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.

Why is female modesty important in your faith? Is it more important for women to be modest than men and if so, why?

Modesty is seen as the English equivalent of the Latin word pudictia with the restricted meaning which this term often had in scholastic use, namely, decency or a sense of decency. Modesty is the moral virtue that moderates and controls the impulse of sexual display in persons.

In our tradition, no difference is made between men and women. We are all called to exercise modesty at all times, without distinction between the sexes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that modesty guides how we look at others and how we behave toward them "in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity" (No. 2521). We believe that it protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships and requires that "the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled" (cf. 2522).

In plain talk, to be modest is to be decent, discreet and sober in ones choice of clothing and conversation. In an age when so much human exploitation takes place, especially on the internet, modesty would also include our avoiding the voyeuristic victimization of persons who are forced, often because of economic needs, to appear immodestly, on certain sites. In this sense, modesty inspires a way of life which resists the allurements of some inappropriate fashion and certain prevailing ideologies.

We believe that it is the responsibility of all people to promote the much needed qualities of the heart which encourage modesty everywhere, thus awakening a deep respect of the moral and spiritual dignity of all human persons. These graces are rooted in our Baptism, which among its many others, gives us the gift of chastity that allows us to love with upright and undivided hearts.