What Is the Church’s Stance
on Mixed Swimming?
Praised be Jesus Christ!
I thank you for your excellent work and would like to make a suggestion. Would you consider writing an article specifically on the issue of mixed swimming and how the Church previously condemned such a practice?
I am having a very hard time finding any sources on this, aside from that lovely story you shared about the Brazilian girl Cecy Cony who saw her Guardian Angel who prevented her from swimming.
While it was indeed very enlightening, I would like some resources that show what the Church has said about it that I could present to people.
Thank you and God bless,
The municipal swimming pool
made mixed swimming common
Thank you for your kind words of support.
Mixed swimming would have never been allowed
by the Saints of old
The only recent condemnation that we were able to find comes from a statement by Card. Enrique Pla y Deniel, Archbishop of Toledo, Spain in 1959:
"A special danger to morals is represented by public bathing at beaches, in pools and river banks. ... Mixed bathing between men and women, which is nearly always a proximate occasion of sin and a scandal, must be avoided."
It is a good statement but a mild warning rather than the strong censure that was needed in the late '50s, when he wrote it.
Every parent was induced to believe
that a child needed to swim
In a Treatise on Virginity, while addressing the way the virgins should dress, St. Cyprian stated:
§ 19 - “But what of those who frequent promiscuous baths; those who prostitute their eyes by being curious to lust, although their bodies are dedicated to chastity and modesty? They who disgracefully see naked men, and are seen naked by men, do they not themselves afford enticement to vice? Do they not solicit and invite the desires of those present to their own corruption and wrong?
“'Let each one,' you argue, 'look to the disposition with which he goes there: my care is only that of refreshing and washing my poor body.' This kind of defense does not clear you, nor does it excuse the crime of lasciviousness and wantonness.
“Such a washing defiles; it does not purify nor cleanse the limbs, but stains them. You watch no one immodestly, but you yourself are gazed upon immodestly. You do not pollute your eyes with disgraceful delight, but in delighting others you yourself are polluted.
“You make a show of the bathing-place; the places where you assemble are fouler than a theatre. There all modesty is put aside; off together with the clothing of garments, the honor and modesty of the body is laid aside; virginity is exposed, to be pointed at and to be commented.
At first swimming was a novelty considered scandalous by conservatives
But soon it became the fad
§ 21 - ... (Virgins,) let your baths be performed with women, among whom your bathing is modest.” [Note: We slightly changed the English translation to make the text more fluent and understandable - TIA]
It is important to remember that before the 19th century, people did not generally swim as a form of entertainment. Women, especially, only entered the water when they had to bathe. Sometimes boys and men would swim in rivers, ponds or lakes, either because of their occupations, for exercise, or to rescue others. Other than that, people did not find it necessary to emerge themselves in water.
When the first swim suits were introduced, the most modest of ladies and gentlemen rejected the new fad. The swimming suit in itself – despite how much of the body it covered – was considered immodest. For, any garment when gotten wet clings to the body and endangers modesty – a danger especially among members of the opposite sex.
This good position, however, did not last long as the modern times continued to emphasize the importance of "having fun" without any regard for modesty or morals. Eventually, the idea of swimming became so impressed on the minds of men and women that no one could imagine life without a swimsuit. From swimming being a superfluity of life, it had become almost a "necessity."
Even in the pre-Vatican II days when morals were stricter and nuns and priests did not don swimsuits, no serious admonishments were made against public swimming. Sadly, the more posh Catholic schools were even among the first to introduce swimming into their physical education programs.
As a result, today we are confronted with the scandal of almost complete public nudity on every beach in the world.
Consider how different things might have been had priests from the pulpit preached against mixed swimming.
Catholic nuns watch with complacency almost nude youth revel in the waves at WYD...
“I urge you to consider the foolishness of your words. For two millennia, men and women managed to live their lives without this maniacal notion that they had to swim, and I dare say they were as healthy – and many say even healthier and stronger – than we are today.
“And except for those few whose lives depended on the water for a livelihood – and these men indeed often did learn to swim – the danger of drowning is hardly so great as to warrant swimming pools where the sexes come together to ‘play’ in the water and men given the liberty to admire the bodies of the opposite sex, who so boldly present to public view what was not so long ago modestly concealed even in private.
“What a far-reaching effect you bring upon yourself. For those few minutes of fun, you expose your soul to the danger of a harsh punishment at Judgment Day, when God will pronounce his just sentence, ‘Go, my son or daughter, away from me.’
“Consider the dire consequences of your reckless pursuit of following the new styles and customs of the modern world. A very long Purgatory … or more probably, an eternity of Hell for those few fleeting moments of pleasure.”
Ladies of the past did not feel the need to enter the water for recreation
If the Catholic men and women of the past could have understood the bad tendencies that public bathing or swimming promoted, they most certainly would have rejected it as an unnecessary novelty. For even if swimming appeared innocent at the beginning, the end result was inevitably indecent, as the bad tendencies gradually developed.
This principle of gradualism is explained in another article by Professor Plinio, in which he mentions the first women who started the custom of bathing on beaches.
Therefore, although we sadly cannot offer many official Church documents condemning mixed swimming, the blatant immorality of modern society should be a sufficient argument against the novel activity.
TIA correspondence desk