Friday, 12 October 2007

The Dangers of Clerical Dress?

You may have read in the Catholic papers that an Anglican report (Clergy Lifestyle Theory) has recommended that clerical dress should be dropped for health and safety reasons. Wearing a Roman collar apparently makes priests an 'easy target' for criminals.

It is true that almost all priests are threatened by violent behaviour or language at one time or another, and I can think of colleagues who have been kicked in the head or chased round the church. Five Anglican clerics were murdered in this country between 1996 and 2007. We do need to be more 'security conscious', being careful who we let into the presbytery (especially without an appointment), installing CCTV and exercising vigilance when locking the church or answering the door after dark. The Anglican report suggested having 'guardian angels' - and I suppose bodies like the Knights of St Columba could provide a security role, especially on a busy Sunday morning.

Attacks on clergy won't be prevented simply by donning T-shirts and jeans. In many situations I feel much safer in a Roman collar - especially when I'm visiting housing estates in the depths of Hackney, where I live and work. I frequently travel on the Underground in clericals - I often get strange looks and sometimes enter into conversations with people, but never once have I felt threatened.

And anyway, I wear the collar not for my own benefit (though it does encourage me to act in a priestly way) but as a witness to the presence of the Church in the world and as a way of making myself identifiable and therefore accessible to anybody who might want to speak to a priest. Only last week I was tucking into an ice cream on one of the squares in Lucca and a passing cyclist came over to me and asked me to bless her rosary!

There is obviously a risk, as with anybody wearing a uniform, but the chance of being assaulted is low and more dependant on being in the wrong place at the wrong time.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I think the suggestion is daft. (And whilst I am not saying that in professional capacity, my work does influence that view.)

11:38 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband is a man in uniform too..a police officer...we need to see both the Police & Priests visibly to go for physical or spiritual help. i think it's a crying shame about nuns in M & S garb..but that's another point i intend to blog about in future..

5:08 pm  
Anonymous Flabellum said...

I always thought a priest only wore lay clothes when they would be embarrassed to be recognised as a priest!

On M&S nuns, I distinguish four categories of 'religious sisters'; the real ones who wear a habit with veil (such a good witness when so many Muslim women wear a veil as a sign of modesty), Gucci nuns, M&S nuns and Jumble Sale nuns.

(P.S. Can you get black pyjamas with a clerical collar?)

9:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Father.

I was recently travelling with a priest in full clericals. Twice on the journey, he was stopped by people seeking spititual assistance which only a priest can give - and he gave it gladly.

In both cases the couples were quite young - late 20s/early 30s, perhaps. It was a privelege to have been with him on those ocacasions and wonderful to see the expressions of gratitude on the faces of the people he helped.

It should go without saying that I was not present during any of the discussions and he did not talk about them with me either - other than to say that he was pleased to have been able to help and that such occurences are anything but rare. And they only came about because he was visibily recognisable as a Catholic priest.

2:16 pm  
Blogger Fr Ray Blake said...

The only place I actually do feel vulnerable is an open confessional, when there is no-one else in the Church, when someone with a drink or more normally a drugs problem comes in, there I am obviously a cleric.
As for attacks, ...well celibacy should make us more open to the possibility of martyrdom.

4:31 pm  
Anonymous Benfan said...

I remember reading an article by a priest (Fr Capri I think). It was just after 9/11. He was taking a flight very soon afterwards. When he boarded the plane some people on board wept with gratitude that he was there. Just having a Catholic priest on board was such a consolation for them.

10:43 pm  
Anonymous canon rigby said...

what utter rubbish!
secular press trying to secularise a visible witness to the transcendant!!!

long live the roman collar - and may all priests wear it with joy in their hearts for the Church.

11:19 pm  
Blogger Padre Giovanni said...

Mega-dittos from the former colonies. I enthusiastically agree with Fr. S. that the positive witness value outweighs any, albeit rare, possible nasty (even lethal) affects of wearing religious garb. The Roman Collar may engender hostility from a few psychotics but it also comforts a lot more of the normal folk. Seeing us clerics do ordinary things like shopping, getting petrol for the automobile, queuing up at the DMV (dept. of motor vehicles) to get an updated driver's license, going to the chemist for allergy medicine, etc.

Not only is it reassuring that we priests DO normal things, but it also shows most of us ARE normal. The bad press caused by a very small minority of very bad clergy who committed heinous acts of evil on children is no different than the reports of similar attrocities committed by parents, siblings, neighbors, coaches, teachers, etc. (which incidentally greatly outnumber the cases of clergy abuse). ANY case of child abuse is a horrible evil and every culprit deserves swift and severe punishment. Yet, since all walks of life are tempted and no category of human vocation is immune from a few bad apples (did Our Divine Lord not have one Judas in His group of 12 Apostles, the first bishops of the church?).

Shortly after the clergy sex scandal in the States, many of us priests fearfully went in public in our collars as we got several verbal insults, some cases of actual spitting and a very few instances of beatings. Many just treated us like social lepers.

Over time, when it was apparent that most clergy are innocent (just as most parents, teachers, coaches and scout masters), I now get the familiar friendly smile and often get a request for a blessing, for prayers and once in a while for confession. Recently, while waiting for a delayed flight, a passenger asked me to hear her confession. She was uncomfortable with air flight and had waited a long time to avail herself of the Sacrament of Penance.

When she knelt for the absolution, other passengers saw her. Soon, several wanted confession. As a queue emerged, someone from Homeland Security got nervous. Why was there a line of passengers waiting to speak to a Catholic priest before this particular flight? When it was revealed that they sought confession, the airline and security people got MORE nervous (as if to say, what do these people KNOW that WE do not know?) Thankfully, I was not detained and was able to reassure everyone that the spiritual rush for the sacrament was not do to any condition red or orange or DEFCON 3, etc. No immediate or immanent threat had been discovered by any of us. Simply, a few Catholics realized how advantageous it was to have a PRIEST handy to go to confession while waiting for a delayed flight.

Father John Trigilio
(alias the Black Biretta)

12:18 am  
Blogger Daniel Muller said...

I believe that, even from a secular point of view, there is safety in numbers. The more priests are seen in their collar, the less "dangerous" it could be for an individual to appear in clericals.

10:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you been to Ireland lately? At one time the Church was visible on the streets, teeming with priests and religious in clericals and habits. No longer. Since the sex scandals (which continue to recur as time passes - scarcely a month passes without a new case) priests have stopped wearing black suits and collars because they fear verbal abuse and physical attack. Both have frequently taken place, the threat is genuine, but so far nobody has been murdered. The same applies to sisters. You rarely see them habited now, unless they are near their convents, and these are usually old. For many, clerical dress and habits equal perversion, hypocrisy and abuse. Status conferred by clerical dress is long over. Unfortunate though this is, the Church is to blame for its policy of silence in these matters, and this is the price it has to pay. Innocent priests and religious suffer from the sins of their confreres.

10:18 am  
Anonymous Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

Yes, why are the contemporary Irish doing Cromwell's job for him? Have they no sense of irony?

The way that the Irish have turned aggressively on the Catholic priesthood and the Church in general on account of the sins of what is manifestly a small minority of Catholic clergy -- and I say this as a Canadian with a lot of Irish ancestry -- is... let's just say it's a very poor comment on the Irish.

It is also totally illogical in the whole context of Irish history. Irish Catholicism was by no means the sole reason for English persecution in Ireland, but it was surely the main one. Having now put Catholicism behind it, the next step is presumably for the Irish Republic to apply for re-admission to the United Kingdom, since the Irish are repudiating the main historical reason for antagonism?

9:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Irish remained Catholic for as long as it suited them. It was a unifying bond against Britain. They will never seek re-integration with the United Kingdom. Their soul is now sold to the EEC from which Ireland has become prosperous for the first time in the country's history. They won't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs unless their subsidies are reduced, in which case turn they will. No member campaigned more strongly against the admission of Poland to the EEC than Ireland. Their mutual Catholicism counted for nothing when it came as a threat to their acquisative greed. Thousands of young Polish people, aged between 18 and 35, are flocking to Ireland in great numbers to seek a better life. Their industry, efficiency and integrity put the Irish to shame. Unwelcome, discriminated against and exploited though they are, they are slowly transforming the Irish Church by their devotion and fidelity. So much so that the more devout Irish now prefer to attend Polish Masses rather than the passive conformism and spiritual death of what remains of their observant countrymen. In time the Poles will become employers rather than employed; then the trouble will start. You can do little for the Irish when their self-interest is threatened.

5:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tha main problem with Ireland is that the Church has lost its credibility as the seat of moral authority. That is why few priests and religious are willing to appear in public wearing clerical dress and habits. Given the iron grip it exercised in the past and the unaccountability for serious abuse it is unlikely that it will ever regain it. Against this, feminism, higher standards of education, investment from the United States as well as the EEC, and increased prosperity have made so much headway that only an economic crisis will make people realize that they need God. Whether this will mean a return to the Church is debatable.

4:47 pm  

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