To the Priest who Embarrassed a Woman with Bare Shoulders

To the Priest who Embarrassed a Woman with Bare Shoulders June 3, 2019

I am new to Catholic Twitter, and not sure I like it.

Every day there seems to be a new fight.

But I’m going to have to jump into the ring swinging on this latest kerfuffle: a priest who humiliated a woman at Mass, and then another priest tweeted not in her defense, but in warning to women everywhere not to make priests do that to them again.

Father Kevin M. Cusick, LCDR, wrote: “Ladies, a priest I know was forced on Sunday to ask a woman at Mass to cover her shoulders. Please help the priest to protect the purity of the men at holy Mass by choosing to dress modestly. The alternative is awkward for all involved. Thank you.”

He’s gotten a lot of backlash over this, but stood firm because he has “thought about it and prayed about it.” I think he’d better pray a little harder.

First of all, unless someone had a gun to his back, that unnamed priest was not “forced” to ask a woman to cover her shoulders. There was no necessity there. He CHOSE to ask a woman to cover her shoulders. That was his choice and he did it. And I believe that it was a grossly inappropriate choice.

All other things being equal, I don’t like bare shoulders at Mass. Personally I tend to wear a lot of coverage at Mass– a maxi skirt, a top with 3/4 length sleeves and a scarf on my head is my preferred uniform, but that is just my comfort zone; women who go bareheaded or wear trousers aren’t doing anything wrong. I think a really revealing top, or a pair of hot pants or something of that nature, is way too casual to be appropriate for liturgy. I also think men shouldn’t wear baseball caps inside the church because it’s disrespectful, and that no one should wear a t-shirt with a politician’s campaign advertisement on it to Mass because it seems to much like homage to Caesar in a building that belongs only to God. But if I see someone wearing something like that at Mass, I believe I ought to mind my own business and go back to praying. Liturgy isn’t the place for critiquing somebody’s outfit. Liturgy is for setting aside earthly cares.

Some things are definitely out of the question to wear to Mass–  a shirt with a swastika on it, for example, or a clown suit, or a man or woman going topless as part of a political protest. And it’s within reason for one of the ushers at Mass to quietly ask that person to leave and to get a security guard if they don’t. But bare shoulders do not fall into that category, not by a long shot.

It is not appropriate for a priest to call out a woman for her immodesty while saying Mass, just because he can see her shoulders.

First of all, shoulders aren’t a sexual temptation. No one in the history of sex ever had sex with a shoulder. In comparison with shoulders, hands are the most sexual thing in the world, yet I haven’t worn gloves to Mass since I got too big for a lace frock with gloves and a bonnet on Easter Sunday. Some garments are overtly racy. A top that leaves some shoulder exposed isn’t one of them. A reasonable man wouldn’t be sexually aroused by the sight of a bit of shoulder, and a man so horny that the sight of shoulders is too much would also be aroused by a woman in a nun’s habit. I believe that everyone has a certain amount of responsibility to think about the way they dress, but it is not a woman’s responsibility to make her brother in Christ not be a licentious pig anymore. That’s a man’s responsibility. We can’t do it for him.

Secondly, calling a woman out for her outfit in the middle of Mass is far more disrespectful of the liturgy than showing a bit of skin. It is not appropriate to interrupt the order of the Mass to shout things at someone in the congregation– it turns the liturgy into the Father So-and-So Show instead of the Holy Sacrifice. Also, if he actually cared about guarding the eyes of men from seeing a woman’s shoulders, he would not have done something guaranteed to make every man in the church look at her. If he thought it was important that no man look at shoulder skin, he’d have quietly tried to ignore it during Mass and then privately mentioned to her later that he’d like her to wear a cardigan next time. Besides, calling a woman out in such a public way humiliates her, and humiliating people is a sin against the fifth commandment. I hope we’re all in agreement that Mass is not a place for sin.

I’m reminded of a story I once heard circulating the internet. I don’t know if it’s true or an urban legend, but it proves a point either way. According to the story, a woman once went into an Orthodox church for the first time carrying a baby, wearing trousers and no head scarf. A member of the congregation chided her for her immodesty, so she left. The priest ordered that congregant to pray for that woman and baby for the rest of her life. “Because of you,” he said, “she may never come back.”

That’s what happens when you use the liturgy to single out and embarrass people.

You run the risk that they may never come back, and that it will be your fault.

Driving someone away from the sacraments is far more dreadful than a fashion faux pas.

Insofar as you think of the people around you during Mass, you ought to be thinking of how to be welcoming and loving to them, not how to embarrass them for their outfits. This is especially true if you’re the priest.

For Heaven’s sake– and I mean literally, for Heaven’s sake– Father ought to grow up.

The alternative is awkward for all involved.

Thank you.

(image via Pixabay) 






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