Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

What is your faith's position on tattoos and piercings?

There is no specific prohibition of either tattoos or piercings in our faith group. Some individuals, often younger people, find that such things are entirely justified and that they somehow improve their overall appearance. At times, people find themselves in circles which espouse the use of both and find them attractive.

We believe that we are all created in the image and likeness of God - as is! In number 364 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read that "the human person shares in the dignity of the image of God: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul". The unity of body and soul is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the human body.

In that sense, it is what is deep within each of us that is more important than what is on the outside. I think it is important for us to ensure that these values are preserved in our society. This does not mean that it is necessarily wrong to have tattoos or piercings. However, in extreme cases, there could be a danger that an individual use these things to alter significantly their outward appearance. This could result in a failure to look deep inside to see ones true worth, which is always more important.

Of course, we are all accountable to God for our lives - after all, he is the one who gave them to us. We receive life with gratitude to God and are called to preserve it. In this sense, we are the stewards, not the owners, of the bodies which have been entrusted to us. So, everything we think of doing to our bodies, including adding piercings or tattoos, should be evaluated according to this principle.