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Plastic surgery: Pius XII gives the moral criteria

If moral conditions indicated by the Church are respected, cosmetic surgery does not offend God. That is how one should answer anyone who asks what Catholicism teaches on the subject.

Here, we will not talk about reparative surgeries – made to repair serious injuries or deformations. These are obviously fair. We are talking about surgeries for aesthetic purposes.

Of course, we see many cases of sinful use of plastic surgery: people desperate to have eternal youth, girls who put so much silicone that they look like an ugly doll, men and women with their faces deformed by excessive aesthetic interventions, people who think they have to be “perfect” and feel frustrated with any silly “defect” in the body…

However, there are many fair cases, where the person just seeks to achieve beauty within a standard of normality. That is what Pope Pius XII said in a speech in 1958.

Morality depends on the concrete circumstances of each case. The main conditions for cosmetic surgery to be considered fair according to faith are:

  • if the intention is correct;
  • if the general health is protected from significant risks;
  • if the reasons are reasonable and proportionate to the “extraordinary means” used.

Given these criteria, it is evident that is immoral when someone puts silicone to satisfy the whim of having a huge ass, in order to increase their seductive strength and, consequently, more easily inducing others to sin.

It is also notorious that many people have deep self-esteem problems, which go far beyond the question of physical appearance – I think everyone remembers the Michael Jackson case. Obsessed with achieving an impossible physical “perfection” and, in most cases, supported by unscrupulous doctors, these people undergo surgery after surgery, without ever considering themselves satisfied.

In these sick cases, instead of lying on the plastic surgeon’s stretcher, the person should lie on the therapist’s couch. And, mainly, seek inner healing with prayer, meditation on the Word of God, good Christian friendships, constant charity and spiritual direction.

There are, however, numerous legitimate reasons for seeking plastic surgery for beautification:

[…] numerous reasons sometimes legitimize, other times they positively recommend the intervention. Some deformities, or even just imperfections, are provided with psychic disturbances, or become an obstacle to social and family relationships, or an impediment – especially in people dedicated to public life or art – to the carrying out of their business.


– Pius XII (see the full speech here, in italian)

We know that repairing imperfections in our physical appearance is not always possible. In that case, the way is to embrace self-acceptance in an intelligent and serene way.

On the other hand, where reparation is not possible, the Christian maxims in their inexhaustible wealth are able to suggest the reasons and inspire the strength that make one tolerate with serenity the physical defects, permitted by the mysterious divine plans.


– Pope Pius XII

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