Ask a Priest – Is Getting a Tattoo Against the Teachings of the Catholic Church?

25 Sep 2013

Sep 25, 2013

If the Church forbids us from mutilating our bodies, does this mean that getting a tattoo is against the teachings of the Catholic Church?

First of all, the Church has not made any kind of formal decision on the matter of tattoos. There is some Biblical evidence on this, for example, a passage in Leviticus that says:

“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28).

Yet, it seems that this prohibition was present so as to avoid the people of Israel from following the pagan mourning practices of the Canannites. Moreover, these Old Testament ritualistic laws are not binding on Christians.

The Church does say that we should avoid practices that mutilate or damage our body, as you can see in no. 2296 of the Catechism.

Some tattoos could be morally permissable, but there are a number of points to take into consideration.

1. What is the motivation? If it is being done for reasons of vanity or pride then it could be something not so laudable.

2. Then, there are tattoos with words or pictures that celebrate the demonic, are unchaste, or offend against charity, so these would not be considered morally acceptable.

3. There are also health considerations to take into account. If the instruments for tattoos or piercings are not properly cleaned then they can be a source of infection, including hepatitis C, which is a serious problem.

4. Would getting a particular tattoo mutilate your body in some respect by causing damage or impeding normal bodily functions. This is probably more relevant when it comes to the various forms of piercing.

5. Would a tattoo offend family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and in some way cause scandal?

6. Is the expense involved justified in light of the needs of my yourself, those who depend on you and what we should be doing in terms of helping out those in need?

So, there is no cut and dried rule on this and every individual needs to evaluate their situation and apply the basic moral precepts to guide them.

This article goes into some of the issues involved and concludes by asking: “Are they marks worth making?”

This other article, written a few years ago in the National Catholic Register, points out that sometimes tattoos can communicate a postive message, such as the use of religious symbols. It also warns that it is not something to be rushed into and that often people come to regret their decision to get a tattoo. Also it a difficult and painful process to remove tattoos.