Norms for clerical dress in Rome

A correspondent recently found the text of this letter from Cardinal Ugo Poletti which was published in 1982. It promulgates norms approved by Pope John Paul II regarding the wearing of clerical dress in the Diocese of Rome. The most striking provision was his requirement that those who had received "candidacy" should wear clerical dress. In many seminaries, including my own, this was actually forbidden.

I remember the afternoon that the news appeared in the Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano which a priest studying canon law gleefully showed to myself and a good friend who had been made "candidates" earlier in the year. The following morning, we came down to chapel in clerical dress. It may not seem much in hindsight but it was a very controversial matter at the time.

My correspondent kindly typed out the letter and suggested that I should post it so that others would not have to undertake the lengthy search that he did. I am very happy to oblige.

Sources: (in case any students need chapter and verse)
The English version was reported in L'Osservatore Romano (English edition) n.756, 25 October 1982. The text is also in the Canon Law Digest, 10; p.13-15
Letter of the Vicar of Rome to Clergy and Religious

Dear Brothers in the priesthood, diocesan and religious, in Rome, in communion with the bishops of the Diocesan Episcopal Council, I gladly fulfil the duty of presenting to you the esteemed letter of our Bishop and Pastor, Pope John Paul II, concerning the use of ecclesiastical dress in the Diocese of Rome.

You, too, will welcome it with filial and sincere support in that ecclesial communion with the bishop which embraces also the disciplinary order by appreciating the wealth of spiritual, ecclesial and pastoral values which it contains. Of special importance are the values of witness, of priestly identity, and of the sign to be offered to the world, so that it may recognize us clearly as disciples of the Shepherd.

One could ask: why does the Pope address himself to the Diocese of Rome and not to the whole Church? As he states in the letter he sent to me, he feels the duty of addressing himself as Bishop of Rome, especially to the sons and brothers who are nearer and directly engaged with him in a mission of evangelization which is nurtured and expressed in love.

Everything is easy for one who loves.

Before expressing in the concrete the precise norms for you, brothers of Rome, in accordance with the directives of the Holy Father, I entered into accord with the cardinals in charge of the various Sacred Congregations of the Clergy, for Religious and for Secular Institutes, and for Catholic Education, so that with their authority and in the areas of their competence, they might confirm the opportune dispositions.

In fact, the very numerous and varied presence of priests, religious and ecclesiastical students, resident in this diocese, constitutes without doubt an immense reservoir of spiritual energies and also a visible witness of Christian vitality of the highest value which must, as far as possible, be fostered as an example for our sister churches.

Therefore, by joint agreement with the responsible authorities in the sectors of respective competence, it seemed necessary that in this beloved Diocese, the dispositions concerning ecclesiastical dress should again have full force with the following characteristics:

1. From now on the obligation of ecclesiastical and religious dress for priests, whether diocesan or religious, resident in the Diocese of Rome is confirmed in all its force.
2. For secular priests, whether diocesan or permanently domiciled in Rome, this dress may be either the soutane or the "clergyman" according to Italian usage, black or dark grey, or even dark blue, with the Roman collar.
3. This disposition is also valid for non-diocesan priests who intend to reside in Rome only temporarily.
4. Religious, under the vigilance of their lawful superiors, shall wear the habit of their own institute, a sign of their special consecration, or at least – in accordance with their own law – the "clergyman."
5. The soutane or the religious habit is of obligation in liturgical celebrations, in the administration of the sacraments, and in preaching. It is strongly advised in the ambient of one's own pastoral ministry.
6. As from the beginning of the current scholastic year the use of ecclesiastical or religious dress shall be resumed also in the period of formation in seminaries and colleges beginning with the rite of admission of candidates for the priesthood and, in religious houses of studies from their first profession.

I deem it my duty to recognize the good will shown for some time by the clergy and religious, especially the young, in resuming spontaneously and in wearing with propriety ecclesiastical or religious dress as a manifest sign of love and responsibility. I trust very much in the understanding and collaboration of the young.

There is present here in Rome, as a consolation and hope for the whole Church, a really magnificent representation of youth, coming from every part of the world.

It is the fervent hope and desire of the Holy Father and of the bishops, his collaborators, that with the reconfirmation of ecclesiastical and religious dress, the witness of these young people consecrated to the Lord, and unknown to many, may be ever more manifested to all in an open, joyous and courageous manner. The example of so many young people in the service of the Church and of souls, will certainly be for many other young people an effective call to the consecrated life and it will be for all an incentive to a courageous and open Christian life.

The three Sacred Congregations for the Clergy, for Religious and for Secular Institutes, and for Catholic Education, confirm with me the norms set out above, committing themselves to put them into effect in the seminaries, in the houses of formation, in religious institutes and colleges, willingly assisted by the local superiors. Likewise, the pontifical universities, the athenaea, and the academies of Rome will do honor through the decorum of the discipline of dress to their authentic and indispensable work of cultural and pastoral formation, according to the noblest traditions of their history.

The Supreme Pontiff, in the audience granted to me on 27 September, 1982, deigned to approve the norms set out above and authorized their publication.

Dear brothers, our Father and Bishop asks us for an act of love and collaboration: also in this there is measured the generosity of evangelical witness. Imparting to us his apostolic blessing, he entrusts it to the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin "Comforter of the Roman People" so that our response may be easy and prompt.

With fraternal affection, ever united with you in your ministry and in your priestly life, I greet you.

Ugo Cardinal Poletti
Cardinal Vicar of the Diocese of Rome, letter, 27 September, 1982
In Italian, there are various pseudo-English expressions such as "Lo smoking" (a dinner jacket) "Il golf" (a cardigan). "Il clergyman" is another such expression, meaning a clerical suit, as opposed to the soutane.

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