Permanent Deacons and clerical attire

I have written before on the topic of the use of the Roman collar by permanent deacons.  HERE

I saw that the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Madison (where I usually am when not on the road) has a piece about the determination of His Excellency Most Reverend Robert C. Morlino, the Extraordinary Ordinary, about deacons and clerical dress.

Permanent deacons to wear clerical attire when ministering

MADISON — In an effort to help permanent deacons in the Diocese of Madison become more easily identified as they minister, Bishop Robert C. Morlino has given permission that all permanent deacons in the diocese will be permitted to wear a grey clerical shirt and white collar when actively engaged in diaconal ministry.

The permission is effective January 23.


According to paragraph 89 of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Each diocesan bishop should . . . specify the appropriate clerical attire if it is to be worn.”


The effective permission given by the bishop authorizes permanent deacons to wear clerical attire when engaged in ministry; however, it is not a requirement. Permanent deacons may still elect to wear civilian attire if they choose.

The flip side of this is that priests should avoid wearing colors other than black.

Some conferences of bishops approve more than one color for clerics. For example, the Italian Bishops Conference approve black, blue and gray.

Let’s stick to black, Fathers.

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  1. FrAnt says:

    I like not thinking about what I wear each day. I open my closet and it’s all right there, black shirt and pants, matching socks (Black socks guys. Please. White is alright for the collar, not the socks.), and shoes (black as well).

  2. pitkiwi says:

    So what color cassock do deacons wear?
    What color clerical attire do transitional deacons wear? After all, a deacon is a deacon is a deacon.
    What color for seminarians?

  3. Deacon Jay says:

    I am a Permanent Deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and we have been forbidden (that may be too strong a word but I can’t think of another one) to wear clerical attire anywhere, anytime and anyplace. The exception to that rule is when deacons assist the Archbishop as an MC, they then wear cassock, surplus and collar.

    I might add that this rule does not bother me at all (and I am an MC) and, in a lot of ways, if I am called to minister I don’t have to change shirts or if I step on the grounds of my parish I don’t have to change shirts, freeing. I can see where it would be advantageous to wear the clerical attire as it would identify one a little quicker (and I get called “Father” all the time so, being in or out of clerical attire doesn’t matter as far as that argument is concerned) but, to me, is no big deal.

  4. Hans says:

    In Chicago the exception to the prohibition is for when we are doing prison or hospital ministry. I don’t know if grey is specified or not. I wonder what changes our new ordinary will bring? I suspect that wearing clericals would get me called “Father” even more … .

    Our seminarians (transitional deacons or before) are expected to wear black clerical attire.

  5. Magash says:

    In the Diocese of Richmond deacons are allowed to wear clerical attire. Some do others don’t. The exception is that deacons who actually work for the bishop (as well as seminarians at diocesan activities) are required to wear clericals while they are actually working in ministry. I’ve seen some priest, typically foreign priests on loan to the bishop from overseas wear colors other than black, but local priests, seminarians and deacons wear black.

  6. Pastor in Valle says:

    In the UK, deacons wear proper (black) clerical attire, which is indistinguishable from that of a priest. I and nobody else seem to have a problem with that. When someone calls a deacon ‘Father’ he may let it slide or gently correct them as the pastoral situation requires.
    Frankly, I am a fan of the Permanent Diaconate. I have known several splendid examples, and (having had excellent experience of them) would really like to have one or two here in my new parish to help out. They can’t say Mass or hear confessions, but they can be a huge assistance in other ways, not least as an ear to bounce ideas off: they sit midway between the priesthood and the parochial laity: they will normally remain with the parish even when the priest is moved on. Therefore they provide an invaluable bridge, understanding something of both sides.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Permanent deacons kinda get the short end of the historical stick on this. A lot of bishops don’t want to see them wearing clericals because they might be out with the wife and children and cause scandal to the uninformed. And yet most priests in the US don’t wear their clericals at all, and so a lot of people are starting to assume that somebody in clericals is a Protestant.

    All I can say is that the Eastern Rites and the Orthodox don’t seem to have any problems with people not being able to tell the married from the celibate priests, so we should be able to figure this out. And without depriving permanent deacons and the various permitted married priests of their rightful clerical status.

  8. acricketchirps says:

    Not sure–but I think, until recently, required attire for deacons in our diocese was sandals and love beads, with optional kaftan.

  9. JesusFreak84 says:

    At St. Martin’s in Louisville, the deacons usually wore an off-black (I guess it’s dark grey/gray?) shirt with collar and the rest. I’d never even seen that growing up in the Archdicoese of Chicago (then again, even priests don’t wear clericals around here…) and when I saw it at St. Martin’s, I wondered if it was legal until I found out Father is a Canon Lawyer, so I figured he wouldn’t permit anything against the laws of God or man =-p

  10. Nicholas says:

    I thought proper dress for clerics is a cassock.

  11. I don’t get the “confusion” part. When I was a seminarian, I didn’t wear clerics, as it was frowned upon in those days. But we did preach at Mass (although we shouldn’t have; that was frowned upon in Rome, but not hereabouts; Rome prevailed, fyi); and so people would frequently call me “Father.” I politely corrected the mistake. What’s the problem?

    The only problem anyone has pointed out to me was if a deacon–in clerics–would be out-and-about with his wife. But that seems an easy problem to fix.

    I say deacons should be allowed–nay, encouraged–to wear clerics, as they are, in fact, clerics.

  12. Del says:

    If I were a bishop (praise God I am not; I have trouble enough being a good father to my children)…. but if I were a bishop, I would discourage any permanent deacons in my care from wearing clerical garb.

    Here’s why: Permanent deacons are a wild bunch, loosely controlled, mostly formed in their roles as husbands, fathers, and professionals. It is not clear that they have all received good formation in the Church. Many of them went through some program and were ordained by some bishop other than me. They may not even like me, and they have little incentive to obey me. So my first risk, as bishop, is concern about ill-behaved deacons giving scandal and causing injury to the faithful.

    But I am not a bishop. Robert Morlino of Madison is a bishop. And it appears that he has discerned that the permanent deacons of his diocese are good, faithful servants of the Church. He trusts them. He believes that the faithful would benefit by the witness of permanent, good deacons in clerical garb. Yet he offers this uniform as an option — He trusts that each deacon will know those in his ministry, and to choose what is best for his service.

  13. Dave N. says:

    If deacons are functioning in their roles as ministers, they should be required to dress the part. This is for their own benefit and for those around them—a not so subtle reminder of their role.

  14. Deacon Augustine says:

    My good bishop asks his deacons to wear proper clerical attire whenever we are ministering or representing the Church in any capacity. As there are ancient canons which censure clerics who do not dress as such, it would seem to run counter to our tradition for a bishop to forbid his deacons to wear the collar. Not that I am suggesting there are any bishops who hold tradition in low regard, of course.

    Another aspect of it is having due respect for the people we serve. I would not turn up to see a business client in t-shirt and jeans. If I did, he would rightly see it as a sign of disrespect and that I did not value our relationship in a professional way. The expected “uniform” in that situation is a business suit and tie. Similarly our laity expect and deserve respect in our relationship and ministry with them. I will always remember receiving a “flea in the ear” from an old Irishman when I turned up to a St Patrick’s social do in civvies. He said: “We’ve spent all these years praying for you and funding your training, and you can’t even be bothered to dress the part.” It was only half tongue in cheek, but he was right – may God rest his soul.

  15. Gregorius says:

    The standard for deacons in my part of the US has been grey cleric shirts during ministry/outside Mass, even when certain of our bishops did not like it/allow it.
    I’ve seen some deacons wear the grey with a ‘deacon cross’ (that white cross with the red deacon stole on it) emblem on it to help further distinguish themselves from priests.

  16. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    Ok, I know we’re Roman Catholics and not Eastern Orthodox, but here’s an interesting thought. In the Orthodox Churches, deacons as well as priests are addressed as Father. When my wife and I made a pilgrimage to a Orthodox monastery, one Fr. Sergius was our host. I assumed he was a priest, but he was a deacon. Interesting.

  17. Gerard Plourde says:

    In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, deacons are required to wear a gray clerical shirt when actively engaged in their ministry. At other times they are to wear lay attire.

  18. Joseph-Mary says:

    In the diocese of Denver, the permanent deacons wear a black clergy shirt with the ‘slash cross’ necklace. When I first saw someone with this, I thought it was a priest. I like the idea of the grey clergy shirt very much.

  19. The only annoyance I’ve encountered is when I’ve attended interfaith gatherings and the Protestant clergy (of both genders) are all wearing the collar; I’m not, because I can’t. (Our bishop doesn’t allow it in Brooklyn.)

    I introduce myself and the reaction is, in effect, “Oh, the parish didn’t have any clergy to send?”

    Every now and then, the collar would be useful as a kind of clerical calling card.

  20. JBS says:

    I think deacons should wear clerical attire for the simple reason that they are clergymen. As for the color, I think that if Fr. Z lived in the US South for a while, he would see the need for gray/grey or white shirts for priests. Try watching the local Catholic high school soccer match in August, or visiting a migrant camp in July, and you’ll come to love gray or white clergy shirts (or white cassocks). That said, I can at least say that I am a priest who does not even own any “secular” shirts.

  21. JBS says:

    Deacon Greg Kandra,

    I don’t understand how a bishop can prevent you from wearing every kind of extra-liturgical clerical attire. Isn’t that a canonical punishment requiring a proper procedure?

  22. madmatt says:

    In my diocese there are many deacons. So many, some joke that they’re the 5th degree of the K of C. Unfortunately some of our deacons love to run around in clerical attire, but then are rarely available to do actual ministerial work, i.e. help with communion calls or assisting with Holy Week or Christmas. I don’t care what they wear, so long as they are doing what they’re ordained to do. Which is much more than being seen in clerics.

  23. JBS says:


    Out of curiosity, how have you gained sufficient knowledge about the poor availability of the deacons in you diocese to criticize them in this way?

  24. wolfeken says:

    So much for “a deacon is a deacon is a deacon.”

  25. madmatt says:

    I’ve worked directly with deacons in several parishes around the diocese. Don’t get me wrong. I know many that are fantastic examples and always willing and able to make communion calls when a priest can’t get there or teach a class or whatever. There are some that are doing a fantastic job with youth ministry and other areas. But too many only seem interested in showing up in clerics when the bishop’s around or at a diocesan gathering or function.

  26. JBS says:


    Thank you for your answer. The same national directory which instructs bishops to specify appropriate clerical attire also calls for clear descriptions of duties for deacons in the key areas of “word, worship and works of mercy”. Deacons are also to have supervisory priests. Therefore, diocesan discussion of what deacons are to wear could rightly accompany discussion of what they are to do, since it all pertains to their identity.

  27. Imrahil says:

    So, it’s allowed now. About time.

    It may be, with a headache, imagined to have clerical dress for priests only. It might be imagined, say, for deacons (permanent and transient!) to wear cassock without the collar, to make priests visibly distinguishable. It might be imagined to have clerical dress for priests and for permanent deacons (on the argument that transient deacons are still practically in training).
    What can nowise be imagined is to have clerical dress for priests and transient deacons, and none for permanent deacons; because that would be on the argument that a permanent deacon is less of a deacon, is in practice a layman, which is false.

    So, even the new rule is too little. It says practically that the standard for permanent deacons is civilian clothes, and they may wear clerics when in functione, by way of exception. (Yet even the altar-server wears what is functionally a cassock when in functione.)

    It should be the other way round. They should, being clerics, principally wear clerics just the same as priests do, and when wearing civilians they should do that by way of exception and dispensation. Although I do assume that they should (if not monks) have general and rather lax dispensations, as they are both lower in rank and – by intention of the ecclesial legislator – nearer to the world than priests.

    So, I second what JBS said.

    Dear Pastor in Valle, that is why i.m.h.o. priest should not be shuffled around too much. With all due respect to deacons, they’re called deacons, not bishops nor pastors. I think we need to avoid an “it’s the nco’s that really run the company” atmosphere.

    Dear madmatt, I think whatever the problem, the solution is not (1) having deacons (2) without treating them as such.

  28. ChesterFrank says:

    I am confused here as a roman collar was one of the identifying marks of a Roman Catholic priest. If a deacon wears that collar, are they not risking being confused with priests, and how am I sitting in the pews to know the difference? It gets even more confusing if the deacon decides to dress in that collar outside the church grounds. Are they then confused with priests on the streets, or around campus, or in the hospital? I can recognize a deacon in mass by the way the stole is worn, and by their absence of a chasuble; but I have to wonder if having deacons wearing the collar is the start of having them also wearing other priestly vestments, and if priests then gain the right to dress as bishops, cardinals, and popes. Finally, does this mean it is finally safe for the parishioner to wear their birettas and zucchetto’s. Its getting awfully confusing for us folks! Is this the same way liturgical dance got its start?

  29. MrsMacD says:

    Chester Frank the FSSP wear a cassock after their second year at seminary. I’m pretty sure it’s not that new. Actually my boys also wear cassocks when serving.

  30. LA says:

    Or, how about no permanent or married deacons, and all clerics and priests wear cassocks?
    Or, would that be too Dark Ages?

  31. Matt R says:

    Jesus84, the deacons at SMT wear a grey clerical shirt. They also have cassocks so they may use it when necessary, e.g. sit in choir or baptisms. Grey seems to be the standard in Louisville.
    Clerics ought to wear clericals, and technically, I do not think bishops can restrict clericals for permanent deacons, which is especially silly because sems wear the clerical suit at least.
    ChesterFrank, a priest can wear a black zuchetto, but it is not worn at Mass as is the bishop’s. Birettas are like the cassock: worn by clergy and serve as clerical signs but not entirely restricted to them.

  32. Tony Phillips says:

    This may be off topic, but it’s more relevant to most Catholics.
    What are the rules about lay people wearing clerical attire? I too like the idea of not having to worry about what to wear, and let’s face it, you wouldn’t have to throw it in the wash so often: black hides a multiple of spills. Can the bishops tell us what to wear?

    The other day I stopped into a nice rural mediaeval church that I’m particulary fond of. Up in the choir stalls, where I was imagining vespers sung by my imaginary boys’ school (in which fluency in Latin, Greek, French, German and at least 1 other language of the pupil’s choice would be required), I found a lonely, forlorn biretta. Naturally I tried in on and snapped a few selfies with the big east window as a backdrop, before carefully replacing it and wandering off to survey the empty pews from vantage point of the big Georgian pulpit, where I pretended to address my imaginary scholars.
    Now I’m wondering if I’m actually allowed to wear such garb. I didn’t have a Roman collar, of course, but I was wearing a black overcoat and wrapped it around me in such a way as to obscure my neck, so the result was (I thought) rather Faberesque, except for my glasses. Should I delete these photos?

    Also I wonder if I did right to return this Roman headpiece, knowing that is would be used by an Anglican vicar, however Anglo-Catholic his sensibilities may be. Perhaps I should have confiscated the offending object, or at least have snipped the pom-pom off.

  33. JBS says:


    Clerical attire indicates that one is a member of, or associated with, the clergy. It is not a specific sign that one is a priest. In fact, canon law requires “transitional” deacons to wear clerical attire (although “permanent” deacons are obviously not so obliged). As for confusion, I cannot imagine a scenario in which harm could come from a deacon being mistaken for a priest whilst wearing a cassock or clerical suit.

  34. ChesterFrank says:

    I was at a luncheon a while back and was seated next to a woman in civilian clothes, and she introduced herself as Sister. At first I thought she was a lay person, now I think she was a nun. I think a lot of the women at that event were nuns, but I am not really certain. Their habits were designed to look like a laypersons clothes. Across the table was a white haired man in a grey clerical shirt, and I assumed by that collar he was a priest. Now though I wonder if he were a deacon. The bishop was there too, dressed in black priest attire. Fortunately his photo is widely published, so I recognized him by face. I wont even begin to get into all of the people from fringe denominations dressed in pseudo roman garb , they are the ones dancing and trying to imitate the Roman priest. Is there any harm? I don’t know, and I doubt it. The only thing I know for certain is that it gets confusing nowadays. Decades ago there was not nearly as much confusion.

  35. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Tony Phillips – If it’s okay for little kids to dress up and play priest, it’s okay for adults to put on priest costume for purposes of play also. I don’t think you need delete the photos or not share them.

    Now, if you were going around dressed up as a priest to try and get clerical discounts at the bookstore, or in order to find out people’s secrets, you’d be impersonating a priest, and that would be obviously evil. In a lesser way, if you were dressing up like a priest all the time at home because it gave you illicit jollies, that would be wrong and we’d worry about your sanity.

    Re: wearing a priest uniform just for purposes of having convenient black clothes in the closet – It would probably be easier and cheaper just to buy normal black men’s shirts, because they wouldn’t have to have a collar attachment. I don’t know whether clerical black pants have any advantage over normal black men’s pants.

  36. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I forgot to say that if you like the round collar, Lindybeige who does the YouTube ancient weapons videos also has a video about turning regular shirts into round collared shirts. It also talks about how the UK army has always taught all its enlisted men how to sew.

  37. Charivari Rob says:

    I agree with deacons being able to dress as clergy, since they ARE clergy.

    I do want, though, some easy and evident way to distinguish deacons from priests when dressed for ministry. I’m particularly thinking of hospitals, but I suppose it could apply as well to other settings with “chaplains”.

    Hospitals are frustrating enough these days (as regards being a patient or family point person for a patient) when you’re dealing with the idiocy of the hospitals thinking anybody can be a chaplain. They can’t. A chaplain is a priest. Deacons and lay people can and do provide important services in support of chaplains, but there are certain things only a priest can do. If I or my hospitalized loved one is in a crisis and needs sacraments – confession or annointing, or even just a crisis consultation that might lead to sacramental issues – I really don’t want to have to pregace the conversation with the question. I want to be able to look at him and KNOW if he’s a priest.

  38. fishonthehill says:

    I must agree with KBS… wearing blacks in July and August in NYC can be quite deadly. As a priest who most often wears the cassock (which is quite toasty in the winter) I do lean towards a white clerical shirt with full collar in the dog days of summer. No one seems to ask why… in fact parishioners seem to understand. Wearing white is just practical when temperatures are in the 90’s with high humidity.
    As for deacons in clerical attire… I’ll leave that to the Bishop… sorry for your trouble Deacon Greg, but if clergy of other faiths don’t recognize you after an introduction… only shows ignorance on their part! (BTW I don’t think you need introductions… you are already known for the great work you do)
    F. Colamaria

  39. Hans says:

    Here’s a scene after Mass that is likely familiar to other deacons:
    Parishioner (to me): “Thank you, Father.”
    Me: “You’re welcome, but it’s not father, just deacon.”
    Parishioner: “Right, just deacon. Sorry, father.”

    At least I’ve avoided having my hands kissed, though just a couple times.

    That said, there are times outside of the allowed scope here when wearing clerics would be handy, such as talking to the families before the two funerals I’ve done in the past two weeks.

  40. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I just wanted to make it plain that I think deacons should wear clericals. They’re clerics.

    If there’s any question about identity, wouldn’t some kind of itsy bitsy diagonal deacon sash make the point? Heck, they could put one across the white collar or have a pin. I guess that’s what the cross necklace thing is trying to be, but tons of people wear big chunky cross necklaces who aren’t clergy.

    Btw, I did find out that the “Deacons are the feet of the Church” thing from St. Fulgentius of Ruspe and others was primarily about the fact that they “move around at the sacred Mysteries” (ie, move around the altar area), and then secondarily that they “move around” doing stuff for the priest and the Church.

  41. Uxixu says:

    I do pray for a bishop that will mandate all clerics (to include priests & deacons) wear the cassock where not otherwise inappropriate.

  42. Uxixu says:

    The seminarian issue does remind me how much the conflation of the clerical state with sacred orders is a recent anomaly that’s fairly unprecedented. Would seem more logical to move the clerical state to acolyte and have that level of formation either done in parish (at which point, acolytes could displace the use of “altar boys” and if otherwise lacking, conferred upon a point in seminary so there’s not an exception to what would otherwise be normative in the rest of the Church, if not more continuous with history (though admittedly not as good as the full restoration of First Tonsure and the minor orders).

  43. Supertradmum says:

    Fr. Z., of course, I agree with you that clergy should wear blacks. However, as we are quickly entering into a time of out and out persecution (wait until SCOTUS passes ssm), should we not be aware that the day may be coming quicker than most think for priests and deacons not to wear blacks?

    Two Anglican ministers were beaten-up severely in one of the Muslim neighborhoods in London in 2013, just for being identified as such. One almost died.

  44. JBS says:

    I’m thankful that this discussion is winding down without anyone having used the term “dog collar”.

  45. FrHorning says:

    I am a priest of the desert of California… and it’s a blessing to wear blues, whites in the 120 heat… :)

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