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.”

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Image: by Lawrence OP / Flickr / Creative Commons license