It will come as no surprise that something in the news has Piers Morgan deeply troubled. For the past two days, Morgan has been incandescent over the Met Gala and its dress code. In a column for MailOnline he claims that, as a Catholic, he has become a victim of cultural appropriation due to fancy dress outfits worn to a party by celebrities.
The Gala, a fixture of the New York social season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is well known for the theme it sets, and this year it was ‘Heavenly Bodies’ – inspired by the Roman Catholic Church. The Gala was held to launch an exhibition of the same name. Dozens of items of religious clothing have been allowed out of the Vatican Archives to be seen by the public for the first time.
Guests at the party took the dress code to heart. The star of the show by acclamation was Rihanna, who came dressed as a pope – of particular annoyance to Piers, who criticised the singer for not contemplating if wearing a silver mitre might cause offence.
The entire event had been approved by the Catholic Church, with the Cardinal Archbishop of New York and other priests in attendance. The exhibition had also been approved by some of the highest officials in the Papal Household, but this only enraged Morgan more. Demanding answers, he even went as far as asking the Pope directly on Twitter – with a passion not seen since Martin Luther addressed the Diet of Worms – why had the Vatican endorsed this event?
The greater question is, why wouldn’t they? For many years the idea of a New York society party themed around the majesty of the Church would have been unacceptable in the wake of shocking abuse scandals and the recent wave of new atheism. But with the election of Pope Francis and the increasing popularity of an inclusive Catholic church in America, there has been a sea change.
What Rihanna and the other guests wore was not sacrilegious; their outfits were not religious objects in the first place. Morgan is no doubt a keen student of canon law and regular attendee of mass, so he would know that it is only possible to treat religious objects badly when they have been blessed or dedicated for the purpose of worship, which, while Rihanna was committed to the theme, seems unlikely.
Instead, all the outfits were simply religiously inspired. Any Catholic can choose to be offended by the evening, but when your country’s most senior cleric is there beaming away, it is hard to form any kind of concrete argument against the event.
But then, for the church, none of what was worn was either new or shocking. Compared to the treasures on display in the exhibition itself, the outfits of the guests seem like cheap costumes. Rihanna’s silver mitre pales in comparison to the Triple Crown of Pope Piux IX, which contains more than 18,000 diamonds and other precious jewels and which – like the singer – was brought to the museum accompanied by its own bodyguard.
For any Catholic like myself who spends their Sundays sitting in a marble lined church with incense hanging in the air while priests in priceless vestments and colourful robes say mass in Latin, the idea that wearing a bishop’s hat to a party could be offensive seems like quite a weak argument. It is unlikely to bring the 2,000 year old religion to its knees.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest who was at the party, dismissed the criticism against the attendees perfectly. ‘I don’t think they were trying to be offensive,’ he said. ‘[As] Pope Francis likes to say, you try to meet people where they are, right? And that night they were at the Met Gala. So you meet them there.’