Q. I am thinking of getting a tattoo on my arm of my late daughter's handwriting. Is there anything in Catholic teaching against this? (I want to do this for my 75th birthday, which is coming up soon.) (Louisville, Kentucky)
A. There is nothing in Catholic teaching that prohibits getting a tattoo.
Some point to a passage in Leviticus 19:28 that says, "Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves."
But in its context, that was a Jewish ceremonial prohibition that may have dealt with expressing devotion to a false god; two verses earlier Leviticus had warned, "Do not eat anything with the blood still in it."
Tattoos that are sexually explicit or satanic would naturally be immoral, as would a minor's choice to disobey a parent by getting a tattoo.
But a tattoo itself, even though it is permanent, violates no moral principle, and I see no problem with the questioner's getting a tattoo of her daughter's handwriting as a permanent memory.
I think it wise, though, for anyone considering a tattoo to ask: Will I still want this on my body 10 years from now?
Q. My brother is 82 years old and gay. He left the Church many years ago -- in part, I think, because he believes some myths about how the Church feels about gays.
He has some strong resentments against the Church. What can I do to help him get reconciled with the Church? (City and state withheld)
A. Particularly in recent years, the Catholic Church has been reaching out to gay people to assure them that they are an essential part of the people of God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 1994, says this: Men and women with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (No. 2358).
A number of parishes (St. Paul's in Manhattan is one notable example) have retreats, Bible study, speaking engagements and social nights for gay people, and our letter writer might consider inquiring what programs are available locally.
The overwhelming opinion of psychologists today is that people don't choose to be gay -- any more than they choose to be right- or left-handed; and while the Church believes (based on sacred Scripture and its consistent teaching) that homosexual acts are morally unacceptable, the Church also teaches that homosexual inclinations are not sinful in themselves.
A person whose orientation is gay has special challenges in living a Christian life, and every help should be given.
The Jesuit priest Father James Martin, who has written extensively and learnedly on the issue of gay Catholics, notes that in the United States, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are five times as likely to have attempted suicide as their straight counterparts.
There is a special need, then, for gay people to be welcomed by their parish communities. In his life and ministry, Jesus regularly reached out to those who felt excluded or marginalized, and the Church is continuing that effort.
- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service