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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Mary
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
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Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
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Mike Hayes
Swingman/Editor
 
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Our readers asked:

What is the church teaching regarding body piercing and tattoos?

Fr. Joe Answers:

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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The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Susan J Melkus

    What about the lip piercing that is a huge hole and one’s bottom teeth are revealed through that hole? Would that not be ‘mutilation’ Father? That’s what’s appearing on the internet in facebook now, and we’ve had a discussion going about this for a while this morning. I find it scandalous, therefore, against the moral law. Not judging the soul of the pierced one, just his … lack of judgement.

  • MrsSpooky

    I’m glad to read this. I think nostril piercings are cool and pretty so I got it done quite recently. A friend is very much against it and says scripture forbids it. I had it in mind to look up what it says about piercings (remembered the mutilation part which this isn’t). I don’t want to offend God, and I didn’t think this would. Thanks! God bless you.

  • Adeodatus

    I’m rather surprised that you didn’t mention religious tattoos at all. On my wrists, below the bottom of my palms, I have two tattoos: both religious and both gifts from my Mom. On the left is the Sacred Heart being held by hands (a variation of the claddagh) and on my right is the mantra known as the “Sacred Heart” mantra. My tat on my left was blessed by a Catholic priest and is used by me regularly in prayer, as one would use an icon.
    My tats remind me that I’m “marked as a slave of Christ” and help me to remember my path. That’s why I got them. It had nothing to do with being cool, or flirting. And I’m sure other people get religious tats for the same reasons. Just thought this should be mentioned.

    Blessings in the King of kings!

    • Rich Barrett

      how can you be a slave to Christ? Christianity is about fellowship and voluntary exercise of your own free will, a willful act. slaves are captives that are not allowed to exercise their free will. that is tantamount to saying that priests are owned by the church.

      • Vicki Webs

        I believe what he meant by saying that he is was a “slave” to Christ is that he owes everything he has ever had to Him. He is forever is His ‘debt’ for Gods evergiving forgiveness and for God saving him. No matter the sin or how many times it is committed God forgives us over and over again because He loves us more than we will ever comprehend. Therefore when you are truly in love with Christ and accept His love for us we feel the need (based out of complete love) to serve Him each and every day! :)

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