ASK FATHER: Why do bishops tuck their crosses under their jackets.

From a  reader…


Thank you for your excellent blog! Can you explain why some bishops hide their pectoral crosses by pulling the cross across the chest and tucking it under their jackets? There is something a bit disturbing about it as it feels as though they are deliberately hiding the cross, and it’s something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Thank you for your insight in this small matter. And may God bless you!

Ah!  Finally a break from the insignificant stuff, like validity of sacraments, to something really important: ecclesiastical haberdashery.

I have never been a bishop and I have never played one on TV.  I did in a play, once, but that’s another universe away.    My point is that I have never had to deal with wearing a pectoral cross on a daily, all day, basis.   Therefore, my speculation is worth precisely what it is worth.

I suspect that the tendency of bishops, when wearing a suit (in Italian: in borghese) to tuck their pectoral crosses into their pockets is more a practical matter than a statement of meager faith or cowardice in view of bearing witness to their faith.   I suspect that the cross “gets in the way” a lot.  “Which the irony is rich!”, as Preserved Killick would say.

Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23

Back in the day, bishops wore their cassocks.  Back in the same day, bishops did not just let their pectoral dangle on a too-longish chain, thus becoming an obstacle (there’s that irony again).  They would generally hoist the cross up (more irony) and with a hook suspend it from a button or from a specially placed button hole, thus letting the two slack lengths of chain drape to either side.   That was practical, because it kept the cross under control and it also looked spiffy.   There were, of course, variations and exceptions.  For example, you will see photos of John XXIII with the hitched up version and without.  But it is safe to say that was a general rule of style.

I wouldn’t read too much into it, except that right now, the hitched up version could signal a more traditional inclination.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Use a magnet stitched into shirt/coat and the metallic Cross sticks but can be taken off quickly, thinking for fast blessings? But stays in place nicely.

  2. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    It’s just accidental that we can’t see Pope Francis’ cross, and that he is scowling?

  3. Lurker 59 says:


    I don’t know, I see it as Pope Francis embracing the cross. He is often accused on not doing such things. The Holy Father is in thought (notice the eyebrows) and there is an unconscious reaching for the cross. He is one of those individuals that has a resting face that is all scowly (he is also in a lot of discomfort/pain and that comes through when his face is relaxed as part of the scowling) so it is is hard to tell if this is just his face relaxed or there is slight scowling in the thought without knowing the context of the photo.

    If you want to see his face with a real scowl, look at photos of when he has to do photo ops with world leaders as well as the infamous one when he received a papal tiara.

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    Thanks Father, I was drinking a glass of milk and it soured.
    I would like to tell Lurker when he meets Communists and atheists he beams like the sun! He saves his pruniest face for the Holy Eucharist and Republican presidents.

  5. Lurker 59: Okay… that’s nimble. We can play this game too!

    YOU: I see it as Pope Francis embracing the cross.

    Orrrrr…. he’s covering it up so that it can’t be seen. And given how awful his pectoral cross is, that’s not so bad.

    YOU: The Holy Father is in thought…

    Orrrrr…. He is trying to figure out where he is.

    YOU: He has as a resting face that is all scowly…

    Orrrrr…. He has a resting that is all scowly. No, wait. That one has already been used. Orrrr…. He is actually scowling at someone.

    Seriously, we could do this all day. Candid photos of anyone are gold mines for captions, etc.

  6. Gab says:

    Appreciate that roll of pictures, Father Z. When I got the the last one, I had a little giggle.

  7. Meanwhile, Paul VI’s glasses have come back into style again.

  8. rwj says:

    A picture is worth a thousand words.

  9. RobinDeLage says:

    Would I be a Modernist if I ditch my Pius XII glasses for a Paul VI look?

  10. Paul says:

    Father, how do you make the faithful opine on images? You amaze us! You always seem to always do the impossible.

    God Bless you and pray for you daily.

    Enjoy the holiday weekend and I know you an all of us will pray for all who have fought and died for our country and for God Almighty.

  11. ocsousn says:

    Back in the days before “the Council” it was only Catholic bishops and clergy in the Anglophone world who wore a clerical suit when out in public. There’s a long story behind this. But suffice to say that various provincial councils in the late 19th and early 20th centuries mandated that clergy and male religious were not to appear in secular settings in cassock or religious habit. Hence the adoption of “clerical dress” similar to that of Anglican and some Protestant clergy. Meanwhile, back in Rome and much of Europe the opposite was happening. But I digress. Though they might pull it out for the occasional photo, the pectoral cross was tucked into the jacket pocket with only the chain showing — a signal to those in the know that he was a bishop or abbot. This was all part of the effort to blend in and not arouse the passions of the more excitable anti-Catholic elements of society. The letters of St. John Henry Newman touch on this. A religious brother in his habit had been attacked in the street. Newman thought it prudent for the fathers and brothers to adopt clerical dress in public and goes into some detail about where they will hang their cassocks and change. In the years after Vatican II, when the clerical suit appeared everywhere in various shades of black and grey, prelates wore the pectoral cross visibly as they had always done when in cassock. This spread to the Anglophone world as well, though more conservative prelates stuck to the by now traditional practice. Attaching deep theological meaning or insights into a bishop’s orthodoxy based on the display of his pectoral cross is, in my humble opinion, a bit far fetched.

  12. AA Cunningham says:

    Unlike the Pontiff, the “modernist” Fathers of Mercy have no aversion to the pectoral crucifix.

  13. Semper Gumby says:

    The Catholic Company sells replicas of pectoral crosses:

    A 2015 article about the pectoral crosses of three new auxiliary bishops in Los Angeles.

    “”They are Pope Francis bishops,” Archbishop José H. Gomez said in the sacristy of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels after the July 21 press conference. “They were a gift,” he added, explaining with a gesture that he’d given the pectoral crosses to the bishops-elect himself.”

    Apparently Cardinal Bernardin wore the same style on at least one occasion.

  14. The Egyptian says:

    This is the way I remember pectoral crosses in my youth, All the C.PP.S priests wore their cassock and huge cross in public.
    either as worn in the picture through loops or if they had a sash it was tucked into the sash
    This young man was ordained in our parish a few years ago. first in many many years

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