ASK FATHER: Can the bishop forbid the cassock?

cassockFrom a priest…


I am trying to find an answer to the question of whether a bishop can prohibit a priest from wearing the cassock. Below is the pertinent section from the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests which mentions the local Bishops’ Conference and its norms…etc…  [Edited out for reasons of brevity.] It seems to imply that the cassock is normative and can always been worn even if the conference offers other options… [It indeed does imply that.]

Is this right? [Yes.]

If a priest is in good standing, has not done, nor is doing, anything to bring shame on his office publicly when wearing said cassock, can a bishop simply say, “I don’t want you wearing it…” ?, especially if the Conference has not issued any specific norms itself.

Of course a bishop can’t prohibit a priest from wearing a cassock!

The cassock is the Church’s expectation of what a priest wears, as you correctly discern from the Directory.  It is listed first and it is the default garment for the Roman priest.

However, Holy Church, in her generosity, also wishes to accommodate the transitory styles of culture (presuming that what we see these days can truly be called “culture”).  For example, during a time of Know Nothing anti-Catholicism in these USA the Council of Baltimore determined that priests shouldn’t wear the cassock when out and about in the streets, but rather should wear the clerical collar and the frock coat.  clerical frock coatI’ve only known one cleric who wore the frock coat in accordance with that Council btw.  Dapper, but eccentric.

According to the dictates of common sense, the sensible priest may wear other clothing than the cassock, clothing suited to the task at hand.  He may wear a black suit and black shirt with clerical collar.  He may wear a union suit when crawling under the rectory to fix the pipes. He may wear a modest bathing suit when swimming. He may wear sweatpants and a jersey when stretched out on the rectory couch to watch a football, soccer, cricket, or rugby match. He may wear tactical camouflage whilst hiding in the forest waiting for the elusive fourteen-point buck. He may wear a frightening clown suit when lurking in the woods near a convent of polyester-pantsuited nuns holding an “I’m with Hillary” rally.

I’ve never seen the sense in wearing the cassock to, for example, climb ladders to change bulbs, to wash a car, or to play hockey in a serious way.  Yes yes we’ve all seen the photos.  And, yes yes, I can see shooting some baskets with the kids on the playground for a few minutes, but… sheesh.

A bishop, being a creature with free will, can certainly say to a priest, “Father, I don’t want you wearing a cassock”.   At that point the priest would be within his rights to answer his Ordinary, respectfully, saying, “Your Excellency, thank you so much for your opinion, but that is above your pay grade.”

If the bishop is a humorless liberal – as as all liberals are… that was redundant – you, the prepared priest, might wear a thin cassock over your normal cassock. When Bishop Fatty McButterpants says that he wants you to stop wearing a cassock, immediately take the outer cassock off, revealing your regular cassock. “Yes, Your Excellency, right away, Your Excellency!”

Of course, you must subsequently be reconciled with being a parochial vicar for a considerable amount of time to Fr “Just Call Me Bob” at Engendering Togetherness Community of Welcome, or serving as the chaplain to the Sisters, Servants of Our Lord’s Sacred Tambourine.

Bottom line, no, a bishop has no right whatsoever to forbid the quintessential priestly garment.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ralph says:

    In practice what a bishop may order and what a bishop will order are often two different things.

    Many a good and faithful priest serving under a difficult bishop have had to learn to pick the battles selectively. You can’t die on every hill.

    Sometimes we laymen have to be understanding of this reality when Father doesn’t react to every situation just the way we want. For example, I would rather see Father serve “toward God” as Cardinal Sarah requests. Father would to. Bishop will not allow it. Does the Bishop have the right to enforce this – I think not. But the cost of defying a bishop can be very high for a priest.

  2. Sonshine135 says:

    This post is absolutely filled with sauciness. I especially liked the one about the clown costume and the “polyester-pantsuited nuns holding an “I’m with Hillary” rally”. I needed a good laugh while being educated this morning. Thank you Father Z.

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    If only clergy could realize the impact of the cassock and full habit. What a shame that this aspect of Catholicity has been so eagerly cast aside, by people failing to appreciate what a strong statement these garments make to laypeople. It represents transcendence and mystery. It represents GOD, and a life lived for God, which is astounding to those of us who don’t live it. It’s appealing, makes us want to know more. It’s a radically countercultural statement. You can’t ignore it. The cassock alone would draw in vocations. Imagine how much more if the wearer were unapologetically Catholic, drawing on millennia of Catholic teaching and thought in his or her dealings with the culture.
    But this was traded for what, a suit, and the world.
    We can get that anywhere.

  4. Rosary Rose says:

    Just in the last century in Mexico, Blessed Miguel Pro had to wear disguises as he went from house to house to minister to his flock while his government sought him. He was eventually caught and executed. We don’t have that situation in these USA…yet.

    What we have are very confused Catholics, young and old. They need someone to be a lighthouse for them. Someone to shine a light in their darkness. God bless the Dominicans, the Sisters of Charity, the Franciscans, and all of the religious who dress to be identified.

    Gang members modify their clothes for identity.
    Muslim women are easily recognised.

    I’m just a lay person. I can buy some Z-swag and don it proudly.

  5. TNCath says:

    Line of the Week: “He may wear a frightening clown suit when lurking in the woods near a convent of polyester-pantsuited nuns holding an ‘I’m with Hillary’ rally.”

    Bene dictum, Pater.

  6. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    “He may wear a frightening clown suit when lurking in the woods near a convent of polyester-pantsuited nuns holding an ‘I’m with Hillary’ rally.” He might want to think twice about this, though, out of various prudential considerations (not excluding LEOs or conscientious open or concealed carriers who might mistake him for Someone Sinister).

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Makes me want to rewatch Don Camillo films to see if, and if so, how, he varies his dress!

  8. PostCatholic says:

    At last night’s Alfred E Smith Dinner benefit in New York, with Cardinal Dolan present, it wasn’t the liberal who was humorless.

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Interesting story with a significant element of clerical dress which comes to mind: Graham Greene’s “The Hint of an Explanation” (1948).

  10. iamlucky13 says:

    “I’ve never seen the sense in wearing the cassock to, for example, climb ladders to change bulbs, to wash a car, or to play hockey in a serious way. Yes yes we’ve all seen the photos. “

    Indeed. I recall vividly the last time I played basketball with a Franciscan friar that his habit was a serious handicap. It limited his stride, and the capuche got particularly unruly when rebounding. A cassock avoids the capuche problem, but I’d imagine is even worse to your running stride.

    “When Bishop Fatty McButterpants says that he wants you to stop wearing a cassock, immediately take the outer cassock off, revealing your regular cassock. ‘Yes, Your Excellency, right away, Your Excellency!'”

    I had to read it twice before it hit. Well played. The literalist approach also works if he says “I want you to stop wearing that cassock” (a specific one) as well as “I want you to stop wearing cassocks” (plural).

    I’m confused though. I’ve never run into the anti-cassock attitude (growing up in a largely post-Cassock world, and not a cleric). Do those who despise cassocks ever explain why? It seems like one of the last things in the world worth one’s energy to oppose, after sacred art and altar rails.

    Now that I think about it, I also don’t understand why felt banners are superior to reredos or other forms of whitewashing sacred art. I don’t comprehend modern iconoclasm in general. I do at least see the particular form of ignorance that mistakenly interprets a altar rail as a fence to keep the riff raff in their place instead of a symbol of the divide between heaven and earth as well as an extension of the altar which we approach to participate in the sacrifice.

  11. Ed the Roman says:


    Some of us think the conservative running is the Mormon who wasn’t there. Trump speaks conservatism as a second language, and not one he did well in.

  12. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Ed the Roman,

    Mia Love probably isn’t quite ready to be President yet, and seems modestly to know that, too. Or were you referring to the man his former fellow-Mormon, Stephen Stone, in October 2012 characterized as “a known progressive-liberal whose pragmatism made him ideal for blending like a chameleon into the conservative landscape of the Republican Party, [who] has long been a darling of the GOP establishment, hence he was put on the fast track by Karl Rove, the Bush machine, and former Bush GOP chair Mike Duncan, et al., and elevated to the ‘great white hope’ of moderate-to-liberal Rockefeller/CFR Republicans” though “destined to lose, most likely — having little innate appeal to the moral conservative base of the party, whose wishes are typically ignored every four years”, namely, Mitt Romney – concerning whom he also wrote of “the moral implications of supporting the evil Romney represents by his record of introducing to America same-sex marriage, socialized healthcare, and big business-backed socialism like we’ve never before seen, not to mention his unusually godless campaign.”

  13. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Fr. Z.: I’m pretty sure a “union suit” is not what you seem to think it is. [I’m pretty sure it is, but thanks for trying to create a flap about it.]

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Are there union suits with flap protection, for maximum crawl-space security?

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