I've read a couple of strange reports recently that lead me to an idea for how the Catholic Church might redeem itself.
The first came out of Rome. The Vatican is urging Catholic religious leaders to wear black cassocks when visiting Rome. A cassock is an ankle-length robe that buttons down the front.
"The very example of those who, sealed with the episcopal dignity are faithful to the daily use of the cassock proper to them during daily office hours becomes an explicit encouragement to all," the Vatican said.
OK, that was one story: The pope apparently wants to class up the clergy in Rome.
The second report came from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting held recently in Baltimore. Well, actually, it wasn't a report. What happened is Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City attended the meeting, participated in its legislation – and no one said a word about the fact that he was recently convicted of criminally endangering children by knowingly covering up evidence that one of his priests was molesting kids.
There are those who thought Finn's fellow bishops might have noticed. There are even those who think that, once a bishop is convicted of a major crime, he might consider retiring.
What do these stories have in common? Each of them suggests a mindset within the church that clergy are not bound to the same rules of the road as are lesser folk.
They are, rather, sealed with "episcopal dignity" and required to look good, rather than act good.
Here's what I think the church should do: The church should require its priests, bishops and cardinals to burn their vestments. Or, if that seems too extreme, they could give the vestments to Lutherans.
There seems to be something about dressing a man in fine garments, garments trimmed with lace, putting a fancy hat on his head, giving him a large gold necklace to wear – there's something about that that sets the guy apart from his fellow humans.
The higher someone rises in the episcopacy, the more bizarre his garments become. At some point, he figures that clothes must make the man.
Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is "not of this world," but he, apparently, didn't bother telling Peter or those who have claimed to be his successors. They not only dress like royalty, they act like it.
Bishop Finn may not receive condemnation for covering up the actions of a pervert priest – but if he were to wear blue jeans to an audience in the Vatican, you can be pretty sure it would entail an international scandal.
There's something wrong with this and everyone knows it. Priests and bishops, free yourself from this nonsense. Give your vestments to the Lutherans. Reenter the real world.