Nursing mothers in our parishes–and charges of immodesty

1200px-Aveiro_March_2012-21aThere are some Catholics who take avoiding a “near occasion of sin” to such extremes that they create a whole new set of rules to put a hedge around such occasions, and then act as if violating one of the “preventive” rules is also somehow sinful.

I am going to pronounce right now that this kind of thing is not part of our English Catholic/Anglican Patrimony going forward.  Maybe some of our readers and bloggers with a more scholarly bent will show how we are not Jansenists or Puritans, or T.U.L.I.P Calvinists.  (The T stands for Total Depravity).

Sometimes, rules around modesty are over the top and assume that concupiscence has such power over us that the mere sight of a woman’s cleavage or bare arms or a mother breastfeeding an infant will cause men to fall into helpless lust and therefore it is the woman’s fault somehow, rather than a man’s responsibility to rise above his base appetites and find a level of self-discipline.

I write this because a young mother wrote the following on the Informal Anglican Ordinariates Conversation Forum on Facebook.  I have permission to re-post her comment here, but I have removed some identifying details, because I do not want to single out any particular community, but point to a problem that can come when newcomers who do not share our patrimony try to stamp their identity and practices on our Ordinariate communities.  We in the Anglicanorum coetibus Society are a lay movement to prevent this!

My friend wrote:

We’ve been part of this particular Ordinariate group for just over two years ..[snip]..The local diocese is not at all supportive of the Ordinariate (you know, we’re not “real” Catholics). Growth is difficult.

The growth we HAVE had in the past year has been more from people who are attracted to Latin Mass, and it seems that rather than looking for our Anglican Patrimony, they are looking for an English version of the Latin Mass. Our priest also does not have an Anglican background; he [snip] got special dispensation to do join the Ordinariate (or something like that.)

Unfortunately for us, was after I had my third baby in September, there were complaints about me breastfeeding my baby without covering her with a blanket in church. I was accused of being immodest. One must keep in mind a number of things:

1. I led all of the singing from the very back of the room and tried to be as discrete as possible, (but nobody is perfect).

2.a. My infant had a very difficult time with breastfeeding, so I need to be able to see her easily. A blanket would prevent that.
2.b. I have a toddler who would yank the blanket off anyway.
2.c. Blankets get very hot and we’d both overheat.

3. Even if I wasn’t leading singing, we didn’t have a cry room or anything of the sort. So if I were to go hide to feed my baby, I’d have to leave the room (and hear nothing and participate in nothing). She feeds very frequently, so I’d be in and out every five minutes, and I’d literally miss the entire mass. There would be no point in attending.

4. I think it’s very inappropriate to accuse a mother of being immodest for trying to feed her baby. It is wrong to put the entire weight of modesty on her shoulders when it is also the other person’s job to simply avert their eyes if necessary. I think there’s a line that needs to be drawn where one has to be responsible for themselves and their response to things around them. It, in fact, goes against hundreds of years of Catholic art in which Mary frequently feeds Jesus the same way as I do. I’m just following her example.

So with all those issues combined, we finally had to decide to attend a different Catholic parish. One that has really awful music, tacky stained glass windows, the priest sounds kinda like Kermit the Frog when he’s singing, and the “rose” vestments are pretty much neon pink, but the community there is really wonderful. Nobody cares how I feed my baby (nobody looks at me when I do it, nobody tries banishing me to a room off some room somewhere or making me feel shameful for doing what is completely normal and also wanting to hear the sermon and be with my family). I’m incredibly sad to be away from any bit of our Anglican Patrimony [snip] I hate that we’ve had to make this decision.

So all that to say: yes, if the Anglican Patrimony were to disappear entirely, I’d be heartbroken.

I find this story  saddening and appalling.  My goodness, God forbid someone should see a bit of breast while a baby is nursing, or horror of horrors a nipple if the baby detaches suddenly to give her mom a beatific smile!

Thankfully, my friend did not have this experience in other Ordinariate communities she has attended, only this one that seems to lack a critical mass of patrimonial people to keep back this kind of legalism around near occasions of sin.




2 thoughts on “Nursing mothers in our parishes–and charges of immodesty

  1. This is a personal pet-peeve of mine. As a medical professional of 25 years, all I can say to those who have a problem with public breastfeeding is “get over it!” Yes, most moms try to cover up when they can, but in case you forgot, there is another person under there who has a mind of his/her own and probably doesn’t like having a blanket over his/her face while he/she is eating. You try it and see how it feels. Put a towel over your head at the dinner table. Do you think it will make your food taste better? Just try having a dinner conversation with your family that way. See how that goes.

    The fact is, human beings are social creatures, and that includes babies too. Some of them will put up with a blanket over their face and some won’t. They want to see what’s going on, and maybe even interact a little. This is one of the things I agree with Pope Francis on. If the baby is hungry, go ahead and feed him/her, even if it’s right in the middle of mass. Don’t make the baby starve for the sake of “modesty.” That’s a classic case of straining the gnat to swallow the camel.


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