I came across one of those pious-sounding tidbits that fascinates me lately: the kind of exhortation that sounds bad enough at first glance but gets worse the longer you re-read it.
They came from a random X/Twitter account, but the source was cited so I read the whole thing.
It’s about everybody’s favorite topic: modesty.
This is the passage in full:
“Listen to the voice of Saint Padre Pio, Stigmatist… Given special guidance from Heaven, Saint Padre Pio the stigmatic priest who bore the bleeding wounds of Christ in his body from 1918 until his death in 1968, refused time and again to absolve any woman, no matter how important she was, who did not wear her skirts at least 8 inches below the knee. He also insisted that they do not wear slacks. Yet this traditional guideline, due to ignorance, prejudice, enslavement to vanity or passion, has been combated so much in contemporary times. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church issued statements on modesty in 1930, 1954 and 1957 but since then has kept silent because people no longer listen. God allows us to be punished by the silence of the Magisterium today for the sins of not obeying the Magisterium when it spoke up. This is similar to the way God responded to the hardness of the hearts of the people in the Old Testament. As punishment, God did not send prophets for four hundred years after the Jews had killed and rejected many of the prophets He had already sent. Source: Our Lady of Fatima Stressed… Modesty in Dress”
I found the “Our Lady of Fatima Stressed Modesty in Dress” pamphlet with little difficulty, though I don’t recommend you read it. I don’t have any other sources for whether Saint Pio actually did have that crotchet or not. It sounds consistent with the rest of his crotchety personality.
If this account is true, allow me to sputter: HOW DID HE KNOW?
Did Saint Pio walk around the outside of the confessional with a tape measure and pull back the curtain and check?
Did he have the gift of discernment of hems?
I was so disturbed by this allegation that I got a tape measure of my own, not to check my skirt length but to see if my shins were more than eight inches long. In fact, they are; I’m about thirteen inches from the knee to the top of my foot. I couldn’t get in to see Saint Pio for confession unless I were dressed up like Mary Poppins– which I could easily do, since I have several long hippie skirts and I like them. But what would a very tall woman with longer legs do? Would she have to wear even more fabric or just the eight inches? What if a woman with dwarfism or a little girl wanted to go to confession? Would they have to have skirts that dragged on the floor? If you were very strict but logical, you’d measure the distance above the foot rather than below the knee– that way a short and a tall woman would both be equally covered. The rule makes no sense.
And don’t get me started on Our Lady of Fatima. Even if you believe every single one of the official Fatima prophecies, which are private revelation and therefore optional even for the strictest Catholic, the Virgin Mary did not say anything about “modesty in dress” in the official accounts, all of which can be read from beginning to end online for free. Those three prophecies are the ones Rome approved. They didn’t give their stamp of approval to every single thing the visionaries said in their lives. That old chestnut about fashions that offend the Lord and more souls going to hell for impurity than for any other reason wasn’t something Mary said; it was just little Jacinta speaking off the cuff while dying of the influenza pandemic. She may have heard it from a parish priest or from her parents.
This reminds me of the time I was saved from immodesty by wearing jeans.
Yes, you read that right. Ages ago, when I went to Franciscan University of Steubenville, I was visiting my friends in Saint Elizabeth dorm. For those of you who have the good fortune to have not gone to Franciscan University, that’s a dormitory on the side of a hill, with a big brick patio out front and a brick staircase down to the parking lot. My friends were all carefully dressed in ankle-length boho skirts in becoming colors; I, the odd one out, was in my favorite jeans. We all decided to go to lunch and started downstairs together.
If you live in that part of Appalachia, you get used to the sudden cold gusts of wind that come ripping uphill in the Autumn, but none of us was from Appalachia. We were all taken by surprise on the brick staircase by a great big noisy updraft that went WSSSSSSSSSHHHHHH up the stairs as we descended to the parking lot. All three of my chaste friends were suddenly naked all the way up past the thigh. Thank goodness they were wearing clean underwear. Their skirts blew up until they modestly covered their faces. They shrieked in a panic, trying to pat them back down before any boys saw. I, the immodest doxy in jeans, was still covered from my feet all the way up to my chin. I wonder what Saint Pio would make of that.
No, on second thought, I don’t want to know what Saint Pio would make of that.
I don’t think Saint Pio would like me at all.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.