I have recently, within the last year or so, begun to notice the sometimes reference to Catholic Pastors. I assume that this term is in reference to Priests. I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic school, in 18 years, never heard the term Pastor within that context.

Is the term Pastor within the Catholic church synonymous with Priest and, if so, is it's usage recent, regional, or did I just not notice for 18 years?

Answers to this question, Are Roman Catholic priests ever addressed as pastor, seem to indicate that this usage is limited to the US only. Does this mean that it's usage within Catholicism is less than 300 years old?

  • You would expect a pastor to provide pastoral care to his flock (as in the shepherding analogy), and so more likely to be a parish priest than an ordained resident of a monastic community. This extends to diocesan bishops in the same sense and then to the Pope as "chief pastor of the whole church"
    – Henry
    Apr 19, 2021 at 14:56
  • @Henry The Pope as chief pastor of the whole church seems to indicate the usage is not United States only. Apr 19, 2021 at 15:04
  • It's in the current code of canon law, did you grow up before Vatican II (1960's)? But I can corroborate your observation, nobody ever calls Father Bob, Pastor Bob, even if his title in the parish is Pastor.
    – Peter Turner
    Apr 19, 2021 at 15:12
  • @PeterTurner Nope. born in 65. It's entirely possible that I heard it but it never registered. My wife says I do that sometimes:) Odd that answers indicate it as U.S. custom if it's in canon law. Apr 19, 2021 at 15:34

1 Answer 1


In Catholicism a pastor is a priest who has the care of a particular parish (cf. Canon 515).

The New Testament word that Catholics believe refers to the lower clergy is πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros). The etymology of the English word "priest" traces to presbuteros. The New Testament does not refer to Christian leaders as sacerdotal priests (ἱερεύς - hierieus), but only as presbyters. "Pastor" as a shepherding metaphor was probably present from the beginning, given that the shepherding metaphor was there from the beginning (e.g. John 21:15-17, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Peter 5:1).

Obviously some Christians disown a sacerdotal priesthood, and therefore prefer "pastor" or "minister" rather than "priest". For this reason there is a common notion that pastors and priests are two different things. Yet for Catholics the technical name of the priest who has charge of a parish is the "pastor".

See also Pastor (Wikipedia) and Presbyter (Wikipedia).

  • Is the usage limited to or predominant in the U.S. only. How far does the usage pre-date Vatican II? May 1, 2021 at 12:08
  • Ephesians 4:11 predates the United States by 1700 years.
    – zippy2006
    May 1, 2021 at 14:13

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