To answer your question, let me begin by saying that there is no official teaching of the Catholic Church, that I know of, on the subject of tattoos. This is a moral issue. As far as Catholic morality is concerned, tattoos are not in themselves intrinsically evil and in certain circumstances they may even be morally permissible...
Deacon Robert Lukosh of the Archdiocese of Portland Oregon, in his article “Physical Graffiti: Tattoo You? A Catholic Perspective on Body Art” affirms that “Body art as a form of adornment, that is ordered to the ultimate good of the person and to humanity, if it observes modesty and avoids vanity, and if it respects the fundamental integrity of the human person—including the integrity of the body—can be morally permissible (1).
One example of this would be that of those persecuted Coptic Christians in Egypt who "often get a small cross tattoo on their wrists because of the widespread practice of kidnapping young girls [by Muslims] for forced conversion and marriage" (2).
Deacon Robert continues his article specifying that "this is quite distinct from personal mutilation that many of today’s extreme tattoos and piercings entail." So although certain circumstances may make it morally permissible to get a tattoo, others may not. It is important to mention that "a good intention cannot make an evil act good, but bad intention can render a good or neutral act evil" (3).
Father Peter Joseph, a vice-rector and lecturer in dogma at Vianney College, a diocesan seminary in Australia, in his article "The Morality of Tattoos and Body Piercing", says that "certain types of body piercing and decorations [tattoos] in our society are extreme and unjustified, and some of them are motivated by anti-Christian sentiments" (4). He points out several negative aspects that should be taken into consideration by Christians before getting themselves tattooed. Here are a few of them:
1. Diabolical images. Tattoos of demons are quite common, yet no Christian should ever sport an image of a devil or a satanic symbol.
2. Exultation in the ugly. This is a mark of the Satanic, which hates the beauty of God’s creation and tries to destroy it and to ruin others’ appreciation of it. More than just being ugly, some body piercing is the expression of delight in being ugly.
3. Self-mutilation and self-disfigurement. This is a sin against the body and against the Fifth Commandment. Some body piercing verges on self-mutilation. At best, multiple body piercing is self-inflicted abuse. A form of self-hatred or self-rejection motivates some to pierce themselves or decorate themselves in a hideous and harmful fashion. The human body was not made by God to be a pin cushion or a mural.
4. Harm to health. A used instrument, if not properly sterilized, can transmit hepatitis or HIV.
5. A desire to shock and repel. To shock people for the thrill of shocking people, with no intention to promote truth and goodness, is not a virtue, but a sign of a perverted sense of values.
6. Vanity. It is a means of drawing attention to them. No one who meets them can fail to notice the tattoos – to the point at which it is in fact a constant distraction. It detracts from the person, and focuses attention too much on the body’s external appearance.
7. Immaturity and imprudence. Some young people adopt outrageous fashions out of an immature desire to rebel against society or against their parents. Such disobedience against parents is sinful. Some do it out of an immature desire to conform to their friends, and others out of an equally immature desire to stick out from everyone around them. Some do it out of boredom, because it is something different, because it gives them a thrill... Mindless following of fads is always the mark of immaturity. Parents must forbid such behavior absolutely.
Tattoos are more serious than other adornments since they are more or less permanent marks on the body. Many a man or woman have been tattooed gladly in youth, but regretted it not so many years later when they came to regard it as an embarrassing disfigurement (5).
As Christians, we are called to "be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48) and to live in "the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rm 8:21). That means going against the popular trends and fashions of the times, not letting oneself be mastered/enslaved by them.
No human being was more perfect or free than Mary, the Mother of God. She is "our tainted nature's solitary boast," that is why I would like to place her before the eyes of your heart. Her soul was Immaculate, without the stain of sin, and as a consequence of that inner beauty her body was also kept Immaculate, without the stain. Contemplate and imitate her life. As our Heavenly Mother, She makes St. Paul's words her own and says to us:"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body" (1Cor6:19-20)."The human body is meant to glorify God its maker it should not be maltreated or disfigured. Its dignity and beauty must be kept and cultivated, in order that it be an expression of the deeper beauty of the soul" (6).
1. Deacon Robert Lukosh “Physical Graffiti: Tattoo You? A Catholic Perspective on Body Art” .
2. Sagen und Legenen: literature, ancient and medieval history, some fandom and some random, Sept 14
3. Deacon Robert Lukosh “Physical Graffiti: Tattoo You? A Catholic Perspective on Body Art” .
4. Father Peter Joseph, "The Morality of Tattoos and Body Piercing".