If you’re anything like me, then you’ll be sick and tired of a certain kind of Catholic pedant. You know the sort. Obsessed with the precise rubrics of clerical dress. Convulsed with horror at perceived misuses of traditional titles and honorifics: “Mgr So-and-so is wearing the wrong colour socks! … Doesn’t His Eminence know that it’s beneath the dignity of his office to introduce himself in that way? … And are those phylacteries of regulation breadth?”
This attitude can take many forms, and not always from quarters that you might expect. There’s a particularly virulent strain of it about at the moment. It unites voices – a great many of them otherwise very sensible – from all points on the theological spectrum. Blogs, tweets, articles in august periodicals (including, I dare say, this one), even – most recently – gatherings of fine canon lawyers … all deeply, deeply, oh-so-very-deeply worried about the way a certain priest is both dressed and addressed.
Let me explain.
In Rome there lives a certain holy and humble cleric. At the ripe old age of 90 he spends his days in prayer, receiving visitors, puttering around the garden and (probably) binge-watching episodes of his favourite TV drama Inspector Rex (so far as I can work out, an Austrian version of Due South, with the Mountie replaced by a crime-solving Alsatian). Judging by the occasional selfie taken with him, he seems to favour wearing comfortable leisurewear: shell suits, padded jackets and baseball caps. All perfectly normal, and well suited for a man in deservedly gentle retirement.
But – and here’s where the Great Church Scandal of Our Age really kicks in – these clothes are white; white enough, in fact, to have featured in a 1980s Daz advert. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he is typically referred to as the Pope Emeritus.
This horrifying combination, I am reliably informed, can reap naught but scandal and confusion. It was a terrible, terrible error, made in haste. Worse, it is regrettably too late to rectify now, this time around. But the Church must – simply absolutely must – change canon law to prevent such a tragedy ever happening again, per secula seculorum, Amen.
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