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Dear Catholic Exchange:
Where does the Church stand as far as tattoos and body piercings go? Are they a sin or against the teachings of the Church? I am curious if body piercing is wrong, wouldn't it be wrong to wear earrings as well?
Peace in Christ!
The Church has never prohibited ear piercing and, in the Bible, there is no prohibition against the wearing of earrings and nose rings (cf. Ez 16:12). In addition, we are not aware that the Church has pronounced on tattoos, body piercing in general, or tongue piercing specifically. However, the Church does provide general principles to consider.
For example, there is the issue of totality to consider. According to this principle, the parts of one’s body are ordered to the good of that person. Thus, surgical mutilation or other disfigurement must not seriously impair or destroy bodily functions or the beauty of the individual (cf. Thomas O’Donnell, S.J., Medicine and Christian Morality: Second Revised and Updated Edition [New York: Alba House: New York, 1991], p. 122). In this light, because of a concern for the spread of disease and problems that could result from eating, tongue piercing specifically could be questioned. Tongue piercing could also be questioned on “appearance” grounds: specifically how it impairs one’s beauty and could unnecessarily alienate others that one encounters. Other forms of body piercing could also be questionable, depending on how they are done. In addition, regarding tattoos, some would definitely be morally objectionable because of their bodily placement and associated exhibition, as well as because of the images and associated messages of the tattoos themselves.
Depending on one’s culture and because we should not serve as a stumbling block for fellow believers and prospective believers who may be scandalized or otherwise alienated (cf. 1 Cor 8:9), a Catholic may have additional reason to refrain from body piercing and tattoos. In other words, Catholics should not behave in ways that will unnecessarily offend others and therefore impede the Church’s mission to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt 28:18-20).
Catholics should be mindful of these considerations regarding their own conduct, while being merciful toward those who may have or get tattoos or some type of body piercing. As evangelists called to make disciples of all nations, we must not allow ourselves to write people off because of their tattoos or bodily piercing. If they have not been won to Christ and His Church, we must strive to win them.
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