By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 05, 2007

The photo above purports to show (Lutheran) Church of Sweden clergy demonstrating yesterday in Stockholm to "break the conspiracy of silence regarding homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals." Few of us, perhaps, would have noticed a great deal of silence on the issue, but I suppose these ministers are specially trained to listen for it.

But my interest was tweaked by a side issue: the marchers' use of the roman collar. In standard progressivist polemic, the roman collar is deplored as a token of clericalism, and more particularly of the hierarchical subordination typified by the Church of Rome. We might expect that progressives, in keeping with their anti-hierarchical convictions, would never let themselves appear in the roman collar, either dressing indistinguishably from the laity or creating an alternative garb more emblematic of humility.

Yet the fact is that attempts at replacement insignia have flopped; no badge expresses the notion "clergy" as unequivocally as the roman collar. This means that -- on those infrequent occasions when progressivists want to be publicly identifiable as clergy -- on goes the collar, out go the principles.

It's not without an amusing side. Those instances on which the forward-thinking brethren summon the bad old hierarchical caste system to their aid do not redound to their credit. Attorneys for priest-defendants regularly stuff them into the too-snug clerics fished out from the depths of the rectory closet, hoping the jury will atavistically respond to the uniform. Here's an example from a churchman indicted for advanced ideas about youth ministry:

Fr Joseph Jordan was a modern priest, always dressed in baseball cap, tracksuit and trainers. One mother remarked that the only time she had seen him in clerical garb was in the dock at Cardiff Crown Court.

In addition to arraignment fashions, the roman collar also comes in handy when television or news cameras are at hand, and it's politically more expedient for, say, Professor Richard McBrien to weigh-in as Father Richard McBrien. Dressed in a jacket and tie, a refractory Catholic academic comes across on the tube as just another refractory Catholic academic, his Holy Orders notwithstanding. (For analogous reasons, when military officers go on television to oppose some aspect of administration policy, the producers make sure they're in uniform.)

And then, finally, there is the public street demonstration, as exemplified in the photo from Stockholm. The marching ministers even put aside their pastel clergy shirts in favor of deadpan Catholic black, lest inattentive spectators mistake them for random amateur cross-dressers. There's a "me too" dimension to their use of the roman collar: "You should take us seriously, because the collar is an emblem of clergyhood and clergyhood an emblem of ecclesial authority and ecclesial authority an emblem of moral seriousness -- not that we are morally serious in fact, but we have fierce political passions for which some kind of public legitimacy is needed."

In a paradoxical way, progressivists' infrequent tactical resort to clerical garb is more "clericalist" than conservatives' day-in day-out use of the same. After all, the conservative can say, "Hey look. I'm a priest around the clock, and I'm just doing what I'm told, just keeping to Canon 284, so I take the multiple headaches along with the occasional advantage that comes with the collar." But the trendy clergyman, who dresses as a layman 99 percent of the time and puts on clerics only as a signal to strangers and only for some tactical advantage, is trading precisely on the moral prestige that society imputes to the clerical caste as a whole. He's saying in effect: "Pay greater attention to my words, because -- when all is said and done -- it's the Church that's speaking." To pull this stunt is to borrow the moral authority that belongs to an institution so as to exploit it for personal gain, and of such is the kingdom of clericalism.

Photo: Le Figaro (AFP/Nackstrand)

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Aug. 07, 2007 6:33 PM ET USA

    Men in Black 3 - Alien Attack, the Universal Studios theme park ride is always trying new story lines to get people in the door.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 06, 2007 10:43 PM ET USA

    Let's play a game!...Which one does NOT belong-----the tie, the boobs, or the Roman collar? You're right. The tie. OK, next one: How do we know they're hypocrites? Give up? We're told to watch our saliva so as not to spread AIDS, but 2 of the er..people..are drinking out of the same bottle. And last - What do the signs say? "God is Love", "Proud Priests" and "I am what I am" - typical boring unappealing protest signs.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 06, 2007 6:03 PM ET USA

    Bear with me: Sweedish Lutheran ministers don't like Catholic priests much. Lesbians don't like men much. Yet Lutheran Ministers are attracted to the appearance and garb of Catholic priests And lesbians are attracted to the appearance and garb of men (in their women). Go figure!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 06, 2007 11:20 AM ET USA

    Well, we have a case where clothes do not make the, woman(?) The mere act of wearing clerical garb does not make one a true cleric (i.e., priest) any more than sitting in a garage will make one a car. Just another attempt at deception.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 05, 2007 8:30 PM ET USA

    What would St. Paul think?