What is the church teaching regarding body piercing and tattoos?

The church doesn’t have any strong feelings on body piercing. The Catechism warns against mutilations (e.g. cutting one’s arm or leg off) but nothing else is found. A recent article in U.S. Catholic Magazine showed a picture of someone receiving communion on their tongue and it was pierced!

However, the church would expect you to be respectful of your own body and not to do anything that would be viewed as unhealthy (e.g. using dirty needles for piercing and risking serious infections!) or dangerous. Piercing and tattoos could put you at risk for HIV as well–so be very careful and only go to reputable places to get these things done.

Some other thoughts regarding modesty and intention:
I would also ask why you are thinking of getting a body piercing or tattoo?

If you were getting your inner thigh tattooed because you wanted to flirt with others by showing it off I think that wouldn’t be a modest or sexually healthy use of getting a piercing or a tattoo. But if you were thinking of getting your nose pierced because you think it looks cool–I would say that there’s nothing wrong with that statement of personal choice. One of our staff members has a nose piercing and we don’t look down on her for it, in fact we all think it looks pretty cool on her.

I think the type of tattoo would come into play too. If you got a tattoo of Bugs Bunny on your ankle, I might question your personal taste, but I’d think it was simply a personal choice. If you got a Swastika tattooed on your forehead ala Charles Manson, I think many people (not just those in the church) would have serious problems with this. What type of statement are you trying to make with this?

The question that remains is the “why?” If you think a tattoo will score you dates because it’ll make you look cool–I’d caution you to think about why you feel this need to “be cool.”

Tattoo’s and body piercings will not change who you are just as putting a new shirt on won’t either. Looking at the underlying reasons for getting either are key. I think the only reason to get either would be simply because you like the way it looks and not because you think it will change your personality or other people’s views of you.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church there is a section on bodily integrity. It reads: “Except when performed for strictly theraputic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.”

I don’t think a piercing is viewed as a mutilation but if you decided to cut your ear off because you think it’s cool–I think that would be viewed as “against the moral law.”

Hope this helps.

Mike Hayes is Senior Editor for Googling God


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