, of boys with GID “approximately 75% of them will go on to develop SSA.”  Here, then, is seen a strong reason why, as Fr. Breda stated, “the manner in which we dress ourselves” should “express our masculinity and femininity,” and that we “should be [able] to recognize a man and a woman by the clothes they are wearing.”  Interestingly, Catholic psychologist Gerard van den Aardweg notes in his “(self-) therapy” book for homosexuality, The Battle for Normality, that in cultures (even the most primitive and pagan) where “the clear distinction” is made “between boys and girls,” homosexuality is very rare, if not non-existent 27.  As part of the therapy in battling for normality, this orthodox Catholic psychologist, with over thirty years of successful therapeutic experience, advises women with SSA “to amend their stubborn aversion to wearing a nice gown or other typical women’s dress28.”  He also states that “the ideology that obliterates sex roles is so unnatural that future generations will undoubtedly see it as a perversion of a decadent culture29.”

With all this in mind, could it be that pants on women were among the fashions Our Lady of Fatima was referring to when She said: “Certain fashions are to be introduced which will offend Our Lord very much”?  Was it because Padre Pio foresaw these things that he preached against women wearing pants30?

The Church’s thinking on Women’s Attire

If we understand the female’s greater need to enhance her dignity and to safeguard her feminine identity, we can understand why pants were never considered acceptable garb for women throughout the entire history of the Church.  Pope Pius XI’s 1928 standard for women’s attire mentions only a dress. No standard was given for pants because they certainly were not considered feminine garb at that time.  Now, however, at the dawn of the third millennium, it is clear that secular society in general has approved of pants for women.  But is that enough?  Not according to Pope Pius XII.  In his address to the Latin Union of High Fashion in 1957, he stated that a “garment must not be evaluated according to the estimation of a decadent or already corrupt society, but according to the aspirations of a society which prizes the dignity and seriousness of its public attire 31.”

It is plain to see from mass abortion alone (not to mention many other commonly accepted immoral practices) that today’s society is “decadent” and “already corrupt.”  It is also plain to see that today’s society does not “prize the dignity” nor the “seriousness of its public attire.”  One has only to go to a typical public school and observe what our society permits children and teenagers to wear to be convinced (i.e. lowrider pants, miniskirts, halter tops, pierced noses, lips, eyebrows, etc.).  Therefore, society’s approval of women wearing pants (contrary to Christian tradition) can be no guarantee that they are in fact a garment worthy of feminine dignity, or much less that they are pleasing to God.

Yet that is not all.  In the same address, Pope Pius XII went on to say that people, being often “too docile” or “too lazy” to make their own critical judgment, “wish to be guided in style more than in any other activity.”  Therefore, they often “accept the first thing that is offered to them and only later become aware of how mediocre or unbecoming certain fashions are 32.”

Hence, we understand his warning that “style should be directed and controlled instead of being abandoned to caprice….”  Though he was addressing first of all the designers, he went on to say: “…it also applies to individuals, whose dignity demands of them that they should liberate themselves with free and enlightened conscience from the imposition of pre-determined tastes, especially tastes debatable on moral grounds.”  Therefore, he concluded:

“…react firmly against currents that are contrary to the best traditions33.” [Emphasis added]

We have seen that the ideal or traditional form of dress “for a woman is a modest blouse and dress extending close to the ankles.”  We have also seen that pants on women are indeed “debatable on moral grounds.”  Therefore, it seems clear that the Pope is asking for women to “react firmly against” donning pants (as well as other novelties in modern clothing) which not only cannot be found anywhere in “the best traditions”, but are actually opposed by Christian tradition.  Instead, they are to continue the long-standing tradition of wearing long dresses and skirts.

In fact, this same Pope went on to point out where the “best traditions” in feminine attire could be found.  As the best models for women’s clothing, he offered the “feminine figures in the masterpieces of classical art which have undisputed esthetical value.  Here the clothing, marked by Christian decency, is a worthy ornament of the person with whose beauty it blends as in a single triumph of admirable dignity34.”

The impressive dresses he speaks of, as a rule, had not only ankle length hems, but also modest collars and long sleeves never shorter than the elbow35.  Nor did this attire hinder women from looking chastely beautiful.  Let us understand here that the Pope is trying to do nothing more than move fashions back to the common decency of 1900 years of Christian tradition.  Today’s scanty and form-fitting clothes were virtually unheard of in past ages.

Perhaps such clothing that admirably covers so much of the body won’t be easily found today; nevertheless, a lofty example has been given for the virtuous woman to pursue.  For while Pope Pius XII recognized that public morality certainly changes “according to the times, the nature and the conditions of the civilization of individual peoples,” he said that “this does not invalidate the obligation to strive for the ideal of perfection…. 36

And with this example we see that Fr. Kunkel’s Crusade was right in calling the Marylike Standards as “minimum standards 37.”  For there exists a higher ideal, an even greater modesty for which one can strive.

Shrines of the Holy Ghost

As was said before, dressing modestly is not reserved for women alone.  All Christians, men, women and children, must dress with apt dignity.  If by our manner of dress “we express” not only “our masculinity and femininity,” as Fr. Breda explained, but also “our beliefs and convictions”, we can understand the reason for this.  What is our conviction?  What do we believe as Christians?

St. Paul says: “Surely you know that your bodies are the shrines of the Holy Ghost, Who dwells in you. And He is God’s gift to you, so that you are no longer your own masters. A great price was paid to ransom you; glorify God by making your bodies the shrines of his presence.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20, Knox version)

A Positive Effect on Society

Often in our day, good Catholics are rightly heard complaining because they frequently see priests going about without their cassocks and collars, and religious sisters without their traditional habits.  What a great effect their outward appearance has upon us!  Yes, outward appearance produces such great effects, that Pope Pius XII exclaimed:   “It is often said almost with passive resignation that fashions reflect the customs of a people.  But it would be more exact and much more useful to say that they express the decision and moral direction that a nation intends to take: either to be shipwrecked in licentiousness or maintain itself at the level to which it has been raised by religion and civilization38.

Therefore, by becoming zealous in adhering to the traditional form of dress, Catholics will have a positive, moralizing effect upon the pagan world around them.  Thus, they will work to reverse the Cultural Revolution and restore Christian Civilization.

(To be continued)

  1. This saying was often repeated by Pius XII. Found in: Martin, Louis, Immodest Dress: The Mind of the Church, p. 6. Catholic Treasures, Monrovia, CA.
  2. Address of Pope Pius XII to a group of Catholic Action girls on October 6, 1940. Ibid., p. 12.
  3. Horvat, Marian Therese, “The Egalitarian Revolution, Part 4: The Cultural Revolution,Echoes of True Catholicism, Oct.29-Nov.4, 2001, Vol. 12, No. 154. (www.Dailycatholic.org/issue/2001Oct/oct29txt.htm).
  4. In a letter ordered by Pope Pius XII and issued by the Sacred Congregation of the Council on Aug. 15, 1954, he directed the world’s bishops to “take action against the most serious plague of immodest fashions.” He further implored “promote with all your power, everything which has to do with the protection of modesty” and “leave no stone unturned which can remedy the situation.”
  5. Immodest Dress: The Mind of the Church, pp. 7 & 12.
  6. “L-115” (Pamphlet), The World Apostolate of Fatima, Washington, NJ.  (Out of Print).
  7. Address of Pope Pius XII, July 17, 1954. Cited in: Immodest Dress: The Mind of the Church, pp. 23-24.
  8. Manelli, Fr. Stefano M. (FFI), Jesus Our Eucharistic Love, p. 67. Valatie, NY: The Academy of the Immaculate, 1996.
  9. Gaudiose Dorothy M., Prophet of the People, pp. 191-2. Staten Island, NY: Alba House Publishers, 1988.
  10. Cited in Immodest Dress: The Mind of the Church, p. 20-21.
  11. From the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas (IIa IIae, Q. 26, a. 5, see also Q. 169, a. 2).
  12. Address of Pope Pius XII to young girls of Catholic Action of Rome, members of the Crusade for Purity, on May 22, 1941.
  13. Shouppe, Fr. F. X., S.J., Hell, p. 81. Rockford IL: TAN Books & Publishers, 1989.
  14. From a folder issued in 1935 by the “League of Modesty” with the Imprimatur of George Cardinal Mundelien. Cited in Immodest Dress: The Mind of the Church, p. 16.
  15. Cited in Immodest Dress: The Mind of the Church, p. 12.
  16. Ibid., p. 16.
  17. Kunkel, Fr. Bernard A., Marylike Modesty Handbook of the Purity Crusade of Mary Immaculate. (This book contained in My Life in Prayer Book, Radio Rosary: Pittsburgh, PA.) pp. 248-9.
  18. Ibid., p. 230.
  19. In Imitation of the Virgin” (Leaflet). Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. New Bedford, MA.
  20. Cited in Immodest Dress: The Mind of the Church, p. 22.
  21. Chesterton, G. K., What’s Wrong with the World, Part III, Chapter 5: The Coldness of Chloe.
  22. Address of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion,” Nov. 8, 1957. Cited in “L-75” (Booklet), p. 75. The World Apostolate of Fatima, Washington, NJ. (Out of Print).
  23. What’s Wrong with the World, Part III, Chapter 10: The Higher Anarchy.
  24. Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, “Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn by Women,” Genoa, June 12, 1960. Reprinted in Immodesty: Satan’s Virtue, by Rita Davidson, pp. 127-134. Little Flowers Family Press, McDonalds Corners, ON, Canada: Jan. 2003. (littleflowersfamilypress.com)
  25. In these times of disorder and confusion, the following teachings may be useful for those who are in the position to raise Catholic families: Pope Leo XIII reminded us in his Encyclical Arcanum (Feb. 10, 1880): The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman…must be subject to her husband and obey him; not indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity.  Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties” (See Eph. 5:22-33).  Later, in Casti Connubii (Dec. 31, 1930), Pope Pius XI proclaimed this order of the family as unchangeable and constituted by God: “…this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time.… But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact.”
  26. What Could Bring On Same-Sex Attraction in Boys: Catholic Psychiatrists Look at Roots of U.S. Scandals,” Zenit News Agency (Zenit.org). New York, June 27, 2002.
  27. Van Den Aardweg, Gerard J. M., The Battle for Normality: A Guide For (Self-) Therapy For Homosexuality, p. 78. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.
  28. Ibid., p. 137.
  29. Ibid., p. 147.
  30. Padre Pio’s opposition to pants on women was verified by phone call to Our Lady of Grace Convent, San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy (June 19, 2003).
  31. Address of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion,” Nov. 8, 1957. Cited in “L-75,” p. 80.
  32. Ibid., p. 83.
  33. Ibid., p. 82.
  34. Ibid.
  35. The Pope here was obviously not speaking of the “artistic” nudes & semi-nudes often found in classical art.  Rather, we can be certain he was speaking of those feminine figures who are depicted clad in the typical modest and dignified forms of dress of Christian history.
  36. Ibid., p. 84.
  37. My Life in Prayer Book (containing: Marylike Modesty Handbook of the Purity Crusade of Mary Immaculate), p. 251.
  38. Address of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion,” Nov. 8, 1957. Cited in “L-75,” p. 80.