Can a priest direct women not to wear head coverings?

Our pastor is asking the women in our parish not to wear head covering at Mass as it is distracting. He even went as far as an article in the Sunday bulletin stating that the Code of Canon Law (1983) eliminated the requirement for women to cover their heads. He further comments that those who feel they want to follow the old code certainly can, but to do all of what it says then men should sit separated from the ladies on the opposite side of the church.

Is it okay for women that want to show respect at Mass to cover their heads? Shouldn’t anyone who want to wear a head covering be allowed to do so?

This priest is positing a false dichotomy: Either don’t wear head coverings or don’t follow the new Code of Canon Law. What he does not appear to understand is that a woman could choose to wear a hat or a veil to church, as a matter of Western social protocol, and still follow the new Code.

While modern society no longer frowns on women choosing not to cover their heads, the fact remains that a woman can choose to follow the point of traditional etiquette that women cover their heads with a hat or veil in church. Unless the Church itself specifically forbids women from wearing such head coverings, which it does not, a priest does not have the legitimate authority to determine a lady’s wardrobe. It remains her prerogative to use her prudential judgment in choosing her church attire.

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