Suggesting to the Pope how to dress

Anne Burke, a justice on the Illinois State Supreme Court and former head of the review board of lay people for the US bishops’ sex abuse policy, is in the news today. The NCRep reports on a speech she just gave in Chicago. And David Gibson reports on her suggestion that the Pope lose his red shoes and switch to a black cassock. (If you somehow missed everything going on in the Roman Catholic Church the last half year, or if you want a summary of the saga, here is Andrew Walsh on it.)


  1. So the Pope is clothed by Christ and his clothes are “about tradition rather than ‘frivolity'”?

    I would prefer if this were just an old man’s vanity. Claiming it is of Christ is to confuse Christendom and Christianity.

  2. I love this blog. I love the spirited give and take which is for the most part civil. My background is “high church Lutheran”and was received into the Catholic Church six years ago. I’ve become concerned and disturbed by how out of touch with reality the folks in Rome have become. All the Cappa Magnas, fiddle-back chasubles and ornate altar appointments will do nothing to atone for the sins of our family Holy Mother Church. A HUGE dose of humility would go a long way. A black cassock of a parish priest and the simple white alb ” the baptismal garment” for Mass along with the most simple of chasubles would be more appropriate for this time of reparation for sins of the church. The age of empire is over, Christendom is over. Would someone please tell the Holy Father. If I have offended anyone please forgive me. This is my first post.

  3. Sacrosanctum Concilium 124:

    “Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments.”

    The white for black cassock is a non-starter for me, but liturgical vestments would be a consideration. Thirty chasubles? I could see ten or eleven: for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, ordinary time, rose Sundays, funerals, and apostolic feasts, plus two reds (Passion/martyrs and Holy Spirit), and a plain white.

  4. I’ve made it my practice to be sure that the parish owns the vestments–when I go, they stay. I think I have three chasubles to my name and they were given to me at ordination in 1980. I think Todd Flowerday’s suggestions on the number and types are spot on. As for the pope, I’m not sure the Dominicans would like for him to wear a non-Dominican type cassock. If he wore the Benedictine habit type cassock with black crocks would that make him more holy and symbolize better the penitence of all ranks of clergy at this time? And for the black that most secular and religious priests wear, should we also wear sackcloth and ashes? The secular world could then remind us that we’re dirty everyday and not just on Ash Wednesday. Let’s stick with tradition and follow the mandate of the Gospel on Ash Wednesday.

  5. Would suggest that we are missing the point of Judge Burke’s comments. Welcome, Ms. Hanson. You are spot on and get it.

    Agree with Mr. Flowerday but let’s put it into the context of Judge Anne’s suggestion. It would be a powerful action along with her other suggestions that go beyond just dress.

    Reminds me of one of the earlier blogs by Fr. Anthony when someone explained the use of the cappa magna; how the bishop arrives before the sanctuary and disrobes/changes to his liturgical garb. There was a very long winded explanation for each garment change, etc. Sorry but it seemed to completely focus the attention on vestments; not the eucharistic action and focused undue attention on the bishop. why? very poor ecclesiology.

  6. I question whether the issue of reforming liturgical dress should be tied to the sex abuse scandal at all. I fail to see what good would come from the Pope dressing in a white or black cassock. The Pope’s words and actions are far more important than what he wears. Besides, I suspect most clerical abusers engaged in criminal activity while wearing plainclothes or simple liturgical garb.

  7. I suspect that Ms. Burke (who I have heard speak in public and whose disdain for the Church is quite palpable, even to this fair-minded layperson) doesn’t realize that the pope wears a white cassock because of the reign of the reformist Dominican Pope Pius V, who wore white as a sign of his commitment to poverty as a Dominican despite being elected to the office of the papacy. So, indeed, Ms. Burke seems to be ignorant of history in not realizing that the white cassock actually represents the very reform she is asking for!

    1. I see your point, but I’m don’t think symbols are read or interpreted primarily by their history. History tells us what the white cassok meant 450 years ago, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about what it means today. Most people tuning into CNN haven’t look at The Church Visible. 🙂

  8. “Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
    And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
    But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
    You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

    Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
    And tell the world that everything’s OK,
    But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
    ‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.”
    – John R. Cash

    Since Johnny had to write a song to EXPLAIN the symbolism of his attire, maybe the Holy Father needs a similar anthem.

  9. But you know what, if the pope changes what he wears, there will just be another group of critics who will make a bunch of pig with lipstick jokes. What changes need to be made are substantial, not superficial and symbolic.

  10. Perhaps it is overinterpreting her remarks to say this, but I think perhaps what she is really looking for is sackcloth and ashes?

    I do applaud her persistence.

    Welcome, Holly. Yes, the age of empire is over. But there are those who still yearn for it.

    Kevin, you are a man of many parts. Johhny Cash! Who’d have thought it? 🙂

  11. The best thing that ever happened to the See of Rome was when the Papal States were lost. I say let all of the trappings of pomp and passing glory go as fast as we can. The image of Pope Paul’s simple casket with the Book of the Gospels placed upon it, its pages fluttering in the wind during his funeral, gave more glory to the faith than anything which tried to imitate the glory of earthly thrones and dominions. May we never boast of anything, save the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  12. Anne Burke is on to something. While I don’t think that Pope Benedict should go shopping for the latest fashions in burlap, he could hold a series of “business casual” public statements to bolster confidence in the Catholic institution. Pope Benedict doesn’t do press conferences, but his apparent disdain for any public engagement is disconcerting. At least he could effect a facade of interest in lay concerns. He should put aside the mozetta, ditch the slippers for sensible shoes, and appear in simar only. He’d come across as more direct without the additional papal house vestments. He should take a style cue from JPII and play it simple when the heat’s on the Vatican.

  13. I hesitate to comment, since these outward things run to the heart of fissures within the contemporary Church.

    Is is a commonplace to point out that both St Francis and St John Vianney were outstanding in their zeal for poverty and yet would not tolerate anything but the finest plate and vestments in the service of the altar?

    Or perhaps lazy to point out that the Irish episcopate, so assiduous in tearing out the traditional sanctuaries of their cathedrals in the name of simplicity and renewal and so universally habited in the simplest vestments were so outstanding and humble in taking the Cross over the sexual abuse of children?

    Or that Pope Paul VI in his simple coffin laid on the ground was so humble as to never to effect a radical revision of the liturgy, where Good Pope John, weighted under his proud and vainglorious gold thread tunicle, dalmatic, chasuble, fanon etc… hesitated to add a single name to the Roman Canon?

    Or that bishops who forego their right vesture never do so with the intention of magnifying their own charisma, but rather with right ecclesiology in mind?

    Whilst we’re at it, why don’t we hassle the Orthodox to simplify? For heavens, what would the Lord say?

    Both/and folks. I say that those Irish bishops, and others, should crawl on their knees in supplication up to their altars and then proceed to put on alb, dalmatic, chasuble, mitre etc, loose themselves in the fullness of Christ’s Priesthood and say masses in reparation.

    1. Giles, Lots of good thoughts here but also some problems in my view. I’ve never read that Pope John “hesitated” to add a single name to the Roman Canon. Every account I’ve read said that he made the change precisely to make the point that the Roman Canon is not untouchable.
      I see no reason to hassle the Orthodox, no grounds for holding them acccountable to the Second Vatican Council. But we are. And the Council said many things about simplification, ministry as service, renewal of communitarian ecclesiology – passim.

  14. I agree with the need for penance, but wonder why folks focus on making the other display penance? Calls for penance should involve the whole family of the Church.
    In my family, there are at least 7 adults who knew of an abusing relative (5 known victims) and moved us kids out of the way rather than bring the man to justice. So I guess I’m tired of the focus in priests and bishops. Time to open the whole can of worms if people care about all victims.

    And along with Giles above, I also question why no one asks Orthodox to ditch their glorious vestments. Why is Orthodox tradition embraced and Catholic tradition rejected? Never got that.

    Sorry to be such a skeptic, but it seems to me that while busying herself with superficial aspects of the pope’s dress in order to combat superficiality, the objector has given remedies that can only at best be… Superficial.
    No real change here, folks.

    1. Mary Ann – I don’t think Catholic tradition is rejected – but it is reformed and renewed, and that means change. As I wrote to Giles, the reason for us to change is the Second Vatican Council, and we hardly should hold the Orthodox accountable to our council.

  15. Sure, Father. I support the reforms of the Council. Far from hassling the Orthodox, I admire their use of beautiful and time-honored things in the worship of God.

    I understand simplifying things. But where is the specific call to discontinue use of traditional vestments?

    And, to the point of this post, how does the pope changing the color of his cassock help victims and prevent future abuse?

    1. No one called for discontinuing traditional vestments, I don’t think. As to specifics, the Council oftentimes didn’t give them, it gave general principles. I hear the reformist calls of others as falling well within how one might apply V2’s principles.
      Changing the color of cassok by itself does nothing – Jeff Regan spoke well to this point above. I suspect the proposal is part of a larger program of reform, renewal, change in structures, change in attitudes, which probably would affect everything, including all the fancy dress those guys increasingly love to wear.

  16. If the Council didn’t call for it, then why should we quibble? Why not be open to all the Church allows, and simply not wear a fiddleback if it’s not your thing? Why denigrate an acceptable custom?

    Why not focus on penance, like Friday penance for example?

    I’m not saying that change shouldn’t happen, just questioning superficial change. Especially considering many abusers wore simpler vestments
    after the Council, and kept abusing, how is this a viable solution?

  17. If the Council didn’t call for it, then why should we quibble? Why not be open to all the Church allows,

    Next you’ll be pointing out that the Cappa Magna is in the 1989 Ceremonial of Bishops (at No. 64).

  18. These superficial calls for reform in vesture of all kinds seem rather puritanical, even suggesting that Vatican II mandated any specific sort of simplification. All the specifics came after Vatican II in papal decrees so much despised today by a certain clique and decrees of those would be popes, treasured by the same clique, promoting their own version of the spirit of Vatican II. In terms of penance and punishment so many suggestions do in fact hearken to the puritanical days of placing the red letter “A” on the adulterer or adulteress as a humiliating punishment except in the case of the clergy today the “A” type penance refers to abuser and all of its humiliating connotations. It all seems like smashing the face of a dog into his own you know what. Some people take pleasure in doing so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *