Clerical attire, officiants and safeguarding

Different aspects concerning the status of Church of England clergy have been in the news recently:

  • In December, the disciplinary tribunal considering Re Hawthorne [2015] addressed the court’s jurisdiction over a former Anglican priest who had joined the Ordinariate; this emphasized that clerks in Holy Orders must satisfy the provisions of the Clerical Disabilities Act 1870 before they cease to be subject to ecclesiastical law;
  • In January, the CofE’s legal office issued guidance relating to retired and other clergy who do not hold office and who purport to conduct funerals on a “freelance basis”;
  • Also in January, in relation to the alleged wearing of a clerical collar by a former vicar, deposed from Holy Orders following a custodial sentence for indecent assault, the Archbishop of Canterbury is quoted as saying:

“Regrettably, although we can ban someone from ever officiating at worship and wearing robes for worship, or passing themselves off as a priest in good standing, we cannot prevent them from using the title ‘the reverend’ or even wearing a clerical collar … anyone is able to wear such dress, providing they do not do so for illegal purposes. It is not contravening any law unlike, say, dressing as a police officer.”

We covered these issues here, here, and here, respectively. One feature which is common is the recognition of someone in Holy Orders by their style and dress, and the latter is addressed in relation to the Draft Amending Canon No.34, accompanying the draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure, which will be discussed by General Synod on Thursday 12 February[1].

Clerical dress and vesture

Clerical dress and vesture was one of the issues on which the Archbishop’s Council sought a view in its consultation on the proposed legislative changes resulting from the Chichester visitation, GS 1896[2]. These comprise paragraphs 41 to 47 of the consultation document, which indicates that the Commissaries recommended:

(a) clergy who have been prohibited or suspended, or who have no licence or permission to officiate, should be prevented from robing or wearing clerical vestments in church;

(b) it should be a disciplinary matter to allow a prohibited or suspended cleric to robe or wear clerical vestments in church; and

(c) clergy who are prohibited or suspended should not be permitted to wear any clerical dress on any occasion.

Clerical dress

A distinction needs to be drawn between the everyday clerical dress perceived to be distinctive of that of a priest, and that worn during divine service. The Church’s ecclesiastical law addresses these separately: Canon C 27 Of the dress of ministers; and Canon B 8 Of the vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service. The consultation notes [42] “the rationale behind the recommendations appears to be that clergy who do not have authority from the bishop to officiate should not be permitted to hold themselves out as if they were so authorised by the bishop”. This was considered problematic in a number of respects:

  • clerics wear ‘dog collars’ as a sign of their ordination as deacon or priest, not because they hold preferment or a permission to officiate[3]. On these grounds, therefore, limiting their wear to authorized officiants would be illogical, and would be discriminatory towards retired and other clergy in good standing who are members of the congregation. We considered the “indelible” nature of ordination in our earlier post.
  • there is no distinctive attire specific to Church of England priests, although this is generally taken to mean a priest’s clerical shirt and collar. Canon C 27 is non-prescriptive: the apparel of a bishop, priest, or deacon must be “suitable to his office; and, save for purposes of recreation and other justifiable reasons … such as to be a sign and mark of his holy calling and ministry as well to others as to those committed to his spiritual charge.”
  • the consultation noted that a measure which precluded clerical wear for prohibited or suspended clergy “could be ineffective as a measure designed to protect the public. There is no distinctive uniform for Church of England clergy – a cleric in a black shirt and priest’s collar could be Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Methodist, or belong to any number of small catholic or protestant sects that have no connection with the Church of England.”


Although “diversities of vesture” are permitted by Canon B 8, a minister is not permitted to change the form of vesture in use in the church or chapel in which he officiates without the approval of the PCC, or the bishop in cases of dispute. Nevertheless, sections §3 to §5 indicate what may be worn at Holy Communion, Morning and Evening Prayer on Sundays, and at the occasional offices.

The consultation document indicated [45] that a provision to forbid a prohibited cleric from robing in church would be relatively straightforward and could be done by canon. However, it also suggested that there would be no effective sanction available against a person who is already subject to a long period of prohibition for serious misconduct, and such a provision would in practice need to be supplemented by a prohibition on priests with the cure of souls from knowingly allowing such clergy to robe in their church. The situation is more complex with regard to clergy who have been suspended since the notice of suspension served on a respondent expressly states that suspension does not mean any view has been formed as to whether the complaint of misconduct is true or likely to be true.

These proposals were further discussed by the Council and the House of Bishops, GS 1941, prior to their first consideration by General Synod in July 2014[4] at both were approved and submitted to a Revision Committee. The February 2015 Synod will consider the revised Measure and Canon in the light of the report of the Revision Committee which contains the rationale for the present form of the draft[1], [emboldening in original],


(Of relations with other Churches, Of ministers exercising their ministry, Of diocesan bishops. Of risk assessment, Of the licensing of readers, Of the admission and licensing of lay workers)


2.(1)Canon C 8 (Of ministers exercising their ministry) is amended as follows.


2(3) After paragraph 5 insert—

“6. A minister who does not have authority to officiate in accordance with this Canon or is prohibited or suspended under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 from exercising the functions of his Orders may not vest in a church or chapel during divine service.

7.The minister having the cure of souls of a church or chapel or the sequestrator when the cure is vacant or the dean or provost and the canons residentiary of any cathedral or collegiate church may not allow a minister to officiate or vest in the church or chapel if they know that the minister does not have authority to officiate, or is prohibited or suspended, as mentioned in paragraph 6.


The provisions on vesture form one component of the proposed legislation on safeguarding. It is also important that the Church avoids sending out mixed messages, particularly in the light of the motion approved at the General Synod in York approved the motion[5]:

“That this Synod call on the Business Committee to introduce draft legislation to amend the law relating to the vesture of ministers so that, without altering the principles set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Canon B 8. the wearing of the forms of vesture referred to in paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of that Canon becomes optional rather than mandatory.”

[1] The papers for this session are: GS 1952A, Draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure; GS 1953A, Draft Amending Canon No.34; and GS 1952-3Y, Report by the Revision Committee.

[2] The reports of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commissaries to the Diocese of Chichester (‘the Chichester Commissaries’) made a number of proposals for legislative change to enable the Church of England to deal more effectively with safeguarding issues.

[3] Since December 2007, the Archbishop of York, the Rt Rev John Sentamu, has not worn a dog-collar as a sign of solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, who have lost their identify under the rule of President Mugabe.

[4] Special Agenda I, Pages 3 and 4 of the Business Done report.

[5] See GS 1944A and GS 1944B.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Clerical attire, officiants and safeguarding" in Law & Religion UK, 9 February 2015,

12 thoughts on “Clerical attire, officiants and safeguarding

  1. I have been involved with the spiritualist church for most of my life, I have worked as a medium to help others. Also worked as a spiritual healer. I have been approached to consider going into the ministry. May I wear a clerical collar, or would I be breaking the rules. My faith is strong and my sincere wish is to serve God and his people. as I have had no training but my sincere wish is to let people see my faith is my heaven.

    • My understanding is that If you have been invited to undergo Spiritualist Training with the SNU, you will be very aware the process is lengthy and rigorous.

      There are other Spiritualist Churches – including the Corinthians or the New Christian Spiritualist Society, for example – who offer training to those Mediums and Healers who wish to become officiants.of the organisation. On Ordinations the Clerical Collar may be worn.

  2. Pingback: Vesture: House of Bishops Consultation | Law & Religion UK

  3. You wouldn’t be breaking any law but I would find it highly disrespectful to ordained priests who have undergone a long period of training in theology and within the community , (often having studied for not one, but two degrees ) for you to do so – whatever gifts you feel you have been given regarding your spiritual healing and mediumship , only by undergoing the very rigorous selection process that both the Churches of England and Rome require plus a very long period of theological study , being made first a deacon, then priest , then curate and finally being given your own parish after many , many years , would you truly ” qualify” to wear a clerical collar . My brother is a Canon – he has earned the right and the title through over 35 years of dedication to the Church of England and Jesus . To wear the collar without following this true path of dedication , to me, would to akin to making a mockery of those years of study of canon law and pastoral care – no matter how strong your faith or how great those gifts you feel have been God given , it would be heresey and misleading to the general populace to wear the collar . Sorry , just my view. faith or strong desire to do

    • Don’t forget the clergy of Churches other than the C of E and the Roman Catholic Church. (And, incidentally, whatever else Anglican ordinands study, hardly any of the syllabus is devoted to canon law.)

  4. Pingback: Law & Religion 2016 and 2017: retrospect and prospect | Law & Religion UK

  5. Further to our revised Comments Policy, comments on this post are now closed. For completeness of the above discussion, however, we should add it has been pointed out by Fr Julian Kent that “the collar is not a sign of clericy but of consecration. Many non-ordained religious wear the collar when not in habit, not because they are priest or pastor but because they live a consecrated life”. dp

  6. Pingback: Recent queries and comments – late March | Law & Religion UK

  7. Are Roman Catholic Priests allowed to wear Cassocks on the street in England? I thought not but can’t find the reference!

    • It’s not really our area, Christopher, but I did come across this piece Vatican: Priests, bishops should wear cassocks in the National Catholic Reporter. Whilst not answering your question directly, it implies that there is no formal prohibition on the wearing of cassocks in the street.

      A question on Twitter might provide a number of views!

      • That piece refers to visits to Rome. So far as the UK is concerned, I have a dim recollection of legislation in penal times making it an offence for Roman Catholics, inter alia, to wear clerical or religious dress out of doors. It was its repeal in 1779/80 that sparked off the Gordon Riots.

        I cannot imagine that there is anything of that nature left on the statute book: apart from anything else, it would surely fall foul of Article 9 ECHR.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *