Mexican prelates defend editorial calling for women to dress modestly

MEXICO CITY – An editorial in an online publication from the Archdiocese of Mexico City urging women to don more conservative attire has generated headlines across the country as Catholic leaders defended their call for modesty as a method of promoting dignity and reducing incidents of sexual harassment and assault.

In an Aug. 14 statement issued by the archdiocese clarifying the editorial, church leaders said women should “make sure that their dress is not a pretext for being intimidated, victimized by violence and sexually assaulted in a city where gender-based violence is a part of everyday life.”

The statement added: “The church is conscious that the human body is naturally beautiful, it is a work of God and for our eyes, it is the most perfect of works.”

Local media responded to the editorial and statement with a steady stream of cheeky headlines, suggesting the church was out to ban miniskirts.

A small group of young women – clad in miniskirts – protested Aug. 16 outside Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral. Even high-profile politicians weighed in; they included Ruth Zavaleta, speaker of the lower house of Congress known for her stylish attire.

“How is it possible that it’s a pretext … that because we wear miniskirts we’re now going to be victims of a crime?” she asked.

Catalina Morfin Lopez, director of the human development center at Jesuit-run ITESO University in suburban Guadalajara, said the church comments were received poorly by some groups because they interpreted them as “blaming the victim.”

“Violence against women and children is a serious problem” in Mexico, she said, although she cautioned that it was difficult to compare figures on the subject with other countries.

Others heeded the archdiocesan call, however. A public university in the western state of Sinaloa banned miniskirts and sexy attire throughout its high school system after consulting with parents and faculty.

Some prelates also said the attire of some parishioners was becoming increasingly inappropriate.

“The most important thing is a dignified appearance – that a woman dresses so that she is respected – and that (the appearance) respects others,” Archbishop Jose Martin Rabago of Leon told reporters Aug. 17.

“I believe that there are forms of appropriately dressing for different places … one isn’t going to dress the same way at the beach as in a church,” he said.

Archbishop Hector Gonzalez Martinez of Durango said that revealing clothing being worn at special events like weddings was becoming problematic for some prelates.

“What honor (is there) with such dresses so open and worn so high?” he asked.

“When (some women) sit up front … I’m left with no other recourse but to look up,” he added. “The view is very natural and although I’m a bishop, a woman still captures attention.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.