Bishop Bossuet Chaplain to the King of France -Heroic Pose to Meet Court Conventions - Bossuet was a very holy and faithful Bishop

Clerical Attire

The way we freely choose to dress, expresses who we wish to be seen to be. But the way we are required to dress in a given situation, when it is fundamental to our calling, expresses who we are. These two truths are well demonstrated in the no-doubt apocryphal story of the “liberated” “feminist” nun who, in a disheveled state approached a police man saying “Officer do something, I am a Catholic Nun and I have been raped”. The Policeman responded: “How did you know I was a Policeman?”

Clerical attire has traversed some wide and varied territory from the Apostles’ sandals, tunic and cloak to the glories of a Chaplain to the King of France, to a Central Queensland Bishop in recent times. Are there standards? What is the ideal?

We are of course confining ourselves to everyday attire and not considering liturgical attire.

In the feverish period in the wake of the Second Vatican Council – a wake made tumultuous, not by the Council itself, so much, as by a clutch of North European clerics who daily, and on an organized basis, fed the gleeful world media their version of what the Council was about (never mind what the Council actually said or did, or what its documents proclaimed). There, bubbling in their tortured wake was “the false spirit of the Council”. This they said meant out with the old and in with anything new, across the board – and they began to speak of “the pre-Conciliar Church” and “the post-Conciliar Church” as if they should be two different creations on either side of a fundamental rupture.

Clerical attire? Why, the very idea was offensive! It divided priests from their people, alienating them. Out with the black suit and especially out with the cassock/soutane and the Roman Collar - the open neck white shirt would suffice, or…..whatever! Heady Stuff! (Speaking of the head – ditch the Biretta too!)

So, in the free for all that followed ,many Priests having thus “laicized themselves” as the Pope put it, they found a variety of ways to occupy their time, and in due course some found no time for their Priestly duties. Thousands abandoned their sacred ministry altogether. The rate of paedophilia and homosexuality among the clergy rose to the level of that in the general population for a time, as we have later found Pope Paul VI publicly proclaimed in anguish that it was “as if the smoke of Satan had entered the sanctuary through some crack “. At best,  madness was abroad – at worst, in the words of St. Peter: “The Devil goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour.”

Poor Pope Paul VI went to his grave and very shortly so too did his Successor the smiling Pope John Paul I. Enter Pope John Paul II (the Great) - he took the helm of the Barque of Saint Peter while the storm raged. He set about stabilizing the vessel and re-invigorating and instructing the remaining crew with the help of God’s Grace. At the end of his very long and heroic Pontificate (which was not without the occasional errors of judgment our frail human nature suffers), she had weathered the storm and was back on her true course with damage being repaired. The work has continued and accelerated under his Successor Pope Benedict XVI.

But what of clerical attire? The Venerable Pope John Paul II looked at the issue as a fundamental theological one – not simply a disciplinary one. He demonstrated that Priesthood is essentially the definition of what the Priest IS – it is not just a function that the Priest performs. Accordingly,  he ought to want to be seen as a Priest if he is not to deny within himself to some extent, the reality of his position. Further, the people have the right to the services of the Priest at all times – not just when he chooses to “do the Priest thing”- they have the right to be able to identify the Priest as such wherever he is.

Spiritually he demonstrated, as the long history of the Church has shown, clerical attire works to protect the Priest from much temptation by precluding impropriety or the occasion of it.

Father Peruschitz OSB who died in the sinking of RMS TITANIC ministering to his fellow passengers.

He wrote that “Our pastoral activity demands that we should be close to the people and all their problems ……. but it also demands that we should be close “in a priestly way”. “After all, what would be the use of a Priest so assimilated” to the world as to become a camouflaged part of it and no longer a “transforming leaven.?”

The Code of Canon Law, the Popes and the Congregations of the Curia, have all set out the Church’s requirements and her theological and spiritual rationale in these matters. But the production of appropriate results is the responsibility of the individual Bishops, and here in all too many cases is where things break down – as in other matters. Whether from ignorance, pusillanimity, arrogance or whatever, many Bishops have long since adopted a “laissez faire” approach to their role. Ignoring the reality of their Sacred Anointing, they consider themselves no more than a type of constitutional ruler, acting only on advice” from lay hirelings or lesser clerics whom  in reality, as “Successors of the Apostles” ,these same Bishops are duty-bound to “teach to sanctify and to govern”.

Like the detritus of Queensland’s floods, the leavings of the post-Conciliar shambles will be with us for some time yet…..sometimes months, sometimes, regrettably, years.



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