There is no Catholic dress code...

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

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 cited. 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.
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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.
Posted on July 13, 2012 .