View all Ask a Priest | February 7, 2020
“Ask a Priest: What If Members of My Church Group Don’t Dress Modestly?”
Q: I’m having trouble with some requirements about fraternal correction. They are: a reasonable hope that the correction will be heeded and the sinner will amend their ways, and if someone else is more qualified and likely to correct them. So, for example, in my church group, I see some girls wearing tight pants or immodest clothing. And one of the group coordinators has a Facebook page in which she dresses quite immodestly and posts pictures on her profile. So my question is, am I obliged to correct them? I don’t have much rapport with them, only know them from the group and don’t talk much with them. There is a priest who frequents our meetings, so he is more qualified to correct them — although maybe not likely to do it. And all of them are nice Catholics who are trying to grow, so maybe my correction might do them good but I don’t know. Maybe they will think I’m nuts or too strict. And, of course, the Church has no set rules for modesty, which makes it hard to tell them anything. – K.D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: You touch on a very important topic, one of those elephant-in-the-corner issues. It’s big, everyone knows it’s there, but not enough people speak about it openly.
So to start out: No, you aren’t nuts for being concerned about these young women.
And while the Church doesn’t issue set rules on how to dress, it does offer important principles. The Catechism in No. 2521 says:
“Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.”
I don’t know all the details of your situation. But it might be a fair to venture a few observations.
First, the fact that these young women are involved in a church group shows a lot good will. So let’s assume that their hearts are in the right place.
Second, they have been influenced (poorly) by the wider culture. Modesty is not a strong point of media, including social media. Young people feed on and mimic what they see on a screen, like fish feeding on polluted riverbeds.
So what path might start to lead to a solution? A few suggestions might help.
First, pray for the young women in your circle. Pray that the Holy Spirit open their hearts to the beauty and dignity of modesty.
Second, think of programs and activities that might attract the attention of the young women. This could range from theology of the body courses, to activities used by groups such as Pure Fashion.
It’s good to help the young women understand that modesty isn’t prudishness. Modesty can help them to understand and appreciate their own dignity, and it even enables them to radiate a deeper beauty.
Third, you might ask that priest who frequents the meetings for his ideas. He might not want to bring up the topic of modesty directly with the group, since it might come across as a public indictment of the young women sitting in front of him.
Rather, he might prefer another approach, such as giving a mini-retreat on the Blessed Virgin Mary and her qualities. This kind of thing could be used against the background of the theology of the body courses or similar events.
Along the spiritual lines you might also doing something about the life of Maria Goretti. Perhaps you could show a video on her life and have a group discussion afterward. Videos on modesty (check out YouTube) might do the trick, too.
It might help, too, to invite a guest speaker to address your group — for instance, a college coed who is involved with campus ministry or pro-life work. Such a student could touch on the value of modesty and connect with her listeners in a convincing way.
In short, you want to look for ways to promote a culture of modesty. Help the young women to understand that by their modesty they can also help the young men around them be better persons.
You might also look at some of the books out there on modesty (an Internet search helps) and share them with the young women.
If you can raise awareness and present modesty as a positive thing, the young women might embrace it quickly. The virtue of purity can still resonate deeply in young hearts.
None of the above is intended to be the last word in this area. But maybe some of these points will help. The battle for modesty is worth the effort.
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