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This image of Cardinal George Pell has emerged in the weeks since his pilgrimage to Germany for World Youth Day. He is depicted in procession on his way to preside at the Vatican-approved pre-Vatican II Latin Solemn Vespers and Benediction in Dusseldorf as part of what's known as the Juventutem.

Dressing up is being seen as increasingly important. It is a sign of the clerical culture being fostered in the Sydney Archdiocese at present, which Chris McGillion referred to in his editorial in last week's Online Catholics. It establishes a priestly class that is "other", drawing a line between priests and people. The new website of the Archdiocesan Good Shepherd Seminary sets out the Code of Dress:

"'The priest should be recognisable above all through his behaviour, but also through his dressing in a way that renders immediately perceptible to all the faithful, even to all men.' .. Seminarians are required to dress in the spirit of the Directory as quoted above."

We've come a long way from the days when seminarians were encouraged to dress down in order to counter the clerical culture and enable a closer identification between priests and people. Back in 1983, a Courier-Mail reporter was taken by the ordinary dress of seminarians at Brisbane's Pius XII Seminary at Banyo: "They look like any other group of young men. Dressed in everything from torn T-shirts to casual dress ... They belong to the slowly evolving new guard of priests."

Two decades later, the current new guard sees dressing up as integral to its priestly identity. Aspirants who take a look at seminary life and find it attractive will inevitably be young men who like to dress up. Your "average Joe" who feels most comfortable in casual dress, like the rest of his generation, won't take his enquiry any further. Which is just what the powers that be want.


Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit was on the money when he mused about how the Vatican responds to bishops when they submit their required resignation when they reach the age of 75 - "Some of them they ignore, but if you are the least bit progressive, they accept it immediately".

Some claim that the time taken to accept a resignation signifies nothing more than how quickly a successor can be found. But Bishop Gumbleton's wry statement does suggest a litmus test for how a bishop is perceived by Rome. Possibly Canberra-Goulburn's Archbishop Francis Carroll was hoping they would see him as a liberal and accept his resignation soon after he submitted it when he turned 75 on 9 September. If that was the case, it turned out that his prayers were answered, and his resignation was accepted without delay. Perhaps they caught a glimpse of this photograph of him in casual attire.


The recent debate about whether hardline NSW Upper House MP David Clarke represents mainstream Catholicism threatens to redefine what many people consider mainstream Catholicism. Nevertheless it was gratifying for many Catholics when, in July, an Australia Institute study showed that Catholics lead the way in tolerance of homosexuals by people who identify as religious believers. Last week, British-born US blogger Andrew Sullivan used the survey to argue that tolerance is synonymous with the Catholic faith.

"Many Catholics were brought up, as I was, with a deep sense of the sin of bigotry, of prejudice, and of judging people for who they are rather than by what they do and how they live. I'd say this was one of the deepest lessons my devout mother and grandmother taught me."

Last year, Sullivan gave up his life-long practice of the faith because of the hierarchy's unrelenting condemnation of his identity as a gay Catholic. In doing this, he appeared to concede the Catholic mainstream to the intolerant new guard. If that is the case, what he writes in his blog is an expression of nostalgia, and future Australia Institute surveys will put Catholics in this country behind in the tolerance stakes.


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