I found this Christianity Stack question which asks if Lutherans use pastor or priest: Lutheranism: "Pastor" or "Priest"?

However, my question is specifically regarding the Roman Catholic Church and whether priests are ever addressed as pastor. I have an assignment about the Protestant Reformation and the use of the title pastor, and had assumed that in the U.S. the term pastor is only used within Protestant denominations.

That could be a serious error on my part. So, before I continue with my assignment, I seek clarification on the use of the title pastor, specifically with regard to its use within the Catholic Church. Are Catholic priests ever addressed as pastor?

  • 1
    For your interest: In Germany there are two forms of salutation for minister (Catholic and Protestant), "Pastor" and "Pfarrer" (parish priest). There are regional differences, in some regions the Catholic one is adressed with "Pfarrer" and the Protestant one with "Pastor" or the other way around. Sometimes also the parish priest is the "Pfarrer" and cooperators are "Pastor". BTW: "Pfarrer" is also used for priest not working in a parish.
    – K-HB
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 12:00
  • 1
    A related point is that the catholic use of "father" was a point of contention for many of the protestant reformers, mostly based on Matthew 29:3. Catholic.com has a rebuttal to this protestant grievance. That said, I know of no protestant group that calls their leaders "father".
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 20:04

4 Answers 4


Typically, in the United States, the priest to whom the parish is entrusted is referred to as "the pastor". The Latin word is "parochus", which the Code of Canon Law translates as "parish priest". Other priests at the parish may be referred to more formally as parochial vicars or less so as assistant pastors.

In any case, though, the priest is not addressed as "Pastor" (in the US at least), but as "Father". The Office of Public Affairs of the US Congregation of Catholic Bishops carries on its website a glossary of Catholic terms, for the purpose of media coverage of Catholic events. This glossary includes the entry:

pastor. A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation. He is responsible for administering the sacraments, instructing the congregation in the doctrine of the church, and providing other services to the people of the parish. Pastor is not ordinarily used as a title before the name of a Catholic priest: He is Father John Smith or Msgr. [i.e. Monsignor] John Smith or the Rev. John Smith, depending on your publication's style manual.


  • "depending on your publication's style manual." Sounds like they leave this is to regional norms. Is that the impression I should take?
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 20:08
  • Outside of the US the English term "pastor" is largely unused.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 21:00
  • @fredsbend sounds like they want to forbid "pastor" but otherwise leave things to local custom. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 1:35

I managed to track down a Catholic web site which gives the following explanation, which I would like to share with you:

Pastor: This term denotes a priest who has the cure of souls (cura animarum), that is, who is bound in virtue of his office to promote the spiritual welfare of the faithful by preaching, administering the sacraments, and exercising certain powers of external government, e.g., the right of supervision, giving precepts, imposing light corrections — powers rather paternal in their nature, and differing from those of a bishop, which are legislative, judicial, and coactive. A pastor is properly called a parish-priest (parochus) when he exercises the cure of souls in his own name with regard to a determined number of subjects who are obliged to apply to him for the reception of certain sacraments specified in the law. In this article "parish-priest" is always taken in this strict sense.

The power to appoint pastors is ordinarily vested in the bishop. To pastors, who are not parish-priests, the right of assisting at marriages is given by the law as to parish-priests. The other rights usually are granted to them by the bishops and are defined in the particular laws; such is very commonly the case in the United States, England, and Scotland, with regard to baptism, holy viaticum, extreme unction, and funerals. Source: Pastor (Catholic Encyclopedia)

I am grateful to Matt Gutting for his speedy and clear response because I was working to a deadline and needed to submit my assignment before the end of today.

  • Note that this is US-only usage. In the UK no Catholic priest is referred to as a "pastor".
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 21:01
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    I think "cura animarum" means care (not cure) of souls. Also note that the material you quoted explains what a pastor is and does but omits the question that you actually asked, about how they are addressed. That was correctly answered by Matt Gutting: They are addressed as "Father", not as "Pastor". Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 0:10
  • @andreas "cure of souls" is the traditional English term Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 20:21
  • @MattGutting Thanks for this information. I had not perviously heard "cure of souls" in this context, but Wikipedia confirms (on the "pastoral care" page): "In some denominations of Christianity, the cure of souls (Latin: cura animarum), an archaic translation which is better rendered today as "care of souls" is the exercise by priests of their office." (And I'm not surprised by wikipedia's calling traditional terms "archaic", nor by its missing a comma before "is".) Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 11:21

Are Roman Catholic priests ever addressed as pastor?

The short answer is: Yes, but not in English.

Priests who are pastors, in English speaking counties are often referred to as pastors. The assistant pastor is called either the assistant pastor or the associate pastor. The signage in front of many Catholic churches bares this out.

However, it is also commonly accepted that pastors in English speaking countries should be addressed as father. I have never heard of a parish priest being referred to as Pastor "X" by any member of the faithful in English.

The title of Father is very commonly given to Secular Priests, as well as to Priests of Religious Orders and Congregations. - Ecclesiastical Addresses (Catholic Encyclopedia)

This is not so true in the French language, where priests who are pastors of a parish church are commonly referred to as Monsieur le Curé.

"Monsieur le Curé", being used for all parish priests. - Ecclesiastical Addresses (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Most Catholics have heard of St. John Vianney also known as the "Curé d'Ars". In France Parish priests are quite commonly called Monsieur le Curé or as one would say in English "Mister [the] Pastor".

St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, T.O.S.F. (8 May 1786 – 4 August 1859), commonly known in English as Saint John Vianney, was a French parish priest who is venerated in the Catholic Church as a saint and as the patron saint of parish priests. He is often referred to as the "Curé d'Ars" (i.e. the parish priest of Ars), internationally known for his priestly and pastoral work in his parish in Ars, France, because of the radical spiritual transformation of the community and its surroundings. Catholics attribute this to his saintly life, mortification, persevering ministry in the sacrament of confession, and ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His feast day is 4 August.

The YouTube video in French on the life of the "Curé d'Ars" clearly bares this out: Le Sorcier Du Ciel. Although it is an older movie and in black and white, it is quite enjoyable to watch, especially if you understand French. It does have English subtitles for those interested.

While living in France, I would quite often addressee Catholic priests who were pastors as Monsieur le Curé or more affectionately as Mon Père.

The word Curé in French referrers to priest who is charge of a parish.


Prêtre qui a la charge d'une paroisse dans la religion catholique.

Synonymes : abbé, prêtre

Traduction anglais : parish priest


Fr. Hardon, S.J.'s definition:

An individual priest or a corporate person (religious order or community) to whom a parish has been entrusted by a bishop, with the rights and responsibilities conferred by canon law and the statutes of the dioceses. (Etym. Latin pastor, shepherd; literally, feeder.)

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