French Archbishop Orders Seminarians to Stop Wearing Cassocks

According to Archbishop Guy de Kerimel of Toulouse, seminarians wearing the cassock demonstrate an excess of clericalism that is not ‘adjusted’ to their lay status.

Archbishop Guy de Kerimel, then-bishop of Grenoble, speaks to parishioners after a funeral Mass in La Tour du Pin, France, on Feb. 6, 2018.
Archbishop Guy de Kerimel, then-bishop of Grenoble, speaks to parishioners after a funeral Mass in La Tour du Pin, France, on Feb. 6, 2018. (photo: Mourad Allili Mourad / Sipa via Getty Images)

A letter sent by the new archbishop of Toulouse in southwestern France to the seminarians of his archdiocese, in which he ordered them to stop wearing cassocks, has provoked the wrath and concern of a number of Catholic faithful in the country.

The letter, dated June 2 and intended to remain private, was quickly leaked and picked up by French media. In it, Archbishop Guy de Kerimel — who took office in December 2021 — reaffirmed views expressed the day before at a dinner with seminarians from the archdiocese, in particular his opposition to wearing a cassock before ordination.

Mentioning his questioning of some of them wearing cassocks and surplices at a student Confirmation a few days earlier, the prelate stated that he told them he “did not wish that the seminarians display themselves in a too clerical way.” Indeed, in his view, the image they project in this way is not “adjusted” to their unordained status of lay faithful. He also justified his stance by the claim that “the priority of a young person in formation for the ministerial priesthood is to grow and strengthen his relationship with Christ in humility and truth, without seeking to enter into a character,” and that “he must allow pastoral charity to grow in him and make himself accessible to all [...] before worrying about displaying a very marked identity.”

Therefore, the letter represented an occasion to set the seminarians’ dress code for the diocese in the future: “The wearing of the cassock is not permitted in the seminary; that is the law in force. I therefore ask that this law be applied outside the seminary in the diocese of Toulouse, including for deacons,” he specified, adding that from the time of admission to the seminary, it is possible to wear a “distinctive sign” such as “a Roman collar or a simple cross.”

Archbishop de Kerimel based his argument on Canon 284 of the Code of Canon Law, which entrusts episcopal conferences with the task of determining the ecclesiastical garb clerics should wear, “according to legitimate local customs.”

His stance has generated controversy on social networks and some Catholic websites. Quoted by the conservative magazine Valeurs actuelles, a priest of the diocese described the prelate’s arguments as “fallacious,” reaffirming the fundamental importance of the cassock in the life of the priest, including for seminarians when they “aspire to the priesthood and the cassock helps them get into the priest’s skin. The cassock, he said, “is a reminder of the priesthood, it reminds us that in everything he does, a priest is a priest, it helps and pushes to live as a priest and helps people to turn to him without shame or fear.” 

Some commentators also criticized the prelate for acting to accommodate societal trends, while the effect of the report on sexual abuse in the Church of France has been to further increase anti-Catholic acts over the past months, especially against priests. 


Tense Context

Moreover, this incident occurred in a particularly tense context between a part of the local Church hierarchy and the traditional Catholic communities that are particularly flourishing in France. 

Last year, following the publication of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, Archbishop de Kerimel, as the then-head of the Diocese of Grenoble-Vienne in southeastern France, had already drawn strong criticism from his traditional faithful there by putting an end to the diocesan mission of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, who celebrate Mass in Latin, and by restricting the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. These faithful, who claim to number around 500 people in total, responded to the archbishop’s decision by organizing a boycott of the collection that reportedly caused a significant loss to diocesan revenues for the year 2021. 

And the same day that Archbishop de Kerimel’s letter was leaked, the faithful of France learned with dismay of the suspension of the ordinations of priests and deacons in the diocese of Toulon in southeastern France, until further notice.