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"Neither shall you tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD." A Brief Rant on Tattoos

December 12, 2011 259 Comments

Sometimes I admit to feeling very old. I am only 50, but I find myself horrified by so many cultural trends. High on my list are the freakish (according to me) “body art” trends which involve piercings that make me wince when I see them. Lips and noses, tongues, cheeks, eyebrows (and other body parts I cannot mention on a family blog) are disfigured by unattractive “hardware” that interferes with their God-given purpose, and which also must be horrible breading grounds for bacteria and infection. I wince when I see it.

Tattoos as well, once thought of as the implements of drunken sailors and tramps, have become the common fare of many people. They remain to me (apparently an old fogie at a mere 50), a sign of grave immaturity and make me question the person’s judgment. I also find them disfiguring and disturbing in that they cannot (until recently) be removed. What a terrible thing to disfigure one’s body permanently in a moment of poor judgement and youthful folly. Sorry that’s just the way I see it, it is an innate response.

One sad and poignant moment I remember from about ten years ago was when a very pretty bride and her groom came in for marriage prep. I thought she was so pretty, and then she took off her jacket, and lo, and behold, two of the largest tattoos I have ever seen on both her upper arms. I mean they were big, and nasty blue. They would have shocked Popeye the Sailor. I had to ask her, but she just shrugged and said I sounded like her father. At the wedding she decided that big blue tattoos and a sleeveless wedding gown didn’t look traditional enough (I’ll say!), and so she tried to cover them over with makeup. But it was a hot a humid day, and before you knew this very pretty girl took on the appearance of a longshoreman. So sad. I can’t imagine what she was thinking when she did something so awful to her body.

You may say, keep your opinions to yourself Father, tattoos are way cool. But actually it is not merely my opinion. For God too looks askance at the practice, and actually forbids tattoos in one place. As the practice became widespread in the 1990s I often reminded people from my pulpit and the bulletin of the scripture forbidding of the practice:

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, neither shall you tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:28)

It would seem that God did not intend for the skin to be a canvas or a bill board. It is a shocking thing to permanently alter ones appearance, particularly when we consider that our bodies are not our own to simply do with as we please. For again, Scripture says,

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Cor 6:19-21)

Some may wish to argue that the Levitical outlawing of tattoos was more a concern for idolatry than tattoos per se. But then I must ask, Is not the modern faddish practice rooted in a kind of idolatry all its own? It is all the rage, and the obsession to fit in, (no matter what God might say, or that the body belongs to Him and is his masterpiece), is a kind of idolatry all its own.

I realize that many who have tattooed themselves acted in ignorance of the Leviticus text. But it is not a text simply to be ignored, and once it is known, it seems to me that we ought to accept that God is not pleased with the practice of tattooing, and cease practicing or praising it.

Imagine then my delight to read that tattoo removal is now becoming easier and more requested by those who realize they made a huge mistake in getting a tattoo. From today’s Washington Post:

She arrives quietly, coming in from the rain after work. She lies down on her stomach atop a sleek, white reclining chair. She lifts her shirt and tugs down her jeans slightly….to unveil a large pink flower tattoo with fat, webby green leaves, which she’s here to have lasered off her lower back. She wants to become a mother someday, and she doesn’t want her children to see this…..she starts crying. “I was only 18. It was a homemade tattoo done at a party…..I wasn’t thinking about what it meant, you know? Little did I know it meant something else — like people calling it a ‘tramp stamp.’ I’m a Pentecostal, and the body is a temple. And I felt really ashamed.”

If tattoos are the marks of an era — declarations of love, of loss, of triumph, of youthful exuberance or youthful foolishness — then tattoo removals are about regret, confessions that those landmarks are in the past. They’re about the realization that whatever you believed in with such force that you wanted it eternally branded on your skin is now foreign to you.

Getting a tattoo, once the province of sailors rather than suburbanites, is so mainstream that tats are inked at the mall and seen on everyone from Middle American mothers to H Street hipsters to Hollywood starlets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a parallel trend is emerging: tattoo removal, with dozens of businesses and training schools opening across the country…..Tattoo removal by a super-powered laser seems like a facelift for young people, a chance to start over, erase, rewind. Like deleting a bad photo from a digital camera or defriending a Facebook friend.

While older lasers burned off the skin, Slavin’s new model interacts only with the ink and “makes it shake and makes it break,” he says. But it still hurts — it feels like hot rubber bands snapping against your skin, most removers say — and often is more painful than getting a tattoo.

“When it’s all said and done, I’m just not that guy anymore,” says Corey Newman, 29, who is getting married in May and wanted to get three tattoos removed: …He is spending $2,500 to take off tattoos that cost $600 to put on. “I am starting a new life now,” he says. “There’s a big difference between being 19 and 29.”

During a recent week, Saler’s appointment book included distraught mothers dragging their daughters in; ex-gang members with street tats who don’t want to be killed; professional women who are applying for office jobs…..aspiring CIA and FBI agents, along with other law enforcement operatives.

Burly, tattoo-faced Wayne Stokes, 34, arrives. He’s on his sixth session of a removal that might take up to 25.

He has tattoos on his face, neck, hands and chest. Both eyes are encircled by a black leopardlike….design….I wanted to look tough,” he says. “People ask me every day, ‘Why did you do it? Why did you put yourself through that pain of tattooing your entire face?’ I’ve realized I don’t have to keep that trauma on my body.”…when the tattoos are off, he wants to mentor abused kids.

Now that the painful decision to get rid of the tattoos is over, the physical pain begins. ….He gets into the chair and squeezes a ball as the laser hits his skin, turning parts of it red and then frosted white as the ink crystallizes into smaller particles that will be removed by his body’s immune system….Stokes says. “Sometimes I do dread coming in. But it’s the end result. “I want to look in the mirror and see myself again.”

These are excerpts. The Full Article is in the Washington Post is here: Rethinking the Ink

To this new procedure I can only say, thank God. And I hope the procedure will become less painful, less expensive, and that people will run (not walk) to avail themselves of it. I live for the day when the terrible era of “body art” (both piercings and tattoos) will be over. We are wonderfully and fearfully made from the hand of God. I only wish God had sent along a little tag: “Do not cut, pierce or ink, you’re fine the way I made you.”

A little make up and little work with the hair, fine, that’s working with what you have, but permanent alterations, cuttings and piercings that interfere with function are rejecting what God has made. We ought not do it.

I do expect an interesting comment thread! Have at it.


Comments (259)

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  1. Brad Miner says:

    Wish we could see the actual results of the removal in the video. I have a soldier son who got (discretely, I must say) “Libertas,” “Fraternitas,” and “Virtus” inked across his ribs on one side. Love to let him know removal is feasible, and I’ll certainly let him know about Lev. 19:28.

  2. Ricky says:

    Thanks i never knew the bible had stated that and i dont plan on getting anymore tatoos and agree 100% with what you have stated here. :)

  3. Ron says:

    Yes, I consider my 2 (small as they are) tatoos scars from my past wounded life. If I could afford it, I would certainly have them removed, but I’m poor and wait for the day when I can have that kind of income to afford the recapitulation of my youthful innocense.

  4. jj says:

    No offense but I have seen tatoos on people in religious life. Maybe before they entered it was on their bodies. Also this trend is not just isolated to the young. I have seen tatoos on older men and women as well. Like you Msgr Pope I don’t like it but what can you do? We have identified the problem but do we have any practicle solutions.

  5. Ernest Prempeh Sarpong says:

    Fr, that is a good piece of thought. But I think tattooing, piecing, body cutting etc are not devilish per se. They may be outmoded practice due to the transmission of certain viral or bacteria diseases like HIV Aids and other infections, social and religious stigma, and rejection. Remember male circumcision is allowed in the Old Testament, women piece their ears and noses and there are tribal marks in most parts of the world, etc. These are well appreciated and cherished practices. There are no hard and fast rules on tattooing. Those who like the practice should know it is not just for fun, but it has deep meanings attarch to them.

  6. rosaryfixer says:

    I have a niece, nearly 50, who is tattooed from head to toe, literally. Her back has been featured in tattoo magazines. She is a lovely person, very smart, but very troubled. I pray for the day she recognizes what she has done to her body (and soul) and spends the money to clean up her body and psyche.

  7. Michael McCleary says:

    While I won’t argue for or against on this topic, I was hoping that you might have delved deeper into the modern environment that affords people to make these kinds of choices.

    The lack of prudence, of actually considering the consequences of ones’ actions, is what is truly at the root of this. Whether it’s tattoos, or “hooking-up”, or overusing credit cards, or switching jobs every couple years; what’s truly missing in today’s “chase the latest fad” culture is any sense of tomorrow . . . which of course is also missing out on any sense of the eternal.

    Sadly we can not only point to Madison Avenue or MTV, but also our Protestant brethren, in perpetuating this nihilistic world view. The idiocy of the “once saved” pseudo theology removes the need to think about the future, as Jesus has done all the work and only asks that I say His name and occasionally show up at which ever church has the best worship band or coolest pastor . . .oh, and to put a fish on my car.

    After my conversion to the Church in 2006, I was surprised to find this idea had infected even many in our own family (which explains a little to why there is a disproportionate number of folks in the pews Sunday, vs. the few in line for confession on Saturday). Eternity is rarely mentioned from the pulpit, other than that as the place where God is.

    Working through our salvation in fear and trembling has been replaced by maybe showing up to mass on holidays . . .but, at least they cover up their tattoos.

    • Marisa C says:

      I will openly say that I am against tatoos and I am not an old fogie as Father puts it. I also cringe when I see bodies covered in ink. That being said I have also thought at times that it might be nice to have a small discrete tatoo of a cross or a medical symbol(though I would not actually do it) I do see some of the apeal to an extent though I am still against it. I am thankfull that I never decided to get one. I am also a convert and have, for quite a long time, been discusted at the “once saved” mentality and the convinent and fair weathered love and devotion to God. This mentality only being strengthened and supported since joining the church. I think to add to your very eloquent points, by you and Father. We simply have too many choices today and are told that we need to make ourselves happy, that we have a “right” to happiness and that we should get everything we want in life because we “deserve” it. There was a time when you continued your parents business and you (decided) to be happy about it because you were thankfull to have a job at all. So many of the choices we make today are because we are told that above all we ‘deserve happiness’ so we jump from job to job to find the “perfect one” (every one wants a job like a pro football player, where they are payed millions of dollars to go play on a field everyday and be world famous) Or we sit around whining not getting a job because “I deserve” a better job. We have unGodly relations with our current relationship and then wonder why it didn’t work out. We begin destroying our bodies. I strongly disagree with this thought or “deserving”. First off often what make us “happy” is often not what is good for us and though we feel happy in the moment that superficial happiness often fades. Secondly, we do not “deserve” any good thing that happens to us. EVERYTHING good is given to us by the love and grace of God. If we all got what we deserved as human beings we would be in a sad sad state! True and eternal happiness in found in the love and devotion to our Holy Trinity. I do wish that we had more studies, for adults, in the church. That would teach on these sort of topics and so many more in a Godly light. I am so grateful that God found me, my way, to the Catholic church! I thank you gentlemen for being good examples in this world. I pray for you both and for the world as a whole. May God shine on you today and always.

  8. Theresa says:

    I can relate to the winching-I would like to share this with my confirmation class

  9. Nick says:

    Catholics have the best “tattoo”: The baptismal mark. It’s a nice reversal of the tattoo Cain supposedly received.

  10. Kate says:

    I agree with you and thank you for writing this piece! I have searched for someone in the Church who would back this weary mother up, to no avail. I doubt it will help with my adult children, some of whom have tattoos already. Surprisingly (or maybe not), it is my daughters who have chosen them, along with a few piercing, each. Hopefully, this will help with my young children still at home. We are a decent family, with strong faith, and do not understand. There are no guarantees; that I have come to understand.

    What puzzles me even more, is an acquaintance, of 57 years, who is choosing to get tattoos all over her body. I certainly hope this is not a new trend! The only thing ugliest than tattoos are wrinkly tattoos!

  11. Ellen says:

    I know a lot of people who have tattoos. I love them – I loathe the tattoos. Most of the ones I have seen are just plain ugly, and as people age, the tattoos will only get uglier. The worst though, is not the tattoos, but the practice of gauging earlobes. I’ve seen some people with HUGE gauges in their ears and it simply looks gross.

    My dear nephew has some very ugly tattoos, which he regrets now. I hope that in the future, he will get them removed.

    • Kathleen says:

      People do not wear “gauges” in their ears, they wear plugs.

      • Kay says:

        They wear both.

        • Kathleen says:

          As someone who worked in the field I can categorically say that you are wrong. The word gauge, when applied to body modification is an adjective, for example, I just bought a really cool pair of 12 gauge plugs/rings, etc. Gauge is not a noun, nor is it a verb as one does not gauge one’s ears, one stretches them.

          • Kathleen says:

            To be more precise, gauge is a unit of measure like inch or pound. I’m not trying to be a jerk I just have a thing for precise language.

  12. Joel says:

    Honest questions- should we also then follow the food restrictions from Chapter 11 or the prohibition from rounding the hair on our temples or mar the edges of our beard from the 27th verse of chapter 19? If so, I need to know what “mar the edges of your beard” means. If not, what is the arbitrary mark used to separate the dos and don’ts from the law given in Levitivus? Should we follow the mitzvot also?

    I look forward to your response

  13. Naomi says:

    Does this apply, also, to a single hole in each earlobe? If not, why not? (Please do not mistake my brevity for quarrelsomeness).

    • Well piercings are a little more complicated, if you ask me. Biblically they are mentioned, particularly in terms of earrings. I recall seeing one reference to a “nose ring” in Ezekiel 16 though it is not in a necessary flattering chapter. I thing the more critical distinction in terms of piercings is the degree to which they interfere with the proper functioning of the body part in question and the problem of infection. A single piercing of an earlobe is not problematic in this regard, though I have seen women who wear heavy earrings sometimes tear their earlobe. Other piercings such as on the lips and nose seem to me to be very prone to infection and interfere with things like eating and breathing sneezing etc. Putting holes in lips and noses seems damaging and unnecessary. Tongue piercing and splitting is or course horrible from both perspectives. There are other piercings in other parts of the body that we wont discuss here which are also invasive, destructive of the body part and prone to infection.

      • Kathleen says:

        So you’re condemning body piercings based on your OPINION of the “degree to which they interfere with the proper functioning of the body part in question and the problem of infection?”

          • Kathleen says:

            If you were to discover that your unqualified opinion is erroneous would you retract your condemnation?

          • Justin H says:

            Interestingly, a tattoo doesn’t interfere with body function at all. In fact, it’s not “prone to infection either.” His logic is far too weak.

          • ThiS matter pertains to piercings

          • KL says:

            But if the reasoning given against tattooing here is identical to that given against piercing: It permanently affects the appearance and sometimes function of the body, it is more prone to infection than non-broken skin, it is generally done for aesthetic reasons and thus can be in the service of vanity. Is the only reason that (modest) piercing is acceptable and (modest) tattooing is not because of the latter’s mention in Leviticus? If so, numerous comment threads have indicated that taking Levitical prohibitions based on the holiness or purity codes to be problematic. If we set aside Leviticus for the time being, it is true that other texts seem to condemn tattooing (e.g. 1 Cor 6) — but those are equally applicable to piercing as they are to tattooing. So we once again run into the same problem. Where does the distinction arise? I just don’t think you can accept (modest) piercing but condemn (modest) tattooing, or vice-versa. Any criteria used to forbid one will necessarily extend to the other.

          • I don’t claim that piercing permanently affects the body and never mention Leviticus in connection with the practice. The two issues are separate. My problem with most piercings is as you have restated, health, interference with functioning of the pierced area and infection. Personally I also find the practice hideous and disgusting when anything other than the earlobes are pierced. Even there I find piercing an earlobe to be a high price to pay for beauty and regret that women think they need to do it.

          • KL says:

            But piercings do permanently affect the body. Even earlobe piercings are likely to remain after years of non-use (my mother hasn’t worn earrings for twenty five years, but the hole hasn’t yet closed up!), and even if the holes do close, scar tissue will remain and will always be visible upon inspection.

            I’ve never met a single woman who felt that she “needed” to pierce her ears. But I met many, many women who wanted to, and did, because they like the way it looks. Incidentally, this is the same reason that many people get tattoos. A small, modest tattoo — say, on the shoulder blade or ankle — is no more dangerous or function-impeding than pierced earlobes, and is most likely far less visible in the daily activity of a person of either sex (the back and ankles are generally covered by clothing, while the earlobes are rarely if ever concealed). I am still unclear as to what makes the former practice tantamount to idolatry and the latter perfectly acceptable.

  14. Matthew says:

    While I agree with your views on tattoos, Msgr., I must say that trying to use Leviticus as a reference will only draw derision from many. They will point to other restrictions that are obviously not in effect, such as eating catfish, and simply dismiss your argument.

    • Can we agree that the Catholic University system is trouble across the board with some notable exceptions. The Cardinal Newman Society does a pretty good job of monitoring things here stateside.

  15. kirsten says:

    while i do not think that all “body art” is equally bad, i agree that it is certainly “suspect”. All too often tattoos are done for the wrong reasons, for reasons that are in fact sin. i don’t think its always the case, but it is often enough to give a reasonable person to pause. when we add in the commands to behave modestly, to not lead OTHERS into error, to lead by example… well those are reason enough to not get a tattoo or extreme piercing.
    it can be difficult in the society to judge what is “acceptable” and what is not.
    In the Bible it clearly mentions many women having pierced noses “he placed a ring in her nose and a bracelet upon her arm” but in today’s society that’s unusual…. so the culture does have an impact.

    i also hope that tattoo removal becomes less expensive. all too often people get these permanent marks for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong associations. not even to mention the issues of weight gain and loss and aging skin. one of the few things that kept me from getting inked as a younger person was the surety that i would regret whatever design i chose later in life. Most kids just dont think that far ahead.

  16. Daniel says:

    I am also fascinated with the prevalence of tattoos today. It seems like younger people are grasping for something permanent, something symbolic and representative of deep meaning, and something which will show a bond or association. All of these things are profoundly human desires, and the ancient practice of tattoos or scarification have always tried to accomplish these. The mark of circumcision as a sign of participation in the Covenant, soldiers commemorating their fraternity and a shared experience of the horror of war, even as an identifying mark for mercenaries to accurately determine war casualties. It certainly seems to have been reduced to a merely aesthetic reality in many cases today, but I think it is potentially a leaping off point for a discussion about faith, identity, and meaning in life.

  17. Linda says:

    Dear Msgr Pope,
    Now… don’t get me wrong… I tend to lean on your side on this subject.

    But here is my question…

    How do we decide which of the Levitical laws we continue to obey, and which ones we dismiss? I feel like a total hypocrit telling anyone that tatooing is a sin, forbidden in scripture, while enjoying my dish of shrimp scampi.

    I totally agree that the permanence of it should give cause for, in the least, caution in this area, but surely you can see where the faithful become confused and disillusioned by one priest teaching us that the old laws were written for the Israelites, and that the “new” Christians were not bound to such laws, such as circumcision, food restrictions, and appearance guidelines; But then the next priest preaches that not following one of these laws is a sin.

    Can you help a layman out here? How do we explain to our fellow (and perhaps wandering) brothers and sisters why we “seem” to pick and choose which of the old laws to follow, and which to dismiss?

    Thank you,

    • My argument is not sola scriptura, hence I reason from the text that altering our bodies in a permanent way and treating them as a canvas or bill board are problematic to a believer before we ever open the Bible. Further, the reverence for the Body described in 1 Cor 6 reminds that our bodies are not our own and thus altering them in dramatic and permanent ways, without serious reason, or interfering with the proper functioning of the body, or subjecting the body to unnecessary risk of disease or infection (as many piercings do), are all questionable practices. Hence the scripture quote tends to confirm this and should not per se be set aside.

      As for rejecting all of Leviticus because some verses have either been set aside, abrogated or fulfilled, here too balance is required. There are many who like to sniff at and set aside Levitical texts in toto, but this is an extreme practice usually rooted in the fact that something is stated that is inconvenient to some moral preference of theirs (this is most common among homosexual apologists but not limited to them). And yet there are many Levitical texts that still have great merit and even binding force for us. For example there are many texts in Leviticus that command us to care for the poor (e.g. Lev 25:35), or other texts that command the priest to have integrity and be men of prayer (e.g. Lev 6) and so forth. Should we set aside these texts or never quote them as part of an analysis because other texts (e.g. those commanding the death penalty for what seem to be more minor matters or texts that are highly specific to priests, temple worship and/or ancient middle eastern custom)? Here too balance is required. The usual approach to biblical texts is to ascertain if certain texts were later abrogated explicitly by later texts, or were ameliorated by later texts, or fell into widespread disuse in biblical times.

      • Linda says:

        Thank you, Msgr Pope!
        I’m glad you understood my question as genuinely wanting to know how to address the issue, and you did help me! Good information and insight, which I will share when and if the subject comes up.

        My son is big on tattoos, and was telling me about a huge (and expensive) tattoo he wanted put on his ribcage. I suggested the following text; “There are millions of hungry children in this world who need my help, but instead I got this lovely tatoo”.

        I got the usual; “Oh, Ma….”

        But I think he got the point.

    • Brandon says:

      What of strictly religious tattoos? I know several people that have depictions of the Blessed Virgin on their bodies somewhere. A very good friend and active member of the Church has the entire Nicene Creed tattooed on her arm. I am also confused how we are to know what to follow in Leviticus, especially when tattooing and piercing are not prohibited in the Catechism.

      • I see no justification for them. As for the Lev text please see my response to linda above.

        • Lisa DellaVecchia says:

          I don’t think Msgr. Pope is saying this is Church doctrine. He is writing his opinion. The fact that this specific matter of tattooing and piercing is not presented in the Catechism at all suggests that the Church is silent on the matter. One can take the words of this blog posting under advisement and personally choose not to tattoo or pierce, but I think one must be careful not to make this a matter of dogma. There are Catholic Christians all over the world with pierced body parts. For instance many Indian and African women have pierced noses. Should we say they have sinned because they have done this? Should we lay a heavy burden on them like that? I think not. I have a personal devotion to wear skirts and to abandon pants. This has been going on since Lent of 2011, so it has been about 8 months where I have worn only a skirt. This is not something stipulated in the Catechism that must be done, and if I turned around and said all women who wear pants are in some way sinning, that would be wrong of me. My feeling is unless the Church makes these matters part of church doctrine, all we can do is (1) state our opinions (we are certainly free to do so), and (2) made decisions that are a matter of personal devotion. We can of course also teach our children what our wishes are, such as teaching them that we do not approve of tattoos and piercings.

          • Deacon Sean Smith says:

            The problem, Lisa, is that Msgr. Pope specifically says that it is not simply his opinion when he writes, “But actually it is not merely my opinion. For God too looks askance at the practice, and actually forbids tattoos.” I am not making it a matter of dogma or doctrine, and Msgr. Pope doesn’t use those words either, so I shan’t put them in his mouth. But he certainly says for himself that this is not simply his opinon.

          • Lisa DellaVecchia says:

            Hi Deacon Sean Smith, I believe what I am saying is that the conclusion he draws from the passage in Leviticus is his opinion, for he is going beyond the Leviticus passage by concluding that “God forbids tattoos.” That conclusion is outside the scope of this passage. The passage was referring to a practice of cutting the flesh and making marks on the flesh *for the dead.* I believe that God looks to the thoughts and motivations of the heart in such a matter. If let’s say a certain cult cuts of the hairs of one’s head as an offering to a goddess, and if I were to do the same thing and for the same reason, that would be a sin. If, however, I wish to cut my hair because my hair is too long, then that is something different. I believe that the overall blog posting in terms over his overall conclusion (not the isolated and out-of-context passage from Leviticus) was Msgr. Pope’s opinion, to which he is completely entitled.

  18. Tony says:

    As always, good post, Msgr. I agree that this culture of “body art” has gotten out of hand and I also think that some of the images people put on their bodies are supposed to represent who they are but in reality they seem to act as a substitute for actually living up to that, i.e. when someone tattoos a cross on themselves and never attends Mass.
    But one comment, and question: I think we should always be careful when just pulling quotes from the Law and holding them to be authoritative. There are PLENTY of things in the Mosaic Law (like capital punishment for not observing the Sabbath) that we do not think we should be following. So I don’t know which laws are currently authoritative and which are not. So, my question: are you (or any of the readers) aware of any good books, perhaps written by a solid orthodox Rabbi, that explains how they live the Torah in today’s world when clearly they would not agree with many of the laws? I think it’s easy enough to explain as a Christian, with Christ being the fulfillment of the Law, but I don’t know how the Jews would respond while still remaining faithful to the Law. Thank you!

  19. Cynthia says:

    Imagine my horror when I found out that, after denigrating this practice and citing the Biblical injunction against it at my daughter’s RCIA class, I discovered that one of the women leading the group had a husband in Knights of Columbus who had the group’s logo tattooed on his body and was quite proud of it. BAD, BAD, BAD…

  20. Elizabeth says:

    I don’t have a tattoo and have not extended piercings beyond the ears, but I have heard this topic discussed a lot. I agree that we are temples of the Holy Spirit as as such should avoid disfiguring our bodies intentionally, but I have also heard it argued from religious that decorating one’s body in this fashion it is not necessarily sinful if it is modest, does not permanently alter the fundamental purpose of the organ (ie, the skin serves as a barrier), and does not glorify idols (sex, money, etc). Many tattoos do not meet these requirements, but it suggests some are still acceptable.

    I’ve also heard the Leviticus verse brought forth in many tattoo discussions. The surrounding verses also forbid eating flesh with blood in it, practicing witchcraft, rounding off the hair on your temples or maring the edges of your beard, and making your daughter a harlot. Some of these mandates stem from the ceremonial law, which Catholics no longer (or rarely) practice, and do not make up the binding moral law. Which law does the tattoo mandate belong to?

    I’m not looking to defend the tattooing / piercing practices, I just always wind up leaving these discussions with the impression that a tattoo is not morally wrong. If it is, I’d like to understand why.

  21. Brian Sullivan says:

    Isn’t the context in getting tattoos “for the dead”?

      • Lisa DellaVecchia says:

        He is posing that the injunction against tattooing was not tattooing in general, but tattooing specifically “for the dead.” In other words, he is questioning whether tattooing is wrong if it is not done “for the dead” — meaning to commemorate the deceased, or to mourn them.

  22. Erik says:

    If we take this whole section of scripture literally, in addition to tattoos (Lev 19:28), and not eating meat with blood in it(v.26), and not making our daughters prostitutes (v.29), and not turning to mediums (v.31); What is going to happen to me because I cut my hair and have the nerve to shave my beard? Are they all equally sinful? Should I pray outside my favorite barber shop?

  23. Daniel Barber says:

    Fr, that is not really as bad as a sin as the verse before that:

    27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

    And you have been receiving the Eucharist in that state of mortal sin?!


  24. Richard L. Kent, Esq. says:

    When I was a lad I told my father I thought I might get a tattoo. He didn’t argue with me; he merely introduced me to an aged shoe cobbler he knew who had a blue triangle and a six digit number tattooed on his forearm. Message received. I didn’t.

  25. Kurt says:

    You’re misquoting scripture.

    27You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts in your [f]body for the [g]dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. (NASB)

    Why were the people applying tattoos? What was the real issue at hand? What was the Lord addressing with the Sundry Laws? We’re people practicing something with tattoos in specific reference to the dead?

    Maybe you should explain that.

    Are you also telling men of your congregation to not round off the side growth of their hair and to keep full beards as stated in verse 27? Seems we all need to stop shaving then.

    Why then are you cherry picking an old testament scripture and isolating your position on tattoos like this?

    Hmmm, I wonder?

  26. Mattye says:

    You mentioned a type of idolatry in the tattooing referred to in Leviticus. This still happens today and in the mainstream. I have five tattoos, most of which relate to the occult. I have come home now and am pursuing a Catholic life, and fear that someday someone will see them and be harmed by fear of what they see on me. I have thought about having the more obvious ones covered up, but that would still not be in accordance with what God has made law. I doubt I’ll ever have the money to remove them, as that is a cosmetic procedure so expect to pay totally out of pocket for it. In the meantime, I dress very modestly so as not to have anything revealed. Thanks for the article – it really touched on some things I have been unsure about what to do.

  27. Bryan says:

    I tend to go with the Leviticus passage relating specifically to idolatrous acts and the argument that tattoos today are idolatrous as well reminds me of the kind of things I hear from my Protestant past about the Catholic Church. That is, that church buildings should be sparse, free from images except perhaps a simple cross without Christ, an American flag and a Christian flag, and some flowers. The less ornamentation, the holier.
    Personally, I have no tattoos … have thought about getting some, but just can’t justify the expense.

    • fair enough. The Leviticus text is debatable I do think that we should avoid an all or nothing approach to such texts however and it seems that most Leviticus “dismissers” on this thread are dismissive of the Book in toto. I think more nuance is needed as my reply to Linda indicates.

  28. Justin H says:

    Leviticus 19:19 States, “‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” I guess you can’t wear cotten or polyester either. If we use the same logic of using the old testament laws (which Christ fulfilled), we’d never measure up. Also, many of these rules were made to protect people from themselves. So dirty needles back then would have certainly been an issue where it’s much more controlled and sanitary today.

    • Please see my response to Linda above.

      • Justin H says:

        I did, but it’s more like a buffet of which laws I want to follow and which ones I don’t. You stated their has to be a balance, but who actually determines what that balance is? We all agree that wearing two kinds of material wouldn’t be a sin and eating certain animals isn’t a sin. Many laws were created to protect people from themselves and that shouldn’t be overlooked. You can’t walk through the list and pick and choose the ones you like and dislike.

        • Who decides is the Catholic Church, ultimately. We are not discussing a doctrinal point here and so a variety of opinions is good. This IS after a discussion. However, I think something other than an all or nothing approach to Leviticus is the Catholic response, and I attempted to lay out some possible principles in my reply to Linda

          • Justin H says:

            It would be a better discussion if it weren’t more of a dictation from a person with your authority representing the Catholic Church.

            Here’s your quote, “But actually it is not merely my opinion. For God too looks askance at the practice, and actually forbids tattoos.”

            I certainly subscribe to the fact that the Church has the authority and responsibility to distinguish and that it’s not a doctrinal issue. Unfortunately, your representation of this sounds more authoritive than an opinion.

  29. Sarah says:

    Msgr., I think you will like this video:

  30. Kathleen says:

    Until you keep a kosher kitchen, stop eating meat from animals with cloven hooves who don’t chew their cud, stop wearing clothing made with both linen and wool, ban menstruating women from church, etc. please don’t condemn me for not following every proscription found in the Old Testament. I do not regret my tattoo; my tattoo is a proclamation of my faith and my Irish heritage. I do not regret my piercings, though I have had to take them all out for work, but I do wear my septum ring from time to time…usually when going to concerts. I do regret stretching my ear lobes; when you make the holes in your ears 1/2″ wide the hole doesn’t go back to normal. However, none of these things make me a bad person. In fact, my non-traditional appearance enabled me to evangelize to people you, as a priest, could never have gotten close to. It enabled me to infiltrate “enemy camps.” It also enabled me to see how many pierced and tattooed freaks are actually pro-life Christians who embrace being counter-cultural because they find our popular culture to be degrading and dehumanizing and they want no part of it.

    This post will only push those on the edge farther away from the Church. When you, in your capacity as a Catholic priest, publicly condemn people (that may not be your intent, but trust me, this feels like a condemnation) based solely on their appearance you make life harder for all of us, especially us pierced tattooed freaks. Being a Catholic in this day and age is not an easy thing; we are under attack from the government, the media, the culture, etc. I don’t mind defending the Church against these attacks. “No, we don’t want women to die on the floor, neither do we want to kill unborn children.” “No, priests are not all pedophiles. In fact, the rate of pedophilia among priests is lower than the rate of any other clergy, and lower than the rate in the general population.” I cannot, however, offer any defense to your rant on tattoos because it is silly, insulting, and is, at best, theologically weak. I also really dislike that you’ve opened the Church up to an attack (The Church says people who get tattoos are idolators!) that will be a total pain in the @ss to deal with, and which I can only answer by saying I think you’re being silly.

    • Probably a little over stated on your part but thanks for your contribution to the discussion. When people intentionally alter their appearance, it is not a simple case of “rejecting people based merely on their appearance.” People who tattoo themselves are looking for a reaction and getting “offended” when some people say “nay” or draw conclusions based on their voluntary behavior is irrational.

      • Kathleen says:

        My tattoo is not visible, and if you passed me on the street you wouldn’t give me a second glance. My piercings also never became infected or interfered with my ability to talk, eat, breathe, sneeze, blow my nose, etc. I also don’t believe I am over stating the matter. I actually left the practise of the faith for several years after several months of dirty looks from my parish priest finally culminated with me being denied communion. I was btw, always modestly and appropriately dressed, attended mass every Sunday, was in a state of grace, and only had several earings and a nose stud at that time. I decided that if Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi could get communion but I couldn’t I wanted no part of the Church. I’m back now, but it was a long and painful journey back.

        I will not argue with you that people who tattoo themselves are looking for a reaction and that being offended by those reactions is irrational. I am not objecting to reactions, however, I am objecting to calling people who are tattooed idolators, to saying they aren’t good Catholics, or, even merely saying that getting a tattoo is sinful. I am objecting to a voice of the Church condemning people who have, more often than not, been victimized by our society and desperately need love and support. I would argue that it is irrational to use scripture to justify our personal prejudices. I would argue that it is irrational to make an indirect ad hominem attack when people question our selective application of Old Testament law. I would argue that it is irrational to condemn a practise we know nothing about based on unqualified and uninformed opinions.

  31. Amy says:

    Father, Given your position on tatoos, how do you view the long-standing practice of Coptic Christians tatooing crosses on the wrists of their children to identify them as Christian if/when they are kidnapped and force to “convert” to Islam?

    • Never heard of this, and am not sure what to think. I suppose my initial reaction would be that a tattoo does not make one a Christian and cannot undo the fact that they renounce the faith.

      • Amy says:

        I’m not talking about actual conversions or willful denials of the faith. I’m talking about young girls who are kidnapped, beaten, drugged, “converted” and married to Muslim men.

  32. Raymond says:

    Thanks for the reminder Monseñor. Our oldest son put a cross on his back a couple of years ago, and even though it is a cross and not a skull or demon or something from Lord of the Rings (Orc), I think he is starting to regret it. Perhaps someday he will have it removed. He knew of our aversion to body art, his uncle(my brother) has a number of tats, and he actually lost out at a good paying job at Disneyland (HVAC) because of them. Keep up the good work, God bless.

  33. Jason Hull says:

    If that Levitical law is part of the moral law, it is still binding. If is is part of the cultic or cleanliness laws, then it no longer pertains.

  34. Kay says:

    Thank you for asking that question, Linda! That is exactly what I have wondered on several occasions in an effort to understand more deeply. I agree we shouldn’t have them; I am the unlikely owner of a very small one in a discreet location. One day, I will have to teach my children about this and am very concerned about giving them the right teaching with the wrong reasoning. Despite my own error, I WILL teach them.

  35. Dante says:

    As Christians we are no longer the laws of the old dispensation unless they have been reiterated for us by the Magisterium. Thus we observe the moral teachings of the 10 Commandments but NOT because they are law from the Old Testament but because they contain universal moral norms and/or have been reiterated by Christ or the Magisterium. To my knowledge neither Jesus nor any binding law or teaching of the Church has been directed to the topic of tattoos. However, it was common custom in the era of the Crusades for the crusaders to tatoo a cross or other Christogram upon their forehead or shoulder as a sign of faith and as an act of dependence upon divine power. It was so prevalent one would think that the Church would have responded to this trend if it was immoral.

    • Well, there may be a bit of an oversimplification here. The magisterium does not opine on every possible specificity. Besides, I am not make doctrinal assertions here, I am hosting a discussion. I think tattoos are a BAD idea for all the reasons stated, not just the Lev text.

  36. Jolene says:

    I generally don’t comment on things like this My family adores God and his rules and laws. I am covered in Tattoos I will not remove them and I may continue to get them We all sin and most of us ask for forgiveness for our sins in reality I believe it to be more of a vanity issue but we are all guilty of it how many women have pierced ears? how many men have been circumcised? now tell me are you gonna get those things removed so you can be sin free? no cause no one is free of sin if we are gonna feel this way about tattoos we should feel this way about piercings and circumcision Praise be to God and Glory in the Highest but, didn’t Jesus die for a reason?

    • I don’t recall mentioning sin. I do think God is neither honored or pleased by this practice for the reasons stated but this is a discussion wherein others are free to say or think differently. I do think the case can be made that this displeases God, but there to be sin one must act thinking this, and intending to do so anyway. I am not sure every one does think through the issues and hence I have set forth what I think ought to be considered.

  37. Chris says:

    The evidence is pretty strong that this part of the old covenant isn’t binding on Christians, any more than dietary restrictions or else. There is a long tradition of Christians tattooing, particularly in the East. Crusaders and other pilgrims to the levant during the ages of faith very frequently received tattoos in Jerusalem to be marked to making the pilgrimage. I read some years ago during research on a paper on the crusades about an order in the Eastern Church which even specialized in providing them to pilgrims in Jerusalem. Additionally, fisherman and others have gotten tattoos or millennia so that their families could be notified if they were drowned. This practice was more common in Ireland and Scotland than elsewhere. Finally, Orthodox nuns often have their hands tattooed in the East because it makes them less desirable targets of rape in war-torn regions.

    None of this is to defend extreme body art, or any of the current trend of neo-pagan tattoo “lifestyle”. But there is nothing per se that I can find that forbids a Catholic get a tattoo. As Catholics, we look to the magisterium to interpret biblical texts and laws, we don’t give it a read and make our best guess. I have not seen anything with any level of authority forbidding Catholics getting a tattoo, but I’m happy to be corrected.

    • You describe situations where tattoos make some sense, unlike the “body art” crowd. The argument about Lev is not about whether it binds us, I do not argue that it does, but whether it is indicative of something displeasing to God. I argue that it is in a general sense, also given 1 cor 6 and the general reverence we ought to have for the body. It is not one text, it is a pondering of the question, does this please God? I think not for the reasons stated.

  38. Howard says:

    Personally, I do not like tattoos, particularly on women. Then again, I don’t like them coloring their hair or nails physically impossible colors, or wearing makeup that draws attention to itself rather than to them. All these are aesthetic judgements, though, not moral judgements.

    You would be on much firmer ground if you were to insist that women should wear their hair long and cover their heads when praying, whereas men should have short hair and pray bare-headed, since those demands are at least found in the New Testament. “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved…. Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given [her] for a covering?”

    The Church has, until recent years, consistently taught that women should cover their heads at Mass. This was even a part of canon law up until the recent revision. Can you point to anything similar — particularly in the form of Church laws — with regards to tattoos? If not, I would suggest you are confusing a judgement of taste (one with which I agree) with either a moral judgement or an application of divine law.

    • I’ve dealt with that elsewhere on this blog, much to the same result: endless argument about whether a text “binds” us or not. How about asking a less litigious question: What pleases God given certain general principles, scripture being one, the revelation of the Body another, intention, etc.

      • Howard says:

        Hey, you brought it up!

        My point remains the same. I think it is certainly sound advice to anyone not to make permanent changes to their body without good reason and serious reflection, including some serious thinking about whether the idea behind that tattoo will seem so cool in 30 years and how it will look when you’re wrinkled and out of shape. Those are all sound reasons not to get tattoos. (I *think* piercings are more temporary, since the body can heal.) Those reasons can, however, be ignored without sin, unless something else comes into play.

        If you want to say that in the era of the New Testament tattoos are not just a bad idea, but actually SINFUL, there should at least be some tradition within the Church of treating them this way, preferably at a universal level. (It would not be sufficiently convincing if priests were forbidden to have tattoos, the way they were once forbidden to hunt, or if some religious order forbade tattoos.) The Church has NEVER taught that Christians have to wear four tassels on our clothes or consider shrimp detestable, and the Church has ALWAYS taught that homosexual acts are sinful. Going to the teachings of the Church seems to be the only way to be sure which Old Testament regulations are always binding and which were only relevant before the first Pentecost.

  39. Daniel Barber says:

    How are you arguing that idolatry is NOT a mortal sin?

    And I think, with all due respect, that you Sir need to see your post to Linda above because it fails to answer our questions. Yes, it addresses them. But it doesn’t answer.

  40. Micaela L says:

    Hello Msgr. Pope,

    I see this has sparked much debate and I did notice a few situations mentioned like my own. (I did also read your response to Linda.) In my situation, I am 23 and I have two tattoos on my left arm. I waited until 21 to start. I did not choose to be tattooed as part of the obsession today to fit in or because it’s all the rage, but rather to show the passion I have for–and the beauty of–our beloved Catholic faith.

    #1: Our Lady of Guadalupe. I had the words, “Mi Madre la Reina de la Paz” tattooed around her (My Mother, the Queen of Peace). Multiple reasons I had her tattooed: I love the symbolism and the remarkable story of St. Juan. My grandpa was from Mexico and it is part of my heritage. I love Mary. I love being Catholic.

    #2. This spring, my parish went on a pilgrimage to see Pope Benedict and have him bless a cornerstone for our new church and school. Incredible! While planning for the trip, I knew I wanted to have a cross tattooed on my forearm while we were there. I had the artist match the colors to my Mary of Guadalupe and add roses around it.

    I think this page: gives some great information on being tattooed as a Catholic. I personally feel that my tattoos are a reflection of my faith. There have been many instances when I’ve been asked about my tattoos that have given me a chance to evangelize and speak about God and the beauty of being Catholic. I wear my tattoos with reverence—much like when I wear my crucifix necklace. I think it’s just another way to show others the love of our faith.

    I don’t think everyone gets tattoos that are later mistakes. I definitely agree that some are not done for the right reasons and it’s sad to see people (young ones, especially) make poor choices that are very difficult–if not impossible–to reverse. I do, however, think that tattoos can be done with the right reasons in mind, as well.

    Here are some pictures of my tattoos :) :

    Our Lady of Guadalupe (pics from our wedding day!):

    Cross w/roses:

    • Kacy says:

      Those are absolutely beautiful. May God bless you and your witness to our Catholic faith! :-)

    • Well, OK but I am still not sure this something that we can say pleases our Lord or our Lady. If I were your pastor and you tattooed “Msgr Pope is the Greatest” I am glad for your vote, but would not be pleased that you did this to your skin.

  41. Mike in KC, MO says:

    I am reminded of a P. J. O’Rourke quote. To paraphrase him: When I see a guy with lots of piercings and tattoos, I automatically know there is nothing original or interesting about that person.

    So far this has struck me as true in my day to day life running C and D class real estate.

    • I have to say I agree. Most people get tattoos to send a message, and I must say that I am less than impressed with the message I receive. It takes a lot for me to overcome the impression created that this person lacks, prudence. If I were interviewing them for a job of something other than manual labor I would really think twice. Call me all the names they want, but they got the tattoo to provoke a reaction, and that is mine. It is a basic gut reaction.

  42. Gerard Nadal says:

    Well said, Msgr. The body has been emptied of all moral significance and standing. It has become nothing more than a billboard.

  43. Rob Kaiser says:

    I am right there with you Father, and it is wonderful news to hear about this procedure.
    his was not part of our culture, so it is not our heritage – rather, I believe this is a symptom of a culture seeking to inflict pain on itself so that it might actually feel something or somehow belong to something. It is a symptom of what happens when a nation throws out its beliefs, says anything goes, but then feels empty.

  44. Michael says:

    Thank you Msgr Pope. Although I have no tattoos or piercings, St. Paul’s admonition that you cited (1 Cor 6:19-21) has really hit home as I’m 25 lbs overweight. This Advent season we all need to deny ourselves, pick-up our crosses and follow Jesus… not look for whatever Leviticus loophole/interpretation we falsely think justifies ourselves. For our Sola Scriptura friends who are seeking, it seems, to possibly trap Msgr Pope, please consider that Scripture is the daughter of Tradition and that Traditional Catholicism dictates that order in our all facets of our life (vs chaos… which tattoos/piercings fall under) is pleasing to the Lord. God Bless you Msgr and all those who read this.

  45. teo matteo says:

    someday i’d like to have the courage to tell someone: ‘thats a really ugly tattoo’

  46. MLP says:

    I don’t like tattoos either, and I’m in my 20s. Why get permanent tattoos when there are temporary ones if the reason is fashion related. Why not wear a ring or pendant if it is for a permanent remembrance of something. When you get old your tattoo wrinkles. When you grow fat your tattoo expands. When you grow flabby so does your tattoo. Much time and effort will be spent either trying to dress to cover up the tattoo or trying to dress to show it off. It is a hinderance to living simply. I don’t understand it.

  47. Scotty Ellis says:

    I believe it to be a failure of self-irony to take Jewish law as our guide to not “permanently alter one’s appearance,” since that same law commands mutilating the genitals of infants. Like Dante notes above, the proscriptions of the Old Law have been replaced, and it is only through a quite arbitrary “pick and choose” game that you would decide the prohibitions against tattoos applies while the admonition against shellfish does not.

    The conclusion “I should not get a tattoo” does not follow from the premise “my body is a temple of the holy spirit.” Tattooing is a practice that spans time and culture and has had a wide variety of significances, but at the heart to get a tattoo is to make a memorial of something. In many cases, it has something of an incarnational tone: a word or idea can be made apparent in one’s flesh. I would agree that sometimes these ideas or words can be shallow, the result of an impulsive immaturity, but it is something of a shortsighted stereotype to reduce all tattoos to these sorts of momentary “indiscretions.” Sometimes they are quite deliberate, and in many cases they serve distinct social functions. Some are even icons: I have heard of and seen quite beautiful religious art made flesh on someone’s very body. Again, as Dante mentions, a singular and permanent outward expression, such as a tattoo of the cross, can reflect an inward determination, like that of the Crusader’s.

    If you are willing to take a reading recommendation, I highly suggest you (and anyone reading this post) read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back.” Among other things, it is an excellent literary discussion of this very question, and suggests the potential tattoos have as instruments of grace.

  48. Dan Grimm says:

    1) Before getting a tatoo, one should ask: Am I getting it because it is a customary ritual of my society, or as a mark of rebellion? One interpretation of Leviticus is that God did not want the Chosen People taking on the marks of the idolatrous, perverted peoples they lived with. The same concern exists today.

    2) Some people get tattoos in a effort to understand and integrate their bodies, emotions and thoughts through a painful public ordeal, like a tribal right of passage. Often it doesn’t have the impact they hope for. The task of integration is accomplished by a lifetime of patient action, not by a gesture.

    3) A tremendous amount of energy in the form of advertising, entertainment, etc., is directed toward making people feel they aren’t sexy enough and need to spend money to do something about it. This plays on the anxiety people have to do well and to show up up well among others. Young people are left vulnerable to this attack when parents don’t do a good job of catechizing them about the holiness and beauty of the sexual power they carry within them. Kids who feel that their parents respect and admire them as sexual beings won’t be as ready to believe that they need a tattoo or immodest dress to measure up.

    If you’re itching for a tattoo, ask yourself first what you think your body lacks and who made you think so. That might lead to acquiring something more permanent and valuable.

  49. Theresa in Alberta Canada says:

    I too am 50 ish, and loath, dislike, etc etc the tatoos I see on my very young coworkers.!!! Thank God there is a way to remove these things as my 24 year old son just had one put on his right forearm last summer.
    I read the book written by Father Donald Caloway MIC, and he tells in his book how he has a tatoo of the grateful dead band on his shoulder. He uses it as tool of evangilizing that God can use our mistakes for His glory.

    • Hopefully your son will consider removing the tattoo, even apart from religious reasons which I here suggest, it will hold him back, I am sure when it comes to making serious and good impressions.

  50. Publius says:

    Dear Monsignor Pope:

    As suggested by your exegisis on Leviticus, the prohbiition there may have been made, inter alia, to protect the Israelites from the contagion of idolatry of the neigborhing pagans. I believe this was recapitulated when the pagan European tribes were converted to Christ and their indiginous practices of tatoos and piercings were abandoned at the direction of the missionaries who did not see any sense in trying to “baptize” such a practice. I recall reading that tattos reappeared among Europeans when saiilors encountered the exotic practices on the new world or of the Far East. At its base, is a reverence for the body, Temple of the Holy Spirit, and which will be raised up on the Last Day.

    (Not to weaken my argument, but sort of the same trajectory held for the insistence (until yesterday) on reverent burial of the dead- as oppossed to cremation practiced by the Vikings et al).



  51. Kerstin says:

    Thank You!! I have always considered tattoos a form of bodily mutilation and their prevalence and increased acceptance today is disturbing.

  52. Fr. James says:

    All of creation is sacramental. The things we see point to something else. It seems to me that as we move away from a Christian sacramental system we create new sacraments and signs to give meaning to our lives. A Christian should understand the inherent dignity and significance of his body as a temple. But if that understanding is not there then we try to give our bodies meaning in other ways. I think tattoos are a desire for the body to mean something, especially if one has been the victim of abuse or violence. It is a way of reclaiming the body in response to its being devalued by others or by oneself.

    • Therese says:

      I agree that some who get body tattoos are trying to reclaim their bodies after a rape or other abuse. Finally they have some control or say over their own body. Father James’ comment is the first time I have seen this opinion articulated. Thank you!

  53. Deb says:

    Prior to my being confirmed in the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil of 2008, I had wanted to get a tattoo of the Holy Spirit as my confirmation gift to myself. My sister told me it was wrong. I checked on-line and could not find any priest stating it was not acceptable. My sister told me to ask our pastor. So, I emailed him and asked, positive he would say it was okay. (After all, he was 14 years younger than me) He said, “no,” He cited the Bible and also stated that there are also things in the places where you get tattoos that are not good to be around. My sister laughed because she knew our pastor would say, no and she also knew that if he said no, I would listen to him. So, no tattoo. Since then, I seem to notice tattoo’s on other people and they really are not attractive in any way. The ones that are so visible seem to just cry out LOOK AT ME and I feel sad for those who feel they need to deface themselves to gain people’s attentions. Thank Goodness they can be removed.

  54. Sidonie Jordan says:

    So many people tattoo themselves for the wrong reasons mine are to remember my kids and my mother so I don’t regret them.

  55. Katherine says:

    Would like to point out, Father, that in those days, according to history, piercings and tattoos were a pagan cult practice, and that is most likely why God said that. I am a Catholic, and I know Catholics with tattoos and piercings, God knew that we were going to get piercings and tattoos, and made us anyways. I really don’t think it matters to him.

    • Jay says:

      He also knew when we were created that we would rebel and sin. Foreknowledge of “wrong” does not mean it is okay.

      What could we condemn using that logic?

  56. VanCamp J. Iakopo says:

    Hey Father,

    Thanks for writing this great article. I wanted to ask you what was your take on Tribal tattoos. I’m both Samoan AND Catholic and Tattoos are considered to be a great sign of significance in our culture. They show (specifically w/ men) that we are read to serve society starting with our families. As a matter of fact, Many of our Catholic priests wear these tattoos. Some receiving their tattoos a little after their ordinations. I feel conflicted about this and really wanted to get your opinion on this.

    Thank you and God Bless Father!
    Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam


  57. buckeye pastor says:

    At a wedding I had a few years ago, the parish organist, looking down from the balcony, counted ten tattoos on the six bridesmaids. How grotesque.

  58. susanna says:

    Graffiti on the temple.

  59. Deacon Sean Smith says:

    I do not regret my crucifix tattoo, or my tattoo of St. Francis, or my tattoo of a Jerusalem cross, or my tattoo of a deacon’s cross with the text of the gospel charge from my ordination.

    Nor do I regret any of the opportunities to evangelize that these tattoos have provided.

    When challenged by the mother of a teenage sons from the parish about my being a poor role model and encouraging her sons to get tattoos, I asked to speak with her kids. With her standing right there I told them if they wanted to use me as an example that they should do EXACTLY what I did. Namely, wait until you are 40 years old and then get a Jesus tattoo. They couldn’t use me as an example for anything else.

    • Deacon you have no business encouraging young people to get tattoos. The mother had every right to be angry with you and I hope she reports you to the pastor and the bishop for withstanding and discrediting her authority to her to her sons’ faces.

      Reverend Deacon I am sorry that I misunderstood your post on the blog. I was overwhelmed in reading the comments and had to read more quickly than I should have. Mea culpa

      • Deacon Sean Smith says:

        Msgr. Pope,

        Please read my reply again! I did not encourage any young person to do anything, certainly not to not follow their mother’s instruction. And the mother appreciated what I said.

        • Leticia says:

          Deacon, I cannot judge you. Only God can because He’s the only one who can see your soul (no matter how you defend your actions). But I can say, I’ve never seen any holy people, Saints included, that have marked themselves. Personally, you are ignoring the fact that our bodies are temples of the holy Spirit. You WANTED a tattoo. Your wants should be irrelevant. This does not coincide with God’s will. Again, this is not a judgement, it’s an observation. Personally, I would not want my children to have a role model with marks on his body.

        • Ein says:

          Then there is the woman I was acquainted with who had the name “Jesus” tattoo, but slept with men outside marriage. Something wrong with that picture. Not a good witness of what a Christian is either!

          I think today for some it is very, very pagan. And for some it is a sign of mental health issues – I knew someone who got tattoos and piercings because it gave the person some kind of illusion of control (or maybe revenge?) on the body – this person had been molested.

          Personally I think it’s gross and while we don’t have to follow everything in the OT, it seems gross to me at best, and sometimes outright revolting.

        • Ok thank you. Sorry for the mixup

      • Deacon Sean Smith says:

        It is honorable that you returned to our dialogue and corrected an error! I very much appreciate that, and hope that more dialogue could be the same! Peace be with you, Msgr, and with your spirit!

  60. Sue Joan says:

    With all due respect, I disagree! Tats are a type of art. People do not get
    Tats to deface their bodies. But as something meaning to them. Some
    tats memorialize loved ones also. To invoke Scripture out of context to suggest that
    Tats are a sin is questionable at best. People want to individualize and
    sometimes that means getting a tattoo! I think it’s sad that the world
    is so judgmental that those folks you wrote about feel the need to go
    thru a painful treatment to remove their tats! Jesus reminds us to
    not judge least we be judged and that is NOT quoting out of
    context! BTW I am 67 years old and have no tattoos.

    • You are free to disagree. You use of the word judgmental is itself judgmental. If you get a tattoo you get it to get a reaction. Either you want want people to think you’re way cool, or you want to send a message or you want to tweak people or signal rebellion. There is some reason you get it and want to display it. And guess what, you do get a reaction. And when the reaction is negative you cop all the judgmental stuff. If you don’t want a reaction then don’t do the action. If you do the action, then you have to accept that some aren’t going to like your little “message” and your “individualizing.” I am not judging you, I am judging your tattoo which I consider wrong and foolish for the reason I stated. I hope you’ll remove it. That’s my view, and you are free to disagree with me but put a cork in all the judgmentalism stuff.

  61. Deb says:

    Sidonie, Are you saying that you would not remember your kids and your mother without tattoos?

  62. William says:

    I would just point out that nose piercings, which Msgr. mentions at the start of the article, are not a new cultural trend. They are one of the gifts given to Rebekah in Genesis 24, and in Ezekiel 16:12 they are used metaphorically for the beauty God gave His people. In addition, in Job 42:11, Job’s friends are all said to have given him a golden earring/nose ring (the Hebrew words are the same).

    • Wade St. Onge says:

      Genesis 24 rejects the notion that “putting holes in lips and noses seems damaging and unnecessary”. It is always dangerous to cite one Scripture without interpreting in light of the rest. In this case, Msgr Pope already admitted the only place he knew of in Scripture that mentioned noserings was Ezekiel. That was incorrect.

    • Well I still think people who have nose rings etc look hideous with them and I still think that they should be avoided. That said, I was clear, from a biblical perspective piercings are in a different category. Please refer to comments above.

  63. ed zielinski says:

    I was considering a small tatoo of a cross with the latin words “ego servo” below, I was wondering if the author has any comments?

  64. Joseph says:

    Yes, in addition to Leviticus on tattoos, we should heed Leviticus 15:19 and stay away from unclean women during their 7 days of impurity.

    I don’t have any tattoos nor will I ever get one, but I don’t think there is anything sinful about a tattoo in itself, except when it is done directly as a form of idolatry.

    Besides, the Jewish Temple was adorned, why should we not adorn our bodies? Are tabernacles not engraved, are not our Churches filled with beautiful art? If we adorn these temples, what’s wrong with adorning the temple of the Holy Spirit? Just saying.

  65. Daniel Barber says:

    You didn’t call it a sin, you called it idolatry. Idolatry anywhere and always will be a sin; the factors you cited are what determine if culpability for that sin is imputed to us (its not) and to what degree.

    Is that what you meant to say?

  66. Daniel Barber says:

    Typo: (*or not)

  67. Maureen says:

    In addition to everything else, I also think that many young people don’t realize how their bodies will change as they age. Depending on where they are, those tattoos that might look cool today certainly won’t after pregnancy or other body changes one might mention…

  68. Irenaeus G. Saintonge says:

    What do you think of people, even Catholics, who get small and easily concealed religious tattoos? For instance, I’ve read that it’s common for the Copts to tattoo a Coptic cross on the inside of their right arm. It seems to me that it could, given the right circumstances, be a devotional aid rather than mutilation.

    • Yeah but still I wonder why do that? Again, I admit that this subject has degrees. There are really bad tattoos and those that are less egregious

      • shana says:

        I met a Coptic bishop from Egypt who was visiting family friends that went to my parish. At a small reception I asked him about the small cross tattooed just under his thumb on his right wrist.

        He told me that all Copts tattoo their babies in this way within days of birth so that if Muslims kill their parents and/or take them for slaves, they will always know their true origins as Christians.

        I would think that is a very different reason to tattoo.

        • Irenaeus G. Saintonge says:

          Very different indeed, and objectively wrong? A defacement of the body? I honestly think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that much.

  69. Jeff Galloway says:

    Has anyone studied, from a social science perspective, why people get tattoos? What do they think they are doing, or achieving? That would be fascinating!

    While I find tattoos disgusting, I believe many people get them for quasi-valid reasons. I see nothing inherently wrong with a person tattooing their dead sibling’s name on their arm, for example. Or, indeed, someone tattooing a cross. It is the narcissistic ones to which I object.

  70. Wade St. Onge says:

    Msgr Pope, I love your articles and generally agree with them. But I just don’t think you are making a very good argument for your position, regardless of whether or not I disagree with it (and just for the record, I disagree).

    Dr. Hahn, under whom I took two classes at Steubenville, taught us how to read Leviticus. Many practices which were objectively good were forbidden due to their association with idolatry. The passage you cite cannot, in any way, be used to condemn the idea of a Christian man getting a tattoo of a cross. The shaving of the head that others cited in Leviticus is the same concept – something practiced by monks through the use of tonsure, by the way. And your response to Linda, which you referred your readers back to constantly, does not refute the argument about the passage regarding hair in Leviticus.

    Much stronger is your logical argument against tattoos: “Altering our bodies in a permanent way and treating them as a canvas or bill board are problematic … the reverence for the Body described in 1 Cor 6 reminds that our bodies are not our own and thus altering them in dramatic and permanent ways, without serious reason, or interfering with the proper functioning of the body, or subjecting the body to unnecessary risk of disease or infection (as many piercings do), are all questionable practices”.

    It’s funny how you say “many piercings”. Actually, all piercings can subject the body to infection, even the little “studs”. But, realizing the absurdity that women cannot wear earrings at all (but what about men?), you cover yourself: “Well piercings are a little more complicated, if you ask me”. Yes, “if you ask me” – in other words, as you said, this is your “opinion”. It is not the “biblical teaching”, it is “your opinion”. This is where, in my “opinion”, you “jumped the shark”.

    I don’t see how a small cross tattoo is no more sinful or wrong than two little studs in the earlobes. If it is, you certainly have not proved it here.

    • Is it wrong for me to have an opinion? This blog, among other things comments on cultural trends. I am here responding to a Wash Post Article. I base my opinion out of biblical thinking but admit my views are not unassailable and I am surely not the magisterium. My opinion remains that tattoos are silly, immature, unnecessary, and treat the body as a canvas or billboard. I do not think they please God, neither do they glorify him. You are free to differ as you have done and I appreciate your participation in what is a discussion.

    • Leticia says:

      We should emulate Jesus. He never got a tattoo, nor did any of the Saints I’ve read about. What has a tattoo got to do with obtaining holiness? A tattoo is giving in to our WANTs (a kind of idolatry?). We can justify our actions until we’re black and blue. Everything can be justified.

      • Scaevola says:

        If by “giving into our wants” you mean elevating them before God, then I may agree with you. However, if our desire is to serve God’s will, then you would want to say that in that regard giving in to our wants is the right and just thing to do. Satisfying desire is not a bad thing in itself–its goodness is entirely dependent on the desire itself being good or evil. So if you were to say that the desire for a tattoo is inherently wrong, then we ought not give in to it.

        However, the argument that Christ/the saints never did something is not all that strong. There are good things that Christ never did, such as marry. Granted, He had better things in mind, but this should not be shaped into an argument that one ought not marry because Christ never did it. Also, there are things that some saints did (like Jerome’s sometimes-excessive anger) which we as Christians ought not emulate. I understand that there is a large difference in goodness between marriage and tattooing. But not finding an explicit example in the lives of Christ and His saints should not be used as a decisive argument in this sort of matter.

  71. AuthenticBioethics says:

    Hmm. I have a niece — naturally beautiful young lady — covered with tattoos… but that is beside the point.

    Many people argue that tattooing is not inherently wrong, based on the general dispensation of Christians from the Old Law. Let’s start there for the sake of discussion (I’m not advocating any position on this issue at this point). If it is not inherently wrong, it nonetheless can become wrong in many ways. As a corollary, for it to stay not-wrong, it must be not-wrong in every respect. Finally, even if it is possible that tattooing is not-wrong in a specific case, that does not mean that it is therefore a good thing to do.

    It may be that tattooing is not inherently wrong, but that it almost never can be done in a way that lets it remain not wrong. Let’s see.

    So how might tattooing become wrong?

    If it is done as a kind self-creation. Self-expression, such as with hair and beard styles and so forth, is not the same thing. These can be changed very easily and do not change “you” — just your appearance. Tattooing changes your body in a permanent way — not just your appearance. You are your body and your soul together. Your body is you in a real sense. Likewise, baptism permanently changes the soul and marks it for Christ. Both change “you” but in different ways. Now, some bodily changes are for the better: Losing weight, for instance, or plastic surgery to correct a disfigurement. Other changes are an attempt to remake ourselves in our own image (as the philosophy of trans- and post-humanism advocate). Tattooing is not *always* such remaking of ourselves, but it often is, and it clearly tends in that direction.

    If the tattoos depict immoral or unholy things. This should be self-explanatory. Many tattoos are Asian writing or mystical symbols from other religions — the meanings of these things must be considered.

    If the tattoos are acquired for some end that is not ultimately ordered to God, that is, for an immoral or insufficiently good reason. There may be many such reasons; some that come quickly to mind include to belong to some sort of secret society or gang even a clique, or to win a bet, or to become exempted from some necessary but undesired activity (such as getting a particular job) where tattoos would be prohibited.

    If the tattoos are acquired without due thought. That is, getting one on a whim without adequate reflection on the reasons why and the long-term consequences would be irresponsible.

    If they are gotten as a compulsion or addiction that reflects a deeper issue that needs correction. On the one hand, addiction mitigates the moral dimension because it impedes free choice. On the other it also indicates an illness that cannot be ethically left untreated.

    If they are a matter of sinful vanity, if one loves the attention they bring or the admiration of fellow tattoo enthusiasts.

    If they are a matter of sinful pride, that one gets them precisely because one can and to heck with those who say no.

    If they are gotten under any circumstances that would make getting or having them wrong, such as against the firm advice of someone in authority over you.

    If the means to get them is immoral, such as the tattoo parlor is known to you to be operating illegally or you have stolen the money.

    There may be other ways getting tattoos is wrong that I have not considered.

    Basically, an act can become immoral if *any* of its components are bad: The object itself (in this case, permanently altering your body), the means, the end to which it is ordered, and the circumstances.

    Is getting tattoos inherently evil? I don’t know. But even if it’s not inherently wrong, it may still not be a good thing to do.

  72. Wade St. Onge says:

    Sorry, I forgot to add – it is about “moderation”. The tattoos you describe and picture at the top, Father, are over the top – with that I agree. As are the big earrings and noserings you are opposed to. But little studs and little cross tattoos? I have no problem with either.

  73. Jack says:

    Father, how many of the other 612 mitzvoth do you observe?

    There are verses in the Bible that allow fathers to sell their children in to slavery. Do you advise them about a fair price?

    Do you receive the customary five silver shekels for the redemption of the first born-male?

    Do you require women to offer sacrifice after childbirth, or have them immerse themselves in the mikveh after their periods?

    Or do you just pick and choose which of the OT laws you enforce and observe?

  74. Columcille says:

    A couple of points on this issue:

    1. Tattooing and piercings are pagan rituals that are ultimately demonic. They involve the shedding of blood (from the ink or piercing needle) along with an idolatrous desire/attachment to the symbol being imprinted into their flesh and/or the spirit of vanity regarding their looks, along with a profanation/desecration of something holy – the body. The shedding of blood creates an unholy covenant with the spirit in question, as it becomes a kind of offering of life & spirit to the demon. A bond is created – the degree and strength of which is dependent on the spirit in question. People tattoo explicitly demonic images on their body. They also tattoo images of Jesus. In both cases there is a demon invoked and bonded because of the intention, desecration of the body, and the shedding of blood. Even an image of Jesus tattooed on the body is a desecration because the gesture says that this body is mine and I can do with it as I please, and that what God has created in this temple is not good enough, I must improve upon it. Even if we do it with the best intentions, our actions speak a language of arrogance, idolatry and desecration. Even a tattoo of Jesus by necessity calls near spirits opposed to the Holy Spirit because it is like spray painting a cross or a fish on the side of a Church. Even though a symbol of Christ, it is a violation of authority and disfigures the temple wall. Tattoos are rituals that create blood ties to demonic spirits.

    2. Tattoo Parlors are demonic temples. Have you ever walked into these places? They are very explicit in their decor and culture that these are places in rebellion against God. They don’t hide what they are about. Often tattoo artists are practicing occultists & satanists who can and will invoke demons while tattooing their customers to create a bond through shedding their blood. These are dark places that should be avoided.

    3. People are seeking tattoos as a means of finding an identity, because their true identity as a child of God has never been realized for them. The rise of tattoos in our culture is a symptom of the loss of Christian identity; it is a sign of the failure of the Church to speak the truth about these things and to help people into their heavenly identity. Just look at the narrow number of priests willing to speak the truth about tattoos for fear of an uprising by the sheep.

    Tattoos are a demonic ritual done in an occult temple which seeks to steal a person’s real identity and replace it with an artificial one inspired ultimately by the demonic.

    • KL says:

      “Tattooing and piercings are pagan rituals that are ultimately demonic. They involve the shedding of blood (from the ink or piercing needle) along with an idolatrous desire/attachment to the symbol being imprinted into their flesh and/or the spirit of vanity regarding their looks, along with a profanation/desecration of something holy – the body. The shedding of blood creates an unholy covenant with the spirit in question, as it becomes a kind of offering of life & spirit to the demon.”

      The piercing of flesh and shedding of blood is just as much true for piercing ears or noses, practices mentioned without condemnation multiple places in the NT. And as numerous commenters have pointed out, tattooing has a long history of practice in Christian communties, such as the Copts. Your assertion that all tattooing is demonic is unfounded and problematic.

      • KL says:

        Excuse me, I meant OT, not NT.

      • Columcille says:

        Copts tattoo their children to claim them after being kidnapped by Muslims and to deter the practice. This extreme environment is hardly a basis for claiming that tattooing is a normal practice in the Christian tradition or that it doesn’t present serious problems.

        Talk to a former satanist about the reality of demonic blood covenants. What are the elements necessary for forming one? Don’t be naive. We live in a culture growing increasingly dark. Is it a coincidence that tattooing is at an all time high as a practice?

        • KL says:

          Copts tattoo for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to “help build a sense of community in this ancient and highly symbolic flock” (from the article you linked). The tattoos may also help PREVENT kidnapping, but the practice far predates the current political situation of Egypt. It has long been a cultural practice (perhaps since the eighth century) among that community, despite the fact that it may now achieve several purposes. See for more information. Regardless of how long-lived the practice is or what purpose they serve today, if tattoos, by their very nature, create bonds with demonic beings, then they ought to be forbidden REGARDLESS of their purpose, whether that purpose is deterring kidnapping and rape or adhering to cultural norms.

          Also, you did not address the issue that the problems you see with tattooing apply equally to piercing of any sort. Do you consider ear piercing demonic, as well?

          • Columcille says:

            I think there is a reasonable argument for concluding that it is a disfigurement inspired by pagan cultures. The people of Israel had piercings coming out of Egypt where they had been entirely given over to pagan practices. It was part of Egyptian culture. Regardless of how it is treated in the OT, we have a new understanding of the body in light of the NT and especially in light of the TOB.

          • KL says:

            Rebekah was given a nose-ring (or possibly an earring, although the text supports the nose-ring translation better) as a token of bethrothal. See Genesis 24, particularly vs. 22, 30, and 47b. This was generations prior to Israel’s presence in Egypt.

            I agree that piercing’s treatment in the OT is largely irrelevant. However, once again, if you argue that the act of shedding blood creates a demonic bond and is idolatrous, piercing of ANY KIND would be just as spiritually dangerous as tattooing. You cannot condemn one on these grounds but accept the other.

      • Jack says:

        \1. Tattooing and piercings are pagan rituals that are ultimately demonic. \

        Does this include the earring (or in some translations, nose ring) given to Rebecca as an engagement gift?

        How about the command for a lifetime slave to have his ear pierced by his master?

        Exodus 21:6
        Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

        Why would God command His people do do something that is essentially demonic?

    • I might stop short of some of your observations though there are elements of what you say in certain tattooing and piecing. I think some of it however is more in the real of misguided trendiness without demonic leanings.

      • Columcille says:

        Msgr. Pope,

        Do you also think that Lady Gaga is also being influenced by misguided trendiness? I heard a former satanist speak recently who explained how she is working directly with powerful occult forces in our society in shaping her music and videos.

        Who casts the trends? Who is disciple-ing the merchants of cool in our society?

        You would perhaps be surprised at the degree of organized satanic activity in our country today, including in high places.

  75. Mike says:

    Some folks are just really attached to their tattoos, or vice versa.

  76. Tapestry says:

    I don’t have pierced ears though they were the trendy for years. My Nana had them done but she let the holes close up, instead they ended up scar tissued bumps which she hated. My Mom used clip on earrings and I used hers for a couple of years but I don’t own a pair of earrings. My daughters went through the same thing the oldest had her ears pierced at 18, the other two had ‘secret piercings’ at 16 in the cartiledge of the upper ear. They never showed them to me until after they left home! Out of the 4 kids only the youngest has a small tattoo on her left shoulder the sign of Virgo, looks like a V, of course she doesn’t practice her faith either.
    The only tattoo I ever liked was the one on my Dad’s upper arm a USN anchor from WW2, my husband said he never got that drunk that he ever got one.
    I told the kids a long time ago I would leave the planet with the same amount of holes I was born with ditto for tatoos :-)

  77. DAvid P . Hahn says:

    Msgr. I was wondering about something similar in the bible. Not tattoos on the body but certain dress codes for the body. Deuteronomy 2:22 says,
    “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. Why does God detest this and how does one know what is men’s clothing nowadays. I mean if a man wore a dress that would be obvious but it seems to me that women wearing men’s clothing happens all the time. Some say pants are a man’s clothing and that women should only wear them in very few occasions. What are your thoughts on this if any?

    • Yeah in our culture women have more flexibility in fashion than men. I do remember as a little boy that it was quite rare and a bit risque for a woman to wear pant, but that gradually changed as the 50s gave way tot he 60s. There are surely cultural norms and ranges that cultures permit.

  78. Brad says:

    I am reminded of Isaiah 30.

    The self-idolatry of tattooing, or, worse, the outright idolatry of tattooing is best left to other peoples, places, and times: the Christian must ask himself, “How are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.”

  79. Kenneth Griswold says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    with all due respect, I think it was very rude of you to say that the Deacon should be reported to anyone. He did not encourage the teens to get a tattoo. He encouraged them to wait until late into adulthood before making any decision about the matter. He did not go against what the mother was saying or disrespect her authority since the mother have any authority over her children when they are in the 40s.

    I speak as an adult who has no tattoos and teaches teenagers religion. This law from Leviticus has no authority over Christians. As you pointed out, it was more for preventing idolatry then anything. In addition, what Jesus said about food, I think it has as much to do with tattoos as anything else. “It is not what goes into the body that defiles a man, it is what comes out of him.” In the same way, it is not what is on the body that defiles a man, but how he represents himself as a Christian that matters. Obviously tattoos that are disrespectful or impure would be out, but everything else is perfectly acceptable. Now, I agree with you that many people who get tattoos regret it and people should think long and hard before they get one. But let’s call a spade a spade. Getting a tattoo is not a sin in itself.

    Msgr, if you want to condemn a practice that truly harms people, you do best to stick to things that are clearly sinful such as pornography (or the soft porn of cable TV/R rated movies) or masturbation. Let’s not make people see sin where there is no sin involved.

    • The deacon corrected the mother in front of the boys. Wrong.

      • KL says:

        Not true — the deacon corrected the boys in front of the mother. The boys were trying to argue to their mother, “Deacon Smith has tattoos, and we want to be like him, so that means tattoos are okay” (and furthermore we should be able to get them immediately). The mother complained to Deacon Smith, who promptly told the boys that if they genuinely wanted to take him as an example for emulation, they would have to wait until they were forty to get any sort of tattoo, and if they still wanted one then, it had to be religious. According to his account, this comment was welcomed by the mother as supporting her point. How is this worthy of censure?

  80. Bart says:

    Leviticus, a Book of the Law. Are there Catholic Christians today living under the Law? Romans 6:14 seems to say NO. So live under the Law if you want, as for me (a Catholic) I’ll stick to living under GRACE.

    • Avoid all or nothing thinking Bart.

      • Bart says:

        I understand Father. The problem is who is the arbitor of where that line is drawn? You personally? Me (my conscience)? You as an ordained priest and member of the magesterium? As I read the catechism as long as I’m not out to exhibit myself all should be well. I do have a small tattoo of the suffering Christ (the ecce homo) but it is in a place where only I see it (over my heart) everyday when I look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t get my tattoo untill i was in my forties. I didn’t get it to make a spectacle of myself. I got it so everyday without fail i had this visual (men are so visually oriented) reminder of my committment, and in that vain it is effective. God Bless you Father and that you for your reply.


  81. Linda says:

    I also think that tattooing in a new addiction. Do you know anyone who has only one tattoo? If so, have you heard them mention what they want their next one to be?

    • Yes, some people do surely manifest something of an addictive behavior in this regard.

      • Kenneth Griswold says:

        And if that is the case, then let’s encourage them to get out of the addictive behavior. But we should also be doing that for those who are addicted to tobacco. Tobacco is a lot more dangerous than getting a tattoo… or even a few tattoos. Yet I’ve never once seen a blog or heard a sermon on that…

  82. Jennifer B says:

    God bless you for your writings, Monsignor. I wanted to share a funny story with you.

    My family wears our brown scapulars lovingly. I sometimes have difficulty because I sweat greatly when I run, and it can become caustic to my skin. I said to my 19-year-old son recently that I wondered if having the scapular tattooed on would be an acceptable substitute for the wool so that my skin would not become so inflamed in the summer.

    He laughed so hard I thought he was going to fall off his chair. He then suggested I wear an undershirt or something. I guess all that catechesis we’ve done with them has done its job.

    Pax Christi.


  83. Greg says:

    I once brought up to a friend of mine who has a plethora of tattoos that the Bible seems to prohibit them. He told me that the body is the temple of the Lord, but it was up to him to decorate it!

  84. Peter says:

    My great uncle celebrated his 80th birthday by getting his first and only tattoo. He’s been a Lutheran all his adult life and he got the Luther Rose tattooed to his upper arm in the area of his deltoids. He was careful to get the tattoo where others wouldn’t see it unless he specifically wanted to show it to them. He’s 83 now. I told him that tattoo was going to be there for the rest of his life. : )

  85. OK – Time for me to sign off y’all. As you can see the comments have reached 180 and I can’t keep up. However a few parting observations.

    1. I like the discussion. What I think some people forget about a blog post is that its purpose is to begin a discussion. My “rant” was meant to get people talking about a cultural phenomenon which I think some people accept too uncritically. In bringing forth biblical data I attempt to place the discussion in the framework of faith, but, in this case, not in a definitive way, since I am unaware of magisterial pronouncements on the matter. Rather, biblical principles are used to frame the discussion and keep it from becoming a mere debate about personal views.

    2. What I like most about discussions like this is when commentators make distinctions and advance helpful interpretive principles. A blog post cannot, unless it is extremely long, make all such distinctions and so it is help that readers raise them in the discussion. Some of you have raised some good distinctions here.

    3. I liked some of the personal stories here as well, most of which, but not all, express regret over having made permanent marks on the body.

    4. What I liked least in this discussion was the dismissal of the Levitical code in toto. There was too much all or nothing thinking by many on this account. That some of the Levitical code has been superceded by later legislation or simply fallen into disuse, does not mean that the whole book has absolutely no use for us. Unbelievers are always doing this with scripture. They pull one or two quotes in order to heap scorn or ridicule on the whole. For example, since you Bible and your God command genocide on the Canaanites, you Bible is evil and you God is blood thirsty and wholly to be rejected. There is no room given for nuance, for the progressive nature of Biblical texts, for the interpretation of the Old by the New Testament. It just amounts to: find one strange quote and discredit the whole. Many do this with the Levitical texts. Yet many of these texts still have value for us today. Some have in fact been abrogated or superceded, others have fallen away. But other texts still carry weight and are revelatory of God’s expectations. The interpretive questions are which text still propose sound expectations and which do not. The tattooing text is a bit ambiguous in this regard. It would be hard to argue that it is absolutely binding on us today. That said, this does not mean it has no merit in setting forth cautions against the behavior and signaling God’s dissatisfaction with the practice, especially given its historical roots in idolatrous practices. It is fine to debate the merits of text for us today but what I found sad was how many commentors chose “pull quotes” to ridicule Leviticus as a whole. This is a tactic of unbelievers who know no nuance and use all or nothing thinking to discredit the Bible.

    All things said, a good discussion. It is my hope that at bare minimum that I have helped to raise questions about the practice of tattooing that ought to be raised. It should not be an unquestioned practice. There are actual concerns and excesses associated with the practice that I and others have raised. The Washington Post Article also raises concerns as do the videos. Too many believers sally forth into our culture in an unquestioning sort of way. One of the things I try to do at this blog is raise questions and critique our culture.

    Thanks for an overall good discussion. I’ll keep posting new comments as they come in but cannot likely keep commenting myself.

  86. nic says:

    i am new to faith (of almost any kind). i was brought into the Church on 9-7-11. i can certainly see where you are coming from. i have seen a LARGE number of tattoo that are shocking, embarrassing, and/or offensive.
    that said, i have 12 of them. (i was a sailor, by the way ;->) when i was given the grace to finally give birth to what i thought was a stillborn child, my heart broke. he’s the only one that survived to full term. after working on him for what seemed like eternity, i was handed my only child. he was so large that he broke his clavicle on the way out. he had a subdermal hematoma on his head. he was at least two weeks early. he weighed ten pounds! he is the only child i will ever have. after hemorrhaging for more than six months, several years later, i had to have a hysterectomy to keep me alive.
    when he hit the two month mark, i knew he was safe. i had my son’s name and a claddagh tattooed on my right arm where only i would see it. the artist tried for more than 15 minutes to talk me out of it. he was of the impression that the name belonged to my son’s father, and they actually had a policy AGAINST that. i have not ever, for a moment, regretted getting that tattoo.
    when i was going through my catechism class, i had the word, “grace” put directly under that, breaking another house policy. this time, i had it done entirely in purple ink. there is no black ink to it at all.
    when i was brought in, during a Mass for just that purpose, i felt the need to thank GOD in a permanent way. i had the words “verae fidei” done on the inside of my right wrist in what is known as the “monestary” font. when i explained to the artist how i wanted it positioned, i broke another cultural norm. the inscription is only readable by me, not the person to whom i extend my hand. apperently, this is irregular. for the record, this is covered by the charm bracelet full of patron saint medals.
    after my first confession, i again felt the need to thank GOD for his unending mercy. i had the words “miserere mei” put directly under the last.
    while i am right handed, very few people have noticed them, at least so far. the tattoos that are not mentioned in this reply, (eight) all are easily covered while wearing a t-shirt and socks. (neither of which i would ever go without.) they all were done at a point in my life that changed me. (graduation, enlistment, etc…)
    i am not going to tell you your opinion is wrong, (only you know) but i will tell you that i agree with some points and disagree with others.
    i will also point out that, as i recall, Jesus said something to the affect that the old covenent was not wrong or bad, but different than what he was preaching.
    while i do not think that tattoos are evil, i do see how some can feel that way. they do alter what GOD has given us. i also believe, that a piece of religious art serves as a reminder of the divine. my tattos are visible as a reminder to me of all that i have been given. i would never miss the opportunity for that one lost soul to see them and find the meaning they may hold for them, individually. GOD willing, it may even bring someone HOME.

  87. mdepie says:

    You are 1000% correct in your critique of tattoos. In fact Tattoos are not just foolish they are potentially dangerous. They have been associated with the transmission blood borne infections of hepatitis B and C both of which are can cause chronic liver disease. In addition tattoos especially multiple tattoos are associated with severe mental illness, Not to say the tattoo causes mental illness, but those with tattoos, especially multiple tattoos are more likely to have significant mental illness than those without.

    So tattoos are not only potentially cauises of disease, those who obtain them brand themselves in a way that potential employers, school admission officers, etc may reasonably make negative inferences about you based on the tattoo. Thre are of course exceptions, one can imagine someone serving in the Marine Corps about to ship off with his buddies to some dangerous combat zone getting a tattoo after one to many shots of Jim Beam before deployment. .This kind of thing is foolish but was not uncommon, and small tattoos were traditionally observed among military and especially naval personel were generally not a big deal. The modern practice of placing multiple hard to hide tatoos all over ones body including face/ neck is literally crazy.
    It subjects you to a risk iof significant disease ,and unless you are a tremendously gifted athlete who can play in the NBA, NFL or MLB the social stigma of very visible tattoos will make employement, especially high wage occupations very difficult. I can not imagine a heart surgeon with the tattoos of say Alan Iverson ( very gifted ,but very tattooed retired NBA point guard for those who did not know)

    As for those with the religious tattoos… just because its a crucifix it does not mean it will not give you hepatitis etc. In an older saner time folks like Deacon Sean might suggest isntead of getting a tattoo folks might do something like wear a Brown Scapular. Remember those? If worn with the right intention tradition had it that was associated with promises from Our Lady, and at the very least did not cause hepatitis or make you look like a violent felon.

    • Deacon Sean Smith says:

      I’ve never been in better physical, mental, employment or financial condition, and I’ve never been confused with being a violent felon. I consider myself blessed that the dire consequences you mentioned have not come to pass.

      However I do know some of those who are sick and are violent felons…I’ve visited them in the hospitals and prisons, as I live out the Gospel call in my life. Jesus associated with just such as these, and I try to follow his explicit command to do the same.

  88. Chatto says:

    Seems you got the active discussion you predicted, Monseigneur! There are certainly many difficulties to untangle here. First and foremost, is whether you are presenting a prohibition of tattoos as Divine law, or as your opinion. In your reply to Wade St. Onge, you talk as if it was just you expressing an opinion on your blog, which is certainly your right. However, in the body of the post, you explicitly state that “it is not merely my opinion”. Clarification here might help cool some hot heads.

    Likewise, you admonish Joseph and Bart to avoid “all or nothing thinking”, but do not tell them what to replace it with. Perhaps another post on how to read the Old Testament Law, drawing on Sacred Tradition – the Fathers, Doctors, and Magisterium? I think both Bart and Joseph, and the rest of us, would appreciate a catechesis on how to do that. After all, we look to you for more than your opinion (which is a compliment, I assure you)!

  89. Vince O'Neill says:

    You’re right, Father. You’ve articulated the reasons rather well. I’m glad to see someone else–besides myself–recognizes Leviticus and 1 Corinthians as being the Word on the subject. You’re not an old fuddy-duddy. You just happen to be “faithful.” Thank God.

  90. Alice says:

    Hurray!! Tattoos are ways of drawing attention to oneself and nothing more. We live in such a juvenile society and one seemingly totally devoid of TRUTH

  91. Deacon Chuck says:

    Father, may God bless you for such a fine article. I have always felt a natural horror for this terrible “art” and know I know why. I agree with you about defacing of the body. I would look at a very beautiful girl, only to discover that she had a tatoo. It was very sad. No matter how she looked, that tattoo would always scar her. My own daugther has a tattoo, which make me hurt. She is such a beautiful child, only to have her beauty marred by those terrible tattoos. It breaks my heart. May God have mercy on her, as well as those who deface such a beautiful thing, a temple of the Holy Spirit. When I see a tattoo on anyone, it is the same as someone throwing paint on the Sistine Chapel.

  92. Patt says:

    I would never get a tattoo for the simple reason of not liking needles nor unnecessary pain. No thanks, I’ll apply a removable “stick on” if a tattoo is ever required, ha-ha.

  93. Jason Liske says:

    Mmmm…I think this might be going a little far. Granted, some tattoos are ridiculous, done in bad taste, done in the moment, etc.
    But tattoos, especially of a religious nature, I think are a beautiful thing. God didn’t seem to mind when St. Rose of Lima pierced her head with a crown of spikes, or when St. Catherine of Siena whipped herself with chains. This could be applied to the body is a temple idea as well, but it is done for a spiritual reason, whether advisably or not.
    I think if tattoos are done tastefully, if they have great meaning for the person, and if they are able to be covered up should the need arise, then I just don’t see a problem.
    Respectfully Father, there are many laws in Leviticus that could be applied to us but are no longer.
    I may be wrong and sinful and all the rest, but those are my thoughts anyways. Personally, I am far more worried about things like the infiltration of the New Age into the church.

  94. Sally says:

    I don’t like tattoos at all, but I have four of them, they were placed by the radiologists at the beginning of my radiation therapy so that for the rest of my life the area that had been radiated would be definable. So don’t make blanket statements about tattoos.

    My son has a tattoo on his chest, praying hands with rosary beads, and his sister’s name (she died at age 22). I know lots of Protestants who think that’s idolatry, but not for the same reasons . . .

    I think Msg. is entitled to his opinion and I’m always glad to read his commentary but I don’t believe we are subject to the Old Covenant in this area any more than we are in keeping the 7th day as the Sabbath. “Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.”

  95. Jayson says:

    Well if you go by that verse than arn’t you suppose to go by your suppose to be clean shaven and be bald, and also not eat meat that is drained from its own flesh??? So if you preach about tattoos and piercings then why not the others?? That verse was related to the pagans for their time….

  96. Patrick Connell says:

    I think that a lot of people get tattoos because of a bad personal image or low self esteem.
    I also think that some tattoos, especially the more vulgar and demonic ones are inspired by
    the Devil himself.

  97. Edward says:

    I have a very small very hard to see tatoo. It was a sin when I got it, though I did not know at the time. God stated that tatoos are a sin (sin being the transgression of the law 1 John 3:4). This is what sin is, it is the transgression of the commands of our Creator period. People can and will argue away and reason away there salvation. Either we obey God or we obey men, pick one! Choose life !

  98. jem says:

    I once considered getting a tattoo, I was thinking of Our Lady of Guadalupe to show my commitment to her. However, I realized that, for me at least, this was an expression of pride, a sin that I constantly combat. It was a way of pointing out to others my holiness and devotion, much akin to the hypocrite mentioned in Matt. 6:5 who says his prayers in public. After looking at it in that light, I decided that I only needed to please God and not men and this wasn’t a way for me to do that. Although it is the nature of our culture to enhance our own status through worldly achievements, material possessions, or possibly a tattoo, I question whether this is pleasing in God’s eyes. John 3:30 tells us “He must become greater, I must become less.” Is this a way of lessening yourself, or of magnifying Christ?

  99. Steve says:

    As someone who has always had an artistic side I’ve never cared for tattoos. A body even one that seems plain is something incredible and wonderful and beautiful; in short a work of art. To me tattoos “cool” or not are like drawing with crayons on the sistine chapel or making doodles on a cathedral. The skill of the tattoo artist is irelevant. I would never deface another artists work with “cool drawings of my own, much less if the artist is God/nature and the canvas is the body.

  100. Jeff Kramer says:

    We have to be carefull using the text in Leviticus. Because Levitcus requires to put adulterers to death, to offer a ram as a sin offering for lying carnally with a betrothed slave women and you can not round off the hair around your temples e.t.c. I consider using this one verse as cherry picking. And why are earrings and makeup off the table it seems when ever the tattoo debate starts tatoo haters always start the first paragraph with well I’m not talking about makeup and earrings. Why.. Last time I checked we were not born with lipstick and blush. Women should stop shaving there legs because that is mutilating the body.

    • Donna Darbellay says:

      Jeff, recall that Mgsr distinguished between permanent alterations and alterations that are more temporary, like the hair on a woman’s legs–it will grow back. It seems to me that you are trying to defend an extreme act (tattooing and primitive piercings) using other extremes (putting adulterers to death). I think Steve is saying the same thing as Msgr–and what they are both saying is in the spirit of Leviticus confirmed in 1Cor.
      Alright the adolescent may need to paint and prim in an effort to distinguish his or her self, but the use of permanent measures or doing so to an extreme can hardly be held as good or virtuous. So there is a difference between piercing one’s ears once or piercing them ten times and piercing other body parts. Adolescents need virtuous adults guiding them with a little wisdom (inviting them to think about the long term consequences of their actions and to consider the consistency of their actions with their beliefs); they do not need adults rationalizing impulsive actions and dismissing OT wisdom rather than putting it in the light of the NT. Rationalization frequently results in maintaining a regretted act rather than correcting it; it can also change the values of a society when enough persons subscribe to it. Thank you Steve and Msgr.

      • KL says:

        Why is piercing one’s ears once acceptable, but a small and rarely-if-ever-visible tattoo not? Both are permanent (even if one stops wearing earrings, the holes may never close, and even if they do will definitely leave behind visible scar tissue), and I would argue that an earlobe piercing is far more visible than, say, a small tattoo on the shoulder blade. You can always see someone’s earlobes, unless it’s very very cold out and they have a large hat on!

        Furthermore, what distinguishes between “acceptable” piercings and “primitive” ones? Denouncing some piercings as “primitive” is an entirely culturally-determined distinction and not based on any objective moral reasoning.

        In the interest of full disclosure, I strongly dislike the aesthetic look of multiple piercings or any tattoos, regardless of size or modesty. But I simply do not think there is a moral or theological distinction between modest piercing and modest tattooing.

    • Edward says:

      If unrepentant of, adulterers will be put to death in the lake of fire. Jesus Christ said so. So I agree with you on the point that we are not to nit-pick or cherry-pick verses. What is wrong with earrings and a “little” make-up ? If you think that shaving the legs is a sin then you should not shave your legs. Hair cutting is OK by Biblical standards and is NOT mutilation. Men are to have short hair and women long. Jesus Christ is our Lamb of God now. He takes away the sins of those who are repentant, a ram is unneccesary and usless anyway now. Now the rounding off of the corners of your hair I believe it had somthing to do with a religous practice of men and God Hates false, vain worship! So there you go !! Actually if it were not a sin to have a tattoo I would get one or two, but it is clearly a sin so I have to reject the idea and please God and not my own vain ideas !! Others should follow God and not mens ideas !

  101. James says:

    Thanks Msgr. for an Interesting discussion.I like to pose a question. Due to a certain medical condition, If my relative (out of respect for them and their privacy I’ll not say who ) were ever to have a spinal tap or other medical procedures relating to the spine he would likely be paralyzed or dead. They considered getting “Medical alert” tattoo, mentioning the condition, on his back. I doubt the motive for this tattoo reason is vanity or a desire to show off. Although he could get a medical alert bracelet, they can be lost or stolen, etc. Typically tattoos cannot be. So are tattoos specifically intended to relay serious medical information, acceptable or unacceptable? God bless.

    J. M.

  102. Kristine says:

    My aunt requested from her daughters that they wait until they were 25 to get any tattoos, with the hopes that they would grow out of the desire. She added that if they did decide to get a tattoo then, she would get one with them. The idea of which is horrifying. My aunt has this unbelievably beautiful snow white skin and hair. The purpose of her propsal obviously was that there is more at stake than just a little ink on your body on a whim. The girls, who were still residing under her roof complied. Now in their mid 30s married, and mothers, there’s not a tattoo among them.

    • Cynthia BC says:

      Given that my daughter is needle-phobic I doubt I’ll be faced with having to make a similar deal. Or so I hope!

  103. Rick says:

    Jeff, it sounds like you are calling for a wholesale rejection of the Scriptures, or perhaps just the Old Testament?
    My guess is that you have tattoos…

  104. Brenda says:

    To Jeff Kramer:

    If I shave my legs, the hair will grow back. If I tattoo my legs, I will have to Mutilate them to have it removed… that’s a big difference.

  105. Cynthia BC says:

    Has this thread set this forum’s Number of Responses record?

  106. Laurie Schultz says:

    I have a 3/4 inch tiny cross to hide a scar and of course to show I love our Lord…and it was painful – that will be my only one :) I’m not a fan of these large and overwhelming tatoos.. but small ones, eh. I’d be more worried about the person who keeps having multiple plastic surgeries to alter the looks God gave them.

    • Cynthia BC says:

      A sad example being Michael Jackson. One commentator said after Jackson’s death that the multiple surgeries were an indication of self-hatred.

  107. Tom Balistreri says:

    “…a sign of grave immaturity and make me question the person’s judgment.”
    This is the first time I’ve seen in print the same thought I’ve share for all of my ancient 57 years.

  108. Jason Liske says:

    You know, this is why I left the Seventh-Day Adventist Church I was raised in when I was young – all the legalism. God looks at the heart, not the skin. There are sins connected with tattooing, yes. But for pete’s sake, there are far bigger issues out there than tattooing your skin, within the Church and without it.

  109. filiusdextris says:

    I agree with Jeff about cherry-picking text, as we ignore many of the other passages from Leviticus (see – “References to this verse are not present in important magisterial documents and in the principal writings of the Fathers of the Church. It is the consensus of Catholic biblical commentators that this prohibition is not part of the unchanging moral law, but part of the ritual law specific to the Old Testament.”). I also think tattoos are mostly disgusting. I personally have not witnessed any I like, though I leave an open mind on the subject. The stronger arguments scripturally come from keeping the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and, if not prudent risk-wise, under thou-shalt-not-kill type of proscriptions. Citing to CUF again (through them to the Catechism), If the tattoos are acts of rebellion, advertisements for an immoral lifestyle, scandal inducements, or against a prudent budget, they should be avoided as likely sinful. Each act of tattooing seems like a lost opportunity for charity (though this would apply to any frivolity). In certain cultures, I can see them as being more acceptable than others. I think there is room for them morally if the person wants to convey a spiritually uplifting message or wants to remind himself of something very important; I doubt in such cases that tattooing is the best way to accomplish one’s aims, but terming it sinful seems to be too much.

  110. Eric says:

    When i see someone (with or without tattoos), I see the Icon of christ before me, and in that moment I must admonish my judgments for i am a great sinner….

  111. Jason G. says:

    What about women (or men) getting pierced ears? It’s so ubiquitous in our culture, but isn’t it a form of vanity not unlike any of the other piercings mentioned? Does it matter whether it’s one set of piercings or mulitple?

  112. Mark G. says:

    Tattoos seem to cater to the “me generation.” In this regard they are frivolous at best & sinful at worst. There really isn’t any sense that they are good. O.T. texts are always to be read in the light of Christ. While the legal consequences of O.T. proscriptions may no longer be in force, the divine impulses behind them are eternally valid. It is impossible to read the text of Leviticus without concluding, “God is displeased with me permanently disfiguring my body, whether the motive is idolatry or vanity.” Nevertheless, the external marking is primarily a sign of internal disposition; he is certainly much less pleased with a rational soul given over to idolatry or pride. There is another consideration – tattoos are expensive. I cannot think of an argument where this is good use of one’s money.

    Jason, regarding earrings, Tertullian goes off about women wearing make up, coloring their hair, & wearing jewelry; many of his points are valid today, but he takes them to extremes. However, it does indicate that early Christians were much more modest than anything we know now. St. Francis de Sales said that Christians should be the best dressed but the least adorned. While there are certainly many examples of excess, we can also consider the image of the Church as a bride adorned with her jewels. The genuine jewels that make a woman beautiful are the love of God, spiritual graces & virtues, & natural feminine beauty she possesses, not anything she puts on or wears.

  113. Pattie says:

    This ancient 53 year old also agrees that tattoos are hideous and are, to me, a permanent sign of poor judgement. I will say that my youngest son got a biceps tattoo as a young adult, but at least it is (A) covered with most shirts and (B) of the Sacred Heart, meant as a devotion as he re-dedicated his life to Christ.

    Not mention, as a nurse, the potential for infections…….

  114. Dillen says:

    Be careful with the Old Testament and the “Law” which Jesus replaced. The determinations of what will and will not be adhered to in the Old Testament is still in debate to this day, and many of the Church Fathers preached intention of the person when acting.

    I do have a tattoo, it is relatively large, and it is on my ribs. It hurt a lot, but there are 2 things about it that make it special to me. First it is the Tridentine Doxology in Latin, which by the way is in the new liturgical reform, and the entire time I endured it (4.5 hrs) I constantly played through in my mind the scene from the Passion of the Christ in which the cat o’ nine tails rips out the Lord’s flesh at his ribs. I played that 20 seconds or so over and over and every time I look at it I am reminded of the little pain I suffered in comparison to His. To me this is no different that the quasi-accepted self-masochism of some of the secretive orders, similar to Opus Dei etc. I also want to comment on the Sistine Chapel remark. If we were doing what we were supposed to in Mass one would not have time to look at the walls and the ceiling which is adorned with artwork dedicated to God. All church buildings should be the same economical box as any other building, but that is just outrageous right? It is true we are temples but I find it hard for someone to rationalize any difference if such references are to be made. Temple=temple art=art. I will say that my tattoo is easily covered, and I do not particularly like to show it off, but I can understand the disgust of non-art tattoos in conspicuous places.

  115. Joshua says:

    I hear various answers given by priests and laity who are well trained in theology about tattoos. It ranges from it being always wrong to it being acceptable in certain cases (like the medical example, or a soldier who cannot have a religious medal since it creates noise) to it being fine as long as it is not too extensive, isn’t obscene or diabolical, and doesn’t attract undue attention.

    My question is, what is the general answer one finds in the tradition of Catholic moral theology? Most issues, in their specifics, are not directly addressed by the Church. Indeed, it is only when society goes astray that the Magisterium usually moves to define things. AFAIK, the Magisterium hasn’t weighed in here. But it would be helpful to know what the tradition generally says. Does anyone know if any of the old moral theology manuals say anything about it? Jone, or Prümmer, or Tanquery for instance?

    • jem says:

      Josh, I appreciate your thoughtful comments, but I’d like to comment on the example you gave of the soldier who got a tattoo because he/she couldn’t wear a religious medal. Soldiers are required to wear dog tags, which would clank horribly if they didn’t tape them together. This solution works just as well for a religious medal. This technique was commonly accepted and used during my time as a combat soldier in the US Army. I myself wore a crucifix throughout Desert Storm along with my dog tags and never heard a sound from it.

  116. David Sands says:

    Its “fogey” not “fogie”

  117. Tina says:

    My oldest son who is now 19 has been bugging me for a tattoo since the age of 16. I tell him as long as he is under my roof no tattoos. I’m a young mother and him when I was 17 and couldn’t understand myself why I was so against him having a tattoo, when at 16, I myself tried giving myself a homemade tattoo with some friends. Luckily, when it came to my turn the needle broke, then the battery died. I don’t believe in coincidences and now know that was my angel protecting me from making a very big mistake. Anyway, one night after getting into an argument with my son about tattoos, I prayed to God to help me understand why I felt the way I did about tattoos. That night I had a dream that I was sitting on top of a cliff at night with Jesus beside me. Below us is the city so beautiful with its buildings and lights all lit up. Jesus tells me “look what do you see?’ I look and I see people walking through the city streets. He says “Look again what do you see?’ Then I see everyone that is walking by has a beautiful tattoo. I can see the butterfly tattoo, the one of the praying hands, I even see one with the Virgin Mary go by, and I tell him how beautiful they all look. Then he tells me again “Now look closer, what do you see?” As I look closer at the tattoos they all have the number 666 camouflaged in them. I look to Jesus and ask him what does this mean? And he says they have all been marked by the evil one.” Then I wake up thanking Jesus for this revelation. Later, as I reflect on the dream I start taking a closer look at the tattoo shops and the workers in them, and if you look close enough all the ones that I have come across have some kind of satanic feel to them. Who’s to say what these people are really marking your body with? I’ve only had 3 dreams where Jesus has revealed himself to me and this is one of them. Just wanted to share my revelation, maybe someone else reading it might have had a similar one.

  118. mike todd says:

    Do not love the world or anything in it, or the Love of the Father is not in you.

  119. Michael C says:

    Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago you are surrounded by both good & bad influences.
    As a kid, it often seemed like the bad outweighed the good, but if you looked hard, you realized this was not really the case.(not even close)
    When I see a person with a tattoo, It usually strikes me in a negative way.
    I did however have an experience that was completely the opposite.
    One of my teenage friends had a neighbor that was older than us.(18 or 19 years old)
    I did not know the guy, but he always seemed like he would be a bad influence.
    One day when I was walking down the street with my friend, the guy started to talk to my friend.
    I could see the tattoo on his arm from the sidewalk & really did not want to walk up with my friend.
    He greeted us with a smile & introduced himself.
    I was surprised when I looked at his arm, because the tattoo was an image of Jesus Christ.
    This combined with his friendly manner, completely changed my opinion of him almost instantly.
    I understood where he stood & I hope it reminds him every day when he looks in the mirror.
    Someone told me he now lives in Texas & is doing well.
    I do not have any tattoo’s & hope my children will not give in to the pier pressure to get them.
    A crucifix charm would have made the same effect on me.

  120. Anne says:

    The account of the bride with tattoos is too funny, Monsignor. Although, it is probably much more humorous to me than it was to her at the time. LOL!

  121. Rosemarie Kamerer says:

    Dear Bishop, I pray one day my 23 year old son will one day remove his turtles tattoos

  122. Texie says:

    Monsignor is older and wiser, listen to him, we all have a free will, however he is a man of the church and the cloth, respectfully listen and learn as you will do what your gift of free will decides, but Monsignor instructs us from the church of God, it’s your choice to listen or not.

  123. Phyllis says:

    My father had some very impressive and large tattoos which he got sometime during the 1940s, when tattoos were also popular. Historically, Christians have sometimes had small tattoos of crosses, often by their wrist or thumb. I have seen this on Ethiopian Christians, for example, and an Iraqi Christian woman I met who had tattooed a small cross and the dates of two pilgrimages she had made to Jerusalem. I think it was widespread among Christian sailors in the past, who hoped that if their bodies were ever washed ashore after being lost at sea, they could be assured of a Christian burial. I add this just as a little historical and cultural note, as I completely agree with the argument against current styles of flamboyant “body art.” There are many reasons to avoid it, not only the ones mentioned by Msgr. Pope.

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