Cassock wearing in young priests is a “sign of fragility”, the Archbishop of Paris has said.

Driving the news

Michel Aupetit made the comment to Spanish paper El Mundo in the context of some reflections on the rising tide of secularism in France, particularly as that drives Islamic radicalisation.

“Muslims believe that secularism in France prohibits them from talking about God. And that’s why they bring their children to Catholic schools”, Aupetit (68), Paris archbishop since January 2018, explained.

“When one is a minority, self-assertion involves external signs. Muslims before were no less Muslim than Muslims now and they didn’t wear veils.

“We also see it in our young priests, who wear cassocks. It’s always a sign of fragility. They show a sign because they need to express their identity”.

The big picture

The vast majority of priests around the world content themselves either with civilian clothes or, at most, a discreet clerical business shirt and tab collar.

But more and more self-identified “traditionalist” young priests are rediscovering the old-fashioned priest’s cassock, in a self-conscious rejection of the reforms in the Church of the last fifty years.

In a meeting with fellow Jesuits in Mozambique early September, Pope Francis, too, decried the return to the cassock fashion, saying that the “clericalism” evident in a priest choosing to don the cassock was being driven by “rigidity”.

“Have you never seen young priests all stiff in black cassocks and hats in the shape of the planet Saturn on their heads? Behind all the rigid clericalism there are serious problems”, the Pope warned.

Go deeper

In his interview with El Mundo, Aupetit also referred to the recent wave of church desecrations in France, but said as a Church “we cannot fall into vicitimisation and hide in small groups that defend themselves in a fortress”.

“We will continue exposing ourselves, opening the churches, knowing that we are at risk”, Aupetit promised.

The Archbishop of Paris also complained that the Church’s point of view has not been listened to in the bioethics debates in France.

“The word isn’t as free in France as people say”, hedecried.

“If you think differently, your’e labelled as reactionary, homophobic, etc. It’s not that they prevent us from speaking, but discrediting one’s discourse by rejecting intelligent dialogue is censorship”.

On another controversial point for the French Church – that of the “financial gesture” for clerical sex abuse survivors approved by the Bishops in an early November assembly – Aupetit was careful to point out that “it’s not compensation, because compensation comes from the courts”.

“The victims asked us for a specific gesture especially for the cases in which the statute of limitations has expired.

“It’s a symbolic gesture that shows that the Church has understood, that it recognizes the suffering of that person and that there is a collective responsibility of the Church”, Aupetit underlined.

The archbishop also reflected on last month’s Amazon Synod in the Vatican, and said that meeting’s statements on ecology and the defence of the indigenous peoples of the region “are more important” than the gathering’s cautious opening to married priests.

For the record

One last point Aupetit offered his opinion on was the reconstruction of Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, gutted by a tragic fire in April this year.

The archbishop said the archdiocese has already spent 35 million euros on the restoration of the cathedral, but that more money from donors will come in in the future.

The form the reconstruction of Notre-Dame will take has been the subject of heated debates in France, but Aupetit was clear he wants the church rebuilt “identically” to the way it was before the blaze.

That’s all except for the spire, where the French Government has expressed its desire to make a “contemporary gesture”.

“I’m not against anything”, Aupetit explained.

“I am in favor of an identical reconstruction, but I’m not going to be celebrating the Eucharist under the spire.

“What interests me is the cathedral. I will pay attention to the symbolic gesture of the spire, but I’m not set on the exact identity of what Viollet-le-Duc did in the 19th century. If it is not identical but dignified and respectful, I’m not a priori against it”, Aupetit said.

On the question of whether Notre-Dame’s millions of yearly visitors will have to pay in the future to enter the cathedral, the archbishop was clear.

“No. It would be a mistake. A church is a free site. Believers and non-believers, the poor and thieves can all enter”, Aupetit clarified.

“There’ no reason for those who pray and those who don’t to be separated”, he added.

“I asked the president [Emmanuel Macron] why Notre-Dame has more visits than the Louvre… It’s because it’s a living place”.

Notre-Dame “will again be a place of worship”, Aupetit promised.

“Let’s put aside all those delusions on the roof, which are architects’ fantasies.

“The French Government, to which the cathedral belongs, doesn’t want to do such experiments”.

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