Q. 1. How come we rarely see the priests wear their Roman collar or their clerical garb? It has gotten to the point that you can no longer recognize the priests and it appears that they like it that way. Are they ashamed to be associated with their clerical status?
A. 1. I recall in my younger days, in the early 1960's, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, when the Redemptorist Brothers stopped wearing their cassocks in public. Their reason at the time was that priests were getting stabbed on the street when they were wearing their cassock.
In my youth, it was unthinkable of questioning the answer received from a religious person. I had no reason to disbelieve the religious Brothers. But now, reviewing the matter, I cannot find any evidence to support such an answer. Nor does their answer explain the gradual progression of stopping to wear the cassock on the street to stopping to wear their cassock on the Church property.
Regarding this matter, the 1983 Code of Canon Law states, "Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs." [C.C.C. # 284] So it appears that the decision to wear or not to wear the Roman colar and clerical garb falls upon the Conference of Bishops of each country. It is up to them to establish the regulations regarding when and where the priests, brothers and sisters should wear their religious habit in public and on Church properties.
Based on what we now see in North America, it appears that the Conferences of Bishops have left the matter to individual priests, brothers and sisters to do whatever they want, wherever they want. Most have chosen to hide their religious calling, including some Bishops.
In should be noted that in 1982, Pope John Paul II wrote an instruction to the clergy and religious of Rome in which he remarked the value of clerical garb, “not only because it contributes to the propriety of the priest in his external behavior... but above all because it gives evidence within the ecclesiastical community of the public witness that each priest is held to give of his own identity.” This Divinely inspired guidance has fallen upon deaf ears.