Rome's Decrees on Modesty in Dress are Victims of "Conspiracy of Silence"
Reprinted from the Marylike Crusader
MODERN LIBERALISM gives repeated evidence of a morbid fear of crusades against immodest fashions. It stubbornly adheres to the oft-repeated, and oft-condemned, principle that Christian modesty in dress is regulated by "customs and styles of time, place and circumstances." Just as stubbornly does it ignore, or refuse to heed, authoritative statements or decrees which contradict its pet sophisms and which insist that it is the Church, and not society, to which Christ has entrusted the principles governing Christian modesty .
Thus it happened that the Crusade Against Immodest Fashions, Especially in Schools Directed by Religious, ordered by Pope Pius XI on August 23, 1928, was all but completely ignored in the United States, even by our Catholic press. The letter containing the order was sent to all Ordinaries of Italy through the Sacred Congregation of Religious, and was made known to the world through the Acta Apostolicae Sedis in 1930 (Vol. 22, pp. 26-28). Yet, to this day, very few Catholics have even heard of this document; and scarcely anyone seems to know its gravely-worded contents. For two decades we have been looking in vain for an English translation. At last we have one. It was made recently by the late well-known Father John Rubba, O.P., from the Italian as it appeared in Commentarium Pro Religiosis. We are most happy to publish Fr. Rubba's translation:
The 1928 Letter of the Sacred Congregation for Religious
To the Ordinaries of Italy: regarding the crusade against immodest fashions, especially in schools directed by women Religious.
Circular. Most Illustrious and Reverend Sir, well known to you are the grave words of condemnation which the Holy Father spoke, on several occasions, with apostolic authority, against the immodest fashion of women's dress which prevails today to the detriment of good breeding.
Suffice it to recall the very grave words, charged with grief and admonition, with which in the discourse of August 15th current, in the consistorial chamber, promulgating the decree on the heroic virtues of Venerable Paoloa Frassinetti, His Holiness denounced once again the danger, which by its seductive fascination, threatens so many unwary souls, who profess to belong to the flock of Jesus Christ and to His Holy Church.
It is painful to point out in this regard that the deplorable custom tends to insinuate itself among young girls who frequent, as extern pupils, some of the schools directed by Sisters and Sunday-school classes which are held in female religious institutions.
In order to confront a danger which, by spreading, becomes ever more grave, this Sacred Congregation, by order of the Holy Father, calls upon the Ordinaries of Italy so that they may communicate to the superiors of the houses of female religious in their respective dioceses the following injunctions of this Sacred Congregation, confirmed by His Holiness in audience this day:
Your Reverence will be vigilant that these injunctions be exactly observed and that there be perfect conformity of conduct among all the institutes of female religious in the diocese.
You will severely call to task whoever should fail in this, and should any abuse be prolonged, you will notify this Sacred Congregation.
With deepest esteem, I remain,
Liberalism's Excuse for Ignoring Letter
The excuse usually given for ignoring the Pope's modesty crusade was, that it was not directed to the United States, but to Italy. A strange attitude, indeed, after Pope Pius IX had spoken to the WORLD (as had Pope Benedict XV previously) "grave words of condemnation ... on several occasions, with apostolic authority, against immodest fashion of women's dress which prevails today to the detriment of good breeding ..."; and in view of the fact that perhaps nowhere in the world were Catholic women and girls dressing more scandalously than in the United States, and therefore nowhere was the Pope's crusade more urgently needed than in our own nation.
But by 1928 Liberalism was already in control of Catholic thinking. And Liberalism could see no need for the Pope's Modesty Crusade. It kept insisting that "custom" determines what is modest and what is immodest in attire—even when these shameless customs were introduced for profits by heathen commercialism in a de-Christianized society—all the warnings of the Vicars of Christ to the contrary notwithstanding.
Yet, the good faith of Liberalism fell under serious suspicion when it persisted in ignoring the 1928 Letter even after the Holy See made it official also for the United States less than 17 months later. For, on January 12, 1930, the Pope directed the Sacred Congregation of the Council to issue a strongly-worded Letter on Christian Modesty to the whole world, which required of "Nuns compliance with the Letter dated August 23, 1928, by the Sacred Congregation of Religious" (see number 6 below). This 1930 Letter was even more emphatic; gave more detailed directives; and imposed the obligation of combatting the immodest fashions and promoting modesty on all persons in authority—Bishops and other ordinaries, parish priests, parents, Superioresses and teachers in schools. This letter read as follows:
1930 Letter Of The Sacred Congregation Of The Council
"By virtue of the supreme apostolate which he wields over the Universal Church by Divine Will, our Most Holy Father Pope Pius XI has never ceased to inculcate, both verbally and by his writings, the words of St. Paul (I Tim. XI:9-10), namely, 'Women ... adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety ... and professing godliness with good works.'
"Very often, when occasion arose, the same Supreme Pontiff condemned emphatically the immodest fashion of dress adopted by Catholic women and girls, which fashion not only offends the dignity of women and against her adornment, but conduces to the temporal ruin of the women and girls, and, what is still worse, to their eternal ruin, miserably dragging down others in their fall. It is not surprising, therefore, that all Bishops and other ordinaries, as is the duty of ministers of Christ, should in their own dioceses have unanimously opposed their depraved licentiousness and promiscuity of manners, often bearing with fortitude the derision and mockery leveled against them for this cause.
"Therefore this Sacred Council, which watches over the discipline of clergy and people, while cordially commending the action of the Venerable Bishops, most emphatically exhorts them to persevere in their attitude and increase their activities insofar as their strength permits, in order that this unwholesome disease be definitely uprooted from human society.
"In order to facilitate the desired effect, this Sacred Congregation, by the mandate of the Most Holy Father, has decreed as follows:
Exhortation to Those in Authority
Donato Cardinal Sbaretti,
This important letter may be found in Acta Apostolicae Sedis of 1930 (Vol. 22, pp. 26-28). It also appeared in Canon Law Digest (1, pp. 212-214), and undoubtedly in many other papers in the United States. The Central Bureau of the Catholic Central Verein of St. Louis deserves much credit for circulating an English translation of this letter so widely and so perseveringly over a period of many years. Unfortunately , American Liberalism, which so loudly prates about its loyalty to the Holy See, succeeded in shoving the Pope's Modesty Crusade into oblivion by its "conspiracy of silence," and by its summary rejection of any set of standards for modesty in dress.
But where do you find the Mary-like standards in either of these letters? The Liberals ask with an air of triumph, thus implying, if not claiming outright, that these standards are not authentic. But after many years of research, these standards are now fully authenticated as having been issued by the Cardinal Vicar of Pius XI in Rome, in these words:
". . . in order that uniformity of understanding prevail in all institutions of religious women . . . we recall that a dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers' breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dress of transparent material are improper . . ."
Rufino J. Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, quotes these standards as "The Church's Stand Concerning Modesty in Dress" in his Pastoral of December 6, 1959. He attributes them to Pope Pius XI himself, and gives the exact date of the issuance, September 24, 1928. The Marylike Crusade codified these standards, making only a small (ecclesiastically approved) temporary concession because of impossible market conditions in the United States. This modified form has been officially adopted by the entire Philippine Hierarchy.
The quick action of issuing the standards only 31 days after the Pope launched the Modesty Crusade shows the great importance attached to the standards. You simply cannot promote modesty in dress without standards. Those who reject standards usually see no need for a Modesty Crusade. Or did you ever see any of them zealously promoting Christian modesty in dress? Hardly. They are too intent on calling those persons "prudes" who try to be conscientious in following the guidance of the Church; too busy trying to prove that modesty is what a paganized society, "custom," says it is. In issuing standards, Rome lit the torch and held it aloft, but the Liberals quickly blew it out.
"In order that uniformity of understanding prevail" is the key to the question of standards. Without "uniformity" only confusion can result. And confusion defeats the entire purpose of the Modesty Crusade.
Both letters from the Holy See postulate some set of standards. Let us take some examples from the 1930 letter. How can parents possibly carry out number three in the absence of standards? Let conscientious parents try to object to a suit prescribed by a gym instructor, and see what happens!
Again, a teacher trying to carry out numbers five and six dismisses from school a girl who "persists in dressing immodestly," or she bars from the school or its premises an immodestly dressed mother wishing to visit her daughter. Woe to that teacher if her case is brought to a Superioress or a Pastor who does not subscribe to standards of modesty in dress! "Liberty of conscience" is immediately invoked, and that poor teacher is put in the doghouse! Lack of "uniformity" nullifies all her efforts. (Many Sisters have complained of this.)
Further, how can the "pious association" of number eight possibly operate without a "uniform" standard? Try it.
Finally, in the absence of standards, "uniformity", how would a pastor fare who would try to enforce number nine?
Truly absurd and ridiculous is the claim of some that standards of modesty in dress are not essential for the Modesty Crusade. This fact is fully verified by the experience of the Marylike Crusade. Marching confidently under Mary's glorious banner, we call these standards because we know that "Mary approves what the Church approves."