The cassock is the proper garb of the Roman priest. It is true that conferences to bishops can determine other forms of garb for priests, such as the black suit and Roman or military collar (or in Italy also dark blue and gray), but the cassock remains the proper garb of the priest.
Since the Councils of Baltimore, in the USA, as in England, it was not the custom of Catholic priests to go about the world in the cassock. They used the cassock at home and while engaged in their ministry, but at other times they were to wear, back in the day, the frock coat and some sort of clerical collar or neckcloth. So, in the USA priests of a certain age have it pretty much drilled into them that the cassock is not proper “street attire”.
That seems to be changing. The strictures of the Council of Baltimore don’t seem to apply anymore. There aren’t a lot of frock coats around nowadays anyway, though I knew a priest who had one…. and wore it. Younger priests today seem quite willing to use the cassock as street attire. Times are a changin’
On that note, I read an interesting by our friends at Rorate, which I share with added emphases.
From what used to be, until 1991, the official daily of the Italian Communist Party, L’Unità, founded by Antonio Gramsci in 1924:
The CassockThe Church has been for quite some time strenuously defending herself from a media-driven movement that has turned on the lights on the phenomenon of the erotic activities and aberrations of the clergy. And it is not only about the horrors of pedophilia, but also red-light feasts, orgies, and clandestine sorties of every kind. Abandoning the cassock and wearing civilian clothes, many priests have gone from the sacred onto the secular in no time. I ask a friend who writes for this paper, Father Filippo Di Giacomo, if it would not be more appropriate, for him and for his jolly colleagues, to renounce walking around in civilian clothes and go back to wearing the long habit of the priest. It would not be embarrassing to wear it, on the contrary, it would be a sign of respect for the Catholic community and would even have the power of eliminating any ambiguity. It is hard to recognize a priest from a fellow in a shirt: we are in the presence of a deception, at least at the semiotic level. My friend Di Giacomo should throw his “lay” habits out of the window and launch an appeal to all priests in the world that it be forbidden to wear anything except for two cassocks: one of wool for winter, and one of cotton for summer. This will certainly not deter the truly possessed from eros, but will keep at bay the profusion of numerous, small daily corruptions. It is said, in general that “l’abito non fa il monaco” ["the habit does not a monk make"], but it is not thus for the Church: the habit must make the monk. Catholicism, as other religions, lives off of symbols, of rites, of chastity, of foundational and unrenounceable values, of faithfulness to doctrine, of rigorous obedience to priestly rules. The cassock, at the simple sight, conveys to us all this: much spirit and little flesh. A priest who replaces his cassock with plains clothes gives up the spirit, as it were.
August 15, 2011 [Vincenzo Cerami]
Perhaps the Council for the New Evangelization could issue a statement about the cassock.