Hats are radical; only people that wear hats understand that.
Last week, I highlighted a beautiful response from Pope Francis on his spiritual life, which he gave in a Q&A session with 24 local Jesuits in Mozambique during his pilgrimage to Africa early last month. Social media and reactionary Catholic outlets, however, decided to focus and provide criticism on other responses in the meeting.
A number of priests on social media took to social media in response to this quote from the Holy Father:
Clericalism has a direct consequence in 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. I had to intervene recently in three dioceses with problems that expressed themselves in these forms of rigidity that concealed moral problems and imbalances.
In the days following the release of the transcript, a number of priests posted photos of themselves on Twitter wearing saturnos–the type of hat described by Francis in the transcript (examples here, here, here, and here). Besides the usual suspects (well-established critics of Francis and his papacy) a number of young priests and seminarians also posted pictures of themselves wearing saturnos. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, the well-known traditionalist blogger, even advertised a “Saturnos for Clerics Project” fundraiser on his website, in order to raise funds to buy saturnos for priests who want them.
It’s all in good fun, right?
I don’t think so. Do you think these priests would have done this if their bishops or superiors had made the same statement? Imagine if your boss had made a public statement, in which he said in all seriousness that–for example–”aviator” style glasses were a sign of immaturity. Would you immediately rush to social media to post pictures of yourself in your best pair of retro shades, for the entire public to see?
The problem is that this activity betrays the attitude of eye-rolling and contempt towards Pope Francis that is becoming entrenched in certain sectors of the clergy. To react to the pope’s statement by brazenly wearing the item of clothing he criticized is to prove his point. This is an act of public protest against the pope, even if it’s relatively benign.
I personally have no problem with saturnos. I am not sure that any priest I know owns one, but one of my all-time favorite movies is The Scarlet and the Black, starring Gregory Peck as a saturno-wearing Irish monsignor who helped hide Jews and allied POWs from the Nazis who had invaded Rome during the second world war.
Perhaps there are priests for whom the saturno is not a clericalist fashion statement or a sign of rigidity, but a favorite hat. Francis’s comments certainly might have hurt the egos of those for whom the hat has served a completely reasonable purpose. I understand. I get slightly miffed whenever I see an article attacking cargo shorts. I believe cargo shorts are not only stylish but immensely practical (what other article of clothing gives you a place to store your tots while eating a cheeseburger?). But they have their time and place.
Pope Francis’s point about “hats in the shape of the planet Saturn” was made in the context of a very serious point. If you are a priest and your first impulse upon reading those words was to post a picture of yourself wearing one, that reflects poorly on you.
These pictures betray an underlying perniciousness and antipathy toward Pope Francis that is both unhealthy and a source of division. Instead of mocking the pope’s words, you might want to try heeding them.
Sometimes a hat isn’t just a hat.
Image: Gregory Peck in The Scarlet and the Black
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.