EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. There is a “debate” slash “catfight” on modesty someone aaaaalways mentions, “Saint Padre Pio had a sign outside his confessional that has women wear dresses EIGHT INCHES below their knees or he would refuse them confession!” Hmmm, this is actually, FALSE.
This isn’t exactly “Snopes” (the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.) But there is an very interesting story that was spread throughout the internet; used in books and quoted many, many times by well-meaning (I hope!) men and women on the issue of modesty. This story is about Padre Pio and his alleged low toleration for women’s modesty in the confessional.
It is said (repeatedly) that, “Padre Pio wouldn’t tolerate low-necked dresses or short, tight skirts, and he forbade his spiritual daughters to wear transparent stockings. Each year his severity increased. He stubbornly dismissed them from his confessional, even before they set foot inside, if he judged them to be improperly dressed. On some mornings he drove away one after another, until he ended up hearing very few confessions. His brothers observed these drastic purges with a certain uneasiness and decided to fasten a sign on the church door; ‘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 TO CONFESSION.’ ”
The more I look this statement over the more upset I get. As a proclaimed lover of modesty, I too, had fallen victim to using this story in my articles on modesty. (Thankfully, I now base my writing on facts, and always strive to use true footnotes and information regarding my writing.) There are few things that upset me more than using false information (especially for a good cause!) when it comes to information others about the faith.
Rita Davidson, Catholic wife, and mother of seven, with three autistic boys, and writer of the book, “Immodesty, Satan’s Virtue” has delved deep for her facts while writing the third edition of her book (you can buy it here!). To the point of reaching out to Padre Pio’s monastary and asking one of the brothers who knew Padre Pio personally and worked with him, about this above statements concerning Padre Pio’s “stubbornly refusing women” the sacrament of confession. To the point of FASTENING A SIGN on the confessional door!
“…I reached out to San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio’s monastery, in hopes of finding answers….
I could find no proof that Padre Pio ever had a sign on his door that said, “By Padre Pio’s explicit wish, women must enter the confessional wearing skirts at least 8 inches below the knees. It is forbidden to borrow longer dresses in Church and to wear them for the confessional.”
San Giovanni Rotondo confirmed there is no sign in existence now, and none left to prove it from before. From my research and those I spoke with in San Giovanni it seems there were some over-zealous writers that expanded on this story.”
Rita speaks about Brother Luciano Lotti of San Giovanni Rotondo, who was born in 1955; he is the editor in chief of the journal, “Studi su Padre Pio.” His family knew Padre Pio personally and went to his parish and confessed there. She asked him about Padre Pio and modesty and he wrote,
“According to Padre Pio the absolution didn’t depend on the length of the skirt or trousers; if he did so, he wouldn’t be in orthodoxy… in those times, women weren’t in the habit of trousers.”
Rita continues in her book, “To understand Padre Pio’s stance, lets look at his letters. “Most of all it was modest in the way of dressing that was most dear to the Padre’s heart, no matter where one lived. The reason that the Saint worried was that an indecent way of dressing can be scandalous and an occasion of sin for anyone.'”
(Iasenzaniro, Fr. Marcellino. Padre Pio testimonies. Vol 1. San Giovanno Rotundo, Italy: Eziolini POadre Pio Pietrelcina, p 149.)
Rita mentions later on that, eight inches below the knee is not the same on all women! Eight inches for a short woman would trail on the floor, whereas for a taller woman would be different! It just doesn’t make sense.
There is still quite a bit more information on this subject, but this is the base of it You can read the story in its entirety in Rita’s book; Immodesty, Satan’s Virtue!
A point I would like to make, aside from the fact that Padre Pio’s zeal for modesty got taken out of proportion; is to ALWAYS. CHECK. YOUR. SOURCES! Especially if you are a Catholic, trying to inform, make a point, educate, whatever – it is of vital importance that the information you are giving out to people is TRUE.
Rita Davidson’s book can be bought here; as a “self proclaimed modesty crusader” for 7 years (since I was 16!), I can honestly say that I have never read such an excellent, on point book on modesty! My book review can be found here!. You can be sure that you are only getting the best information, written very clearly.
You can visit Rita’s website here!