Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Padre Pio strict with women who wore trousers? Padre Pio was equally severe with men about their sartorial selections including some men who wore trousers…

Padre Pio refused a Canadian lady absolution and told her to return home. The lady had been selling women’s trousers in her clothes shop in Vancouver, but she had traveled all the way to Italy to meet Padre Pio. But when she went into the confessional, Padre Pio asked her to go home, dispose of all the trousers in her shop and not even to donate any of the items to women who might wear them.

When I first read this account – I thought it was exaggerated. I did further research because it did seem as though some anti-women-wearing-trousers webpages were using an incident where Padre Pio told a woman (who made her living from selling women’s clothes) as an exemplar to prove the erroneousness of women wearing trousers.  The account of the women-who-sold-trousers-who-was-refused-absolution is genuine and was published in the book Arrivederci, Padre Pio.

To recount this story without bearing in mind how Padre Pio suffered when he had to refuse someone absolution is not only an injustice to Padre Pio’s character, but it also makes it sound as though Padre Pio was gratuitously punishing the lady. When asked why he, on occasion, closed the small confessional in the faces of some, Padre Pio said, "Don't you know?" he asked, "what pain it costs me to shut the door on anyone? The Lord has forced me to do so…I am His useless tool."

Much is also made of Padre Pio’s disdain for mini-skirts; the sign that was displayed in the San Giovanni Church read; ‘by Padre Pio’s explicit wish women must enter the confessional wearing skirts at least 8 inches below the knee. It is forbidden to borrow longer dresses in church and to wear them for the Confessional’. Again, I’ve often heard it cited by both Catholics and non-Catholics that if Padre Pio was against mini-skirts, then us women folk should not wear them.

Padre Pio is often painted as a stern figure who had behind-the-times ‘issues’ with women’s clothes. But Padre Pio was no misogynist. It is often forgotten that Padre Pio was as strict with men about clothing – men were not permitted to enter the church with short or three-quarter length sleeves or short trousers or shorts. Both boys and men had to wear long trousers, or else they were shown out of the church. In the 1960’s, Padre Pio’s fort was one of the few churches where the fashions of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were favoured over those of the 1960s. But I would love to hear Padre Pio’s opinion on some men that I have known who like to show off their 'designer' underwear while wearing low jeans, but then criticise women in trousers.

Padre Pio also admonished priests for their sartorial ‘disguise’. One day a gentleman dressed smartly in a jacket, tie and pants was in the sacristy waiting for Padre Pio. When Padre Pio clapped eyes on this sophisticated man he said, ‘Father, you came in disguise, but you don’t have to be ashamed, next time come dressed as a priest.’

Once Padre Pio met a young man who was in trousers and a sweater – Padre Pio told him to come back wearing the cowl of St Dominic. The man was flabbergasted, but confessed to being a Dominican priest. In this instance, Padre Pio showed-up a man who was wearing ordinary trousers because it hid the fact that the man was a priest.

(Not to got off the topic, but there is an ancient Golden Girls episode where Dorothy, the swotty, opinionated, tall-as-a-tree school teacher falls for another teacher, Frank who dresses in jeans and a check shirt. When Dorothy invites Frank round for dinner, he comes dressed as a priest, and Dorothy asks, "why didn't you tell me your name was Fr Leahy?"  He revealed that he was a priest too late – Dorothy is distraught. Sophia (Dorothy's mother from Sicily) struts down to the Church to give the priest a piece of her mind. On another occasion, Sophia, is trying to woo an Italian man, and she dresses like a grieving widow thick black lace head-to-toe, ‘so he’ll know I’m available!’)

When other great and highly esteemed Catholics like GK Chesterton and Cardinal Siri argue about what women should and shouldn’t wear, there is a sense that they think only women have a responsibility for dressing well and for modesty. Not to affront GK Chesterton fans, but his remarks on women wearing trousers are crass: ‘as a little while ago it was common for an "advanced" woman to claim the right to wear trousers; a right about as grotesque as the right to wear a false nose...’ Chesterton may have been writing in a time when the dictatorship of politically correctness did not reign, but by only stating, in his opinion, that women in trousers may be ‘grotesque’, without remarking on men's ‘grotesque’ choices of clothes, he presents an unbalanced argument.

One can say that Padre Pio had unfair advantage in commenting on modesty and clothes – he could read minds and souls. He prevented a gangster from killing his wife, a girl from knifing her ex-boyfriend and even when a priest ‘in civvies’ approached him, he knew he was a priest because Padre Pio could see the indelible mark of ordination of the priest’s soul. But for the advantage of us ordinary people who cannot read souls, Padre Pio gave this advice; ‘nothing represents an object more faithfully or clearly than a mirror. In the same way, nothing more widely represents the good or bad qualities of a soul than the greater or lesser regulation of the exterior, as when one appears more or less modest…the internal virtue of modesty, which regulates the external workings of the body.’

When Padre Pio was explaining how the exterior of a person reflects their interior – he did not say that this applies more to women than to men. And this is the problem with modern commentary and debate on fashion and clothes – it is often about contesting what women should and should not wear – while forgetting that men too bear a responsibility to be modest.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! I was just thinking about how Padre Pio was very kindly to women - how he bilocated so that he could meet the girl who was carrying a knife intended for the ex-boyfriend who had tried to take advantage of her - Padre Pio met her and said 'he's not worth it'.

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  2. This is a wonderful post. The more I learn about Padre Pio, the more I like him. Thank you!

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  3. How can we get women to understand this widely accepted idea that it is not a sin to wear trousers especially when it IS so accepted. frankly, I can see in many cases where it is sinful given an intent to display cerain body parts, but if this is the furthest thing form a woman's ind, is it still sinful? I would like an answer, please.

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  4. I think seeing women in trousers was more of a sign for Padre Pio of what was to come within the family structure we often see today. Too many families splitting up because both spouses don't know what there roles are in the marriage and there is a constant power struggle. I wear "trousers" every day and I don't think it's a sin but I can see why Padre Pio felt what he did at that time because he knew the sin behind it. I don't think I'm better than men. We both have our parts to play and we need eachother. He also saw things the average person can't, the evil spirits lurking around us causing us to sin. By wearing short skirts or showing too much skin in general we are giving these spirits amo to cause others to sin just by looking at us. It's a sad world but there's way more than meets the eye. Life is a spiritual battle and all we can do is ask for forgiveness and pray for protection so we can make the right choices going forward. God Bless!

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  5. Greetings, This subject is very interesting to me as I befriend so many different type of Catholics who take sides on this arguement with much feeling and reaction. I have been in church communities where if a female were to wear a nice dress slack and be very modest in dress they would be shunned. There is no excuse for wearing a pant if you are a women. I also know families who themselves would not respect a female who wears pants and yet they see this as a missionary ground, to help the women learn of her dignity as a women and do not shun her, but bear witness and thereby, bring her around. On the other side, I know those who laugh at all the above and have no problem with any fashions that a person might wear, and others who try to wear pants or dresses in a modest fashion which includes the type of blouse that individual would wear to keep the ensemble modest in every way. Now my conclusion about all this is we live in extraordinary times. Our mission is to raise our eyes and others to the glory of what God created us for, and what we wear on the outside does reflect what comes from within. Even a good catholic women can suffer from vanity and pride and think that she is extraordinary because she wears a dress/skirt at all times and thus is better than those who do not. This does not teach anyone what Christ wants us to teach others. I highly respect those who out of conviction of the noble, chose to wear only women's traditional clothing because they want to honor the role of women and the feminine mystique. Like a sister who wears a traditional habit, she is preaching without saying a word, especially if her inner life relects what the habit symbolizes. My daughter is now attending college at a small catholic school that is currently struggling with this question. Up to this point it was not allowed for women wear anything but a dress or skirt and the length was regulated as were other very specific qualities. It is war banner used against those who feel dress slacks should be allowed. The men are required to have jackets and oxford shirts, slacks and ties for class. This is to honor the classroom environment . Yet the students who insist this cannot change have no other rationale other than , this is our tradition. But these same students will wear pencil thin skirts that touch their ankles, yet, as the boys have said, they are more revealing than when some of the girls where a wool slack with nice sweaters. So I ponder, what is the essential issue here?
    As I read your article, I immediately thought of Christ's warning that it is not what you consume that brings out evil, but what comes from the heart. Yet, in truth we live in a world that is desperately in need of courageous role models who can help us see, maybe for the first time, that we were created for more than this world. Our behaviors and external manner of dress bear this out. Thanks for posting.

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