Is it against Canon Law...?

Is it against canon law to wear clothes that make you look like you are a cleric or a religious when you are not entitled to do so?

Is it also against criminal law in any country?

Not sure if it’s against canon law, but it is wrong. It is a form of lying. After all, if you are wearing real clerical or religious garb you are basically passing yourself off as something you’re not. If it’s a costume party kind of thing then you are making fun of those in religious life - not a good thing either. Most religious “costumes” are vulgar or disrespectful.

As far as illegal, I do know that it was illegal to dress as a cleric in Mexico after the revolution. I’m not sure if it still is, but do I know a vacationing priest that was almost arrested for it about 15 years ago.

A quick search indicated that it is also illegal in some US states and some foreign countries.

lay associations are permitted distinctive garb, as long as it doesn’t utilize the same elements as a religious habit. a cross or medallion which is part of the future habit can be worn.


Yes. Impersonation of a priest is against Church law and is a crime in some Catholic countries.

In 1981, in character as Fr. Sarducci at the Vatican, Novello was caught taking snapshots in an area where photography is prohibited. He was arrested and charged with impersonating a priest.

Yup, I guess it is…:smiley:

Does this apply to impersonation of nuns/sisters also?

It would help a lot to know why you wish to do this. Personally I feel it is wrong in almost all circumstance, since it is a form of falsehood. But of course ultimately it depends on the circumstance, like a lot of things.

Are you trying to pass yourself off to the general public as a priest/nun when you’re not. Wrong

Are you wearing a religious type of costume that is obviously not real, but has vulgar or insulting content, belittles the religious life, or demeans the Catholic/Christian faith. Wrong.

Are you an elementary student that is dress as their patron saint in order to honor them. OK

Are you impersonating a religious as a comedian. Depends. Does your humor belittle the Catholic Faith or the religious life. Wrong.

The list goes on.

On my search of the internet I did find that in one state it is illegal to wear the clothes of a priest, nun, or any clergy even on Halloween, and even if they are obviously phony. I think the maximum fine was a thousand bucks and a year in jail. Something to think about.

Short answer is that yes, guys cannot wear clerical garb. Since religious habits are given by the Church to religious, yes, a person cannot just pick up a habit and start wearing it on a regular basis, particularly if it is already claimed by a religious order. It is sort of “trademarked” in the Church, so to speak. That being said, unless civil laws say to the contrary, you are permitted to wear clerics or a habit briefly when it is absolutely clear you are acting and are not the real thing. For example, Halloween costumes, theater productions, and an actor in a film (that isn’t disrespectful to the clergy or religious life).

Awesome. I wish more states would enact this since some lay Catholics don’t seem to pick up on the fact that they are not allowed to wear clerics and habits on their own on a habitual basis. Could you provide a link to this?

I’m not going to be dressing up as a nun or anything. I saw a woman dressed as a nun sitting outside a cafe in a city near to me. She was sitting with a guy dressed as a priest but they were both smoking and drinking bottled beer which obviously genuine nuns/priests wouldn’t do.

I did want to go over and ask them about their clothes but I didn’t in the end as I was a bit scared of saying anything in case they took it badly.


Why would you think that priests or nuns don’t drink? Or smoke?

This made my morning!!!:smiley:

As lay people with a very specific and important vocation (See Decree on the Apostolate of The Laity here ), I think to wear a religious habit when one is indeed a lay person can create a false impression to others that one is a religious or priest and a different vocation entirely. We are called as lay people to be leaven within the mix, not called out of secular life into religious life or the priesthood. Called out of secular life into another state in life is identified by religious habit or some sort of priestly apparel.

The Decree on the Apostolate of The Laity is a very important document for lay people to become very familiar with and to internalize.

One can certainly adopt a standard type of dress that does not resemble the religious habit nor any sort of priestly garb. St Gemma Galgani did this - although what she did wear was very close to a religious habit but still not a religious habit per se. I think it is very important that somehow we can be identified in society as Catholics and primarily this will be, of course, by the person that we are. If we do identify ourselves somehow as Catholics by some sort of apparel - it then becomes of vital importance that we realize we have set the bar very high for ourselves and with a responsibility and accountability before The Lord to strive to live up to what we are ‘stating’.

I always wear black slacks and with a very simple cross on a leather thong. I wear a commitment silver band on my wedding finger. Black slacks means that I can do all my shopping for clothing in second hand stores keeping things simple (I only really need to buy tops) and marked by a certain poverty for me. Nowadays, clothing that is purchased in a second hand store at least here in South Australia is very cheap indeed and of excellent standard - yet still ‘pre-loved’ or pre-used. Black slacks here are not difficult to locate and to buy in second hand stores.
It did take me quite some time to identify and develop a type of apparel that would be suitable for all occasions and cheap to purchase. Here in Australia, black slacks with some kind of top are quite acceptable at all and any venue. Leastways, I have never had problems and I have been able to purchase second-hand tops that are more formal for more formal occasions. I never take off my cross nor commitment ring and wear no other jewellery unless going to something really formal when I might add earrings and necklace, with the cross on thong still, sometimes a bit of makeup.
I am very conscious that I am a mother with two adult sons and in Charity, the presentation of their mother is important to them - and I would add, important to me also as their mother.

Thanks for the additional info. Many priests smoke and drink. There is nothing unusual about it. I’m sure many nuns do too. Personally, I don’t think it’s the best idea in the world for them to do it together in a very public place since it obviously can lead to confusion. But nothing could stop them from doing so.

Of course, the possibility exists that they were just dressed that way and weren’t really a nun and a priest, but the only way to know for sure is if you had asked them.

It wouldn’t exactly go hand in hand with their vow of poverty, would it? In the UK although some alcohol is cheap I would think Religious would have better things to spend their money on. And cigarettes are expensive these days. I’m not a Catholic (yet!) but I know that they wouldn’t do either of those things.

Diocesan priests do not take vows at all, they make promises. And they do not make a promise of poverty.

You would have to look up every order of sisters to find out if every one makes a vow of poverty. I simply don’t know, and wouldn’t assume that they all do.

Regardless, you have no idea who paid for these items. :shrug:

Yes, priests and sisters can drink. And they can smoke.

In normal situations, it is against Canon Law. But, if you are in a movie or play, and it is about Catholicism, it probably wouldn’t be illegal to wear clerical clothing.

Interesting. Where does it appear in Canon Law? I think that in Canon Law religious are instructed to wear the habit of their institute, but I don’t think there is anything specifically stating that lay people are not to wear any sort of religious habit.
The mind of The Church generally speaking is very clear in that religious should wear the habit of their institute, and this does imply that if one is not a member of an institute and wears their habit, it would be wrongful. But it is not spelt out in Canon Law to my knowledge.
Generally speaking, I don’t think that we should not be hesitant about being identified in public as a Catholic, which can be effected without wearing an identifiable religious habit, and especially not a religious habit of a particular religious institute. If one does somehow identify oneself as a Catholic in public, one has then set the bar very high for oneself with a responsibility and accountability before The Lord to strive to live up to that very high standard.

Our cultural consciousness as Catholics and nowadays with those outside The Church also is that those in any sort of religious type habit whatsoever do belong to some sort of religious institute; however, this is only our Catholic and public consciousness at this point. Our cultural consciousness, and it is our cultural consciousness alone (not Catholic law or teaching) - both Catholic and public - that may need to change. This is only a “may or might” need to change - not a “must” change. An issue for discussion.

Obviously, if a religious can adopt legitimately in Church Law secular type clothing, then why not the reverse? Again, certainly to my knowledge there is nothing in Church Law to prevent it - providing one is not wearing the religious habit of a particular religious order or institute.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit