One of the rules of the Roman Catholic Church is that everyone is supposed to call members of the clergy “Father”.
A priest could be 30 years old and, yet, be addressed as “Father” by an 86 year-old man or woman.
Hollywood has produced many famous “Fathers”. There is “Father O’Malley”, played by Bing Crosby in The Belles of St. Mary’s and Pat O’Brien’s “Father Flanagan” of Boys’ Town and many others.
There are also famous “Fathers” on the news.
Everybody knows “Father” (Michael) Pfleger, Barack Obama’s buddy from the south side of Chicago. “Father” (Frank) Pavone has made quite a name for himself as the head of Priests for Life, sort of like the Jesse Jackson of the pro-life movement. Many news channels have their own go-to “Fathers” to call in whenever they need an expert on Roman Catholicism. For Fox News Channel, it’s usually “Father” Jonathan. I don’t even remember his last name.
I’m thinking it was back in the seventies when it became permissible to call priests by their first name, but only, of course, if accompanied by the required “Father”. When I was in junior high, we called all the priests by their surnames – “Father Sullivan”, “Father Harnett”, “Father Bates”. However, when a young deacon who was preparing to enter the priesthood came to our parish, we all called him “Father Marc”. Then, it was cool to call a priest – or deacon – by his first name. It was like he was more of a peer – on our level – than some high and mighty godlike being.
Apparently, some priests wanted others to think they were cool. I know of some who allowed parishioners and others to call them “Padre”. Not very long ago, I attended a funeral which was led by a priest with a mullet. He drove a Jeep Wrangler to the cemetery – with the top down. His license plate read, “Da Rev”.
So, it seems that there has been a bit of a backlash against the use of “Father”, at least in certain circles. Overall, however, the title enjoys widespread use among Catholics and non-Catholics. Even journalists have bought into the “Father” title by identifying Catholic priests in their stories as “Father” So-and-So.
The first question is, why does the Catholic Church force its members to address priests as “Father”?
I am sure apologists have all types of answers and they can point to what Augustine and Aquinas said way back when. But, the answer is much more simple than that. The Roman Church wants people to believe that Catholic priests are 1) “other Christs”, and 2) moral authorities over the rest of us.
The apostles, who the Church teaches are the predecessors of Roman Catholic priests, were never called “Father” by anyone but their own offspring. (Yes, the ‘original priests’ were married with children!) Even Jesus Christ was never called “Father”. Usually, his disciples called him “Teacher”. In the bible, “Father” was reserved for God in heaven.
Matthew 23:9 reads, ‘Do not call anyone on earth your father. Only one is your father, the One in heaven.”
The title of the Matthew 23 is “Hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees”. I encourage you to read it for it describes the Roman Catholic hierarchy to a tee.
I have racked my brain trying to remember hearing that particular passage in a Mass or a catechism class or anywhere. Then, I remembered: Every biblical passage that makes it into the liturgy missals and catechism books must first be approved by the Church. Apparently, the don’t-call-anyone-on-earth-your-father verse ended up on the Vatican cutting room floor.
Gee, I wonder why!
The Fourth Commandment (before the Roman Church’s edits) states, “Honor thy father and thy mother”. The nuns taught us that meant we were supposed to obey our moms and dads, oh, and the priests, too! “Yes, Father. Of course, Father. Anything you say, Father. The earth is flat, Father.”
When thousands of Roman Catholic priests told little kids to do this or do that, most of them did, with reluctance and through unimaginable pain. Honor and obey “Father”. “Father” knows best. “Father” is God. And you don’t say “No” to God.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please share them in the comment section below.