October 8-14, 2001
volume 12, no. 151

The Egalitarian Revolution    part one

Oh! That difficult question of immodesty and women wearing men's clothing


    Mrs. X was a daily communicant, a pious Catholic living in Quito, Ecuador in the 1960s. As a lady of certain elegance, she was naturally influenced by the styles of the times. However, as a well bred traditional-minded Catholic, she would never wear men's trousers or a skirt above her knees.

    One day as she arrived at the magnificent Jesuit Church of Iesu in downtown Quito, she realized that she had left her jacket at home. She made a quick decision that it would be better to receive Our Lord wearing the sleeveless blouse than to remain in the pew and only make a spiritual Communion. After all, she rationalized, the neckline was modest and her skirt was quite appropriate.

    The serene and kindly pastor arrived at Mrs. X at the communion rail. He leaned over as if to give her the Sacred Host. But instead of giving her Communion, he discreetly and firmly whispered into her ear, "Next time, sleeves."

    There was no public humiliation. No one but Mrs. X and the priest realized what had happened. But interiorly humiliated to the very bone, she accepted the correction and, as she affirmed to me as she told the story, she has never appeared inappropriately dressed again in a church. It was a just and charitable correction, in keeping with the old Canon Law which prescribed that women should be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the Holy Table (Canon 1262.2).

    It is a simple story that throws light on just how far the revolution in women's clothing has gone in these forty years of post-conciliar ecclesiastical life. The simply "peccadillo" of being sleeveless would hardly seem worthy of notice today. How many good-willed women and girls come to church and approach the Communion rail - or "line" - wearing immodest clothes that overexpose the figure? The typical daily or Sunday Mass is assisted by women in tops that are low cut and revealing, blouses that are transparent and sleeveless, dresses too short and pants too tight-fitting, and even shorts and cut-offs.

    Comfort and convenience are the common excuses given - if excuses are even bothered with - for this lack of consideration of God and the honor due Him. Somehow the inappropriately dressed woman has become convinced that Christ will be so pleased to see her there in His house that standards of Catholic modesty and decorum can be ignored and transgressed. In fact, if a courageous priest would ask these women and girls to dress appropriately in keeping with the holiness and dignity of the place, most probably he would be the one considered to be out of line…

A Forgotten Culpability

    But, the woman in shorts might explain, the styles have changed. Clothing has become more relaxed and informal since the revolution of the '60s. That is to say, what was inappropriate in the past is presented as appropriate now. What has been forgotten is that there is always an unchangeable moral norm to be preserved in modesty of dress. No one is allowed to relax modesty for reasons of summer heat, the current styles of fashion, or mere convenience. Pope Pius XII clearly stated that the excuse that modesty is dictated by custom or time cannot be allowed. He called it "one of the most insidious of sophisms" used "in order to brand as old fashioned the rebellion of honest people against fashions which are too bold."

    Many people have also become oblivious to the grave consequences of adopting the immodest fashion trends. That such styles would appear was predicted by Our Lady at Fatima in 1917, when she told the youngest seer Jacinta: "Certain fashions will be introduced which will offend my Son very much. More people go to hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason." Her words seem to indicate a direct corelation between the fashions that would be introduced - which we are all familiar with - and the souls who go to hell because of the sins of the flesh.

    Another very serious consequence often infuriates the modern women when it is mentioned. Nonetheless, it needs to be said. Immodest dress can lead men into sin, and thus the person who dresses sinfully will bear some degree of culpability both for their own transgression and for the sins others commit because of them. Pope Pius XII addressed this topic already in the '50s: "How many girls there are who do not see any wrongdoing in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them."

    Today, unfortunately, there does not seem to be much of that healthful blushing to which the great Pope refers. Instead, one of the curious consequences of a society that denies the existence of original sin has been a naïve ignorance of so many "good" Catholic young women regarding the effects that can result from their insistence on following immodest fashions.

    The battle to keep the passions in check is continual for both men and women, but it must be waged with particular vigilance by men. Woman cannot dress immodestly just to be in style and then say that if a man thinks immoral thoughts because of her, it's his problem, not hers. This attitude is rooted in the great lie of Women's' Liberation movement that men and women are equal. In fact there are great differences between men and women. The man by nature is more aggressive and wants to conquer, and his sensual reactions are stronger than that of the woman. If a woman is immodestly dressed, a man's inclinations more readily develop into desires, thoughts and actions of lust. Therefore, while the man has a moral obligation to "make the good fight" against sins of the flesh by practicing a careful custody of the eyes and thoughts, a woman has a moral obligation not to dress in an immodest manner which would lead a man to sin.

    There is a special distinction to make here. Woman by nature likes to adorn herself in order to be admired for her beauty, charm and elegance. This is not an evil in itself. A beautiful and charming girl or woman does not have the obligation to make herself ugly or dress in plain and uncomely clothing so that she will never run the risk of causing a sin. This puritanical type of thinking, which unfortunately has been adopted by some traditionalist Catholic women of our days, is erroneous. There is nothing necessarily sinful or inappropriate in a woman dressing exquisitely and femininely. It is this charm and beauty of femininity that adorns an authentically Catholic society.


    How culpable are women who dress immodestly and thus provoke men to immoral thoughts or acts? Consider these very strong words by an early Father of the Church, St. John Chrysostom: "You carry your snare everywhere and spread your nets in all places. You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not, indeed by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment and much more effectively than you could by your voice.

    "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? Those 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 pride."

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

Next Issue: Part Two

For past columns by Dr. Horvat, see Archives of Echoes of True Catholicism

October 8-14, 2001
volume 12, no. 151
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