At a time when many young women choose to wear the veil to express their membership in the Ummah, or the Muslim community, Catholic priests are also experiencing a strengthening of their sense of ecclesiastical belonging.
Also, young priests opt more for the wearing of the cassock, not only in the church but also in public, reported Le Parisien.
The priests, whose number has halved since 1995, have found a solution to remain visible in the French secular landscape: wearing their cassocks outside the church. On Sunday, July 7, a few hundred French priests, of the 11 000 present in France, have chosen to wear the Catholic religious dress deemed most traditionalist, even ostentatious.
In an effort to promote priestly identity, the Vatican Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XVI had issued a letter in 2012 asking clerics and religious at the Vatican to dress as befits their identity as priests conformed to Christ. But Pope Francis has warned of the dangers of “rigid religiosity” and “fundamentalism”.
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It is a sartorial choice that does not reflect strict religious convictions, says Parisian priest Simon Chouanard, 44, of the parish of the Cœur-Eucharistique-de-Jésus in Paris, who describes himself as “a perfectly ordinary priest” and “not traditional”.
After almost disappearing, the black dress had become the distinctive sign of the most fundamentalist priests. These have however now been joined by young priests eager to “fully assume” their “identity,” said Brigitte Hamon, manufacturer of liturgical clothing.
She sold 160 cassocks in 2018, against 110 ten years ago. The French religious historian Jean-François Colosimo, sees it as “a restoration of the verticality of the priesthood,” a renunciation of their secularization or “the mark of a border between the Church and the world”.
Stéphane Duteurtre, superior of the Séminaire de Paris, confirmed the trend. He mentioned “about twenty priests generally under 40 years old out of a total of 450” who now wear the cassock.
“In a secular society, we need more signs, to clearly show who we are. The ecclesiastical cloth helps to say who I am, helps me to be the one I am called to be,” he explained to the Paris daily. However, the cassock can be “very controversial” among older clerics, who fought to get rid of it.
“It’s a question of generation,” says Father Stanislas Briard, 28, who was ordained in 2016. “If you want to live, you have to be visible”. The religious cloth is also, according to him, a formidable “tool for evangelization”.
“It’s a very simple way to connect with people. We are stopped in the street. We can have a very deep exchange, a request for confession in the middle of a supermarket … ” he rejoiced. Moreover, “anticlerical insults” are rare, says Simon Chouanard.