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High Church, high hat

Popemitre Do clothes make the pope? Liberal and conservative Catholics are pondering some sartorial signals from Pope Benedict XVI. The pontiff who has rehabilitated the Latin Tridentine Mass also has a fondness for the elaborate vestments of the pre-Vatican II church. In investing 23 new cardinals the other day, Benedict sported a miter — the tall, pointed hat worn by Catholic and Anglican bishops — originally won by Pope Pius IX, the 19th century pope famous (or notorious) for the Syllabus of Errors, an attack on “Modernism.”

Pio Nono’s miter was “Roman” style — ridiculously high, like the miters worn by the sinister bishops in Thomas Nast’s anti-Catholic cartoons. Since Vatican II, Roman Catholic bishops — including the late Pope John Paul II — have favored the more squat, less elaborate  “Gothic” miter also favored by Anglicans like the archbishop of Canterbury.

If rising and falling hemlines are a guide to the state of the economy, the height of miters could be a clue to the reigning theology in Rome. The ultimate “Back to the Future” fashion statement would be for the pope to revive the crown-like papal tiara. (Here’s Pius IX’s.)

Photo detail courtesy of AP.


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