I am wondering why most modern bishops just wear a clerical suit? Why do they very rarely wear the cassock with the proper color trim? We almost never see eastern rite or even the orthodox out in public in “clerical suits”. Could part of the reason that people don’t listen to their Bishops is that the Bishops choose not to wear the dress that is official to them? The “clerical suit” is worn by almost all protestant ministers and if you were to put them all in a room with a Catholic Bishop wearing a clerical suit I bet the common man who doesn’t know his Bishop would not be able to point out his Bishop.
Do ever see a return to Bishops looking like Bishops when they are out in public? Would it provide more of an impact if Bishops wore their official dress when addressing assemblies? If part of the outward symbol of a Bishop is his dress, then why would he choose to not employ it?
First, I am glad you are concerned about decorum. I have no doubt that you are always exactly properly dressed according to everyone else’s expectations in each and every circumstance.
Next, I limit myself to custom in these United States.
It was, and still is, not the custom for secular, diocesan priests and bishops in these USA to wear the cassock as “street attire”. Yes, some young pups are wearing the cassock all the time, when they go about town. Fine. Perhaps they will establish a new practice. However, the usual practice in these USA go back to the Councils of Baltimore, which forbade clerics from using the cassock as dress attire, imposing instead secular dress but with a clerical collar. For a long while the standard was the frock coat, which we don’t see much of anymore. Today, standard street dress for the diocesan cleric is the black suit. Of course the cassock is always appropriate for anything liturgical and when the cleric is in his assigned place, such as a school or hospital.
Another point, for bishops at least, is practical. These days, most (I think) bishops drive themselves about. I think that is imprudent, but – hey! – they don’t ask me about such things. Say His Nibs is in a cassock and something happens along the way. He’s in his cassock, which might not be the best attire at the moment. I am speculating at this point, but that could have something to do with it.
Lastly, I have to say that clerical decorum has nearly completely broken down. All you have to do is look at a group of concelebrants. There are hardly two vested similarly when it comes to alb, cincture. Let’s not even talk about proper choir dress. What a disaster that is. They enter and exit in their white gunny sacks looking like the end of the shift at the Tasty Bakery. It strikes me that most priests and bishops of a certain age haven’t a clue about how to dress. Furthermore, they would say, “Oh, I don’t go in for all that stuff!”, as if they are somehow to be thought humble. I don’t see any virtue in adopting a stance of contempt for your proper dress or vestments or uniform. Humility submits to decorum. Putting on the gear, and putting it on correctly, shows respect for the office and role you hold. It shows respect for the people you encounter. They don’t want to see their bishops and priests slouching about in shapeless white bags or looking like a hotel clerk.
You, however, are also reacting to photos I posted of a conference I attended. There were quite a few bishops there. They were in black suits. This was at a hotel/resort. It was a secular setting, not a church. The prelates used cassocks for liturgies (Mass and office and Benediction). Religious priests quite properly wore their habits, according to their customs. Diocesan priests were in black suits.
Were there to have been a truly formal moment, such as a black tie evening event, then the diocesan clerics would have been properly dressed in a house cassock appropriate for their status, with the proper fascia, and a ferraioulo. Mine would be black, a bishop’s violet or paonazza, a cardinal’s porpora sacra.
So, that’s it in a nutshell. We are in a transition period. I think that the customs will change for the better, but it will take time. In the meantime, in these USA, don’t look down on a priest who wears the black suit and Roman collar when out and about in public. That’s the custom for the diocesan clerics if this country.
And, yes, it is my hope that cleric decorum improves. And, yes, I would like to see more bishops in their proper gear more often. I think we see this as the Biological Solution keeps working us all over.