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Many Protestants object to the practice of addressing priests as "Father," citing Matthew 23:9.

And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

Is there a respectful way for someone who is not Catholic to address a priest other than calling him "Father"?

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    As a related note, refusing to address someone based upon what is customary for that person in their society/culture and how they are accustomed to be address may come off as disrespectful or rude or worse denigrating of their role or theology.
    – eques
    Nov 22, 2023 at 16:05
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    @eques Is this not really a matter of personal conscience, for individuals? A person who wishes to keep their conscience clear before God by heeding Jesus' instruction not to use the title 'Father' in a religious sense, is not swayed by custom or culture, especially if most people in their country (even unbelievers) use it automatically. They will be moved by how they believe God views the matter, so using a different but respectful form of address should not be taken as denigrating anyone or anything.
    – Anne
    Nov 22, 2023 at 17:28
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    @Anne this question is tagged Catholicism despite pointing out a concern some Protestants may have. However, "heeding Jesus' instruction not to use the title 'Father' in a religious sense" is fundamentally not a Catholic position (as seen elsewhere) so Catholicism does not provide an answer to assuage the Protestant concerns. "using a different but respectful form of address should not be taken as denigrating anyone" That may be an ideal, yet that doesn't mean it works in practice. A priest hopefully is humble enough to not make a fuss but how it is perceived is a separate concern.
    – eques
    Nov 22, 2023 at 23:31
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    @eques I tagged the question as [catholicism] because it's asking if there's another term used in Catholicism. I did not tag it as [protestant] because while the reason for asking is based on Protestant beliefs, the question isn't actually about Protestantism. If there's another religious group that objects to the Catholic use of the word "father," this would be equally relevant to them.
    – Someone
    Nov 22, 2023 at 23:43
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    @eques That is why I won't answer this Q; I'm not a Catholic, nor do I know the answer to the Q. But your 1st comment could equally apply to Catholics who, for conscience' sake, will not address their religious leaders as 'Father'. There might not be many of them around, but who knows whether some who use 'padre' or 'monsignor' etc chose that over 'Father'? We cannot (and should not) judge anyone on such a personal matter
    – Anne
    Nov 23, 2023 at 9:09

6 Answers 6

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Is there a respectful way to address a Catholic priest other than "Father"?

Military clergy, both Catholic or otherwise (Protestant or Jewish) are often called Padre. In Portuguese, priests are called “padre”, which is not the same word for a father, “pai”. As a matter of fact, the Portuguese word “padre” is only used for priests, having no other use. Granted, in archaic Portuguese it was used for father too.

The term Dom, is used for bishops and religious priest of the Benedictine Order.

I know a few religious (Religious Order) priests who are called Brother.

Some priests are called Monsignor, if they have been accorded that title.

Italian priests are called Don.

If you are really uneasy about it, I would imagine that the simple term of Reverend, would be appropriate. Do not think any priest would object to this phrase being employed.

Pope John Paul II as a young priest, asked his young friends to call him ”wujek”, which is Polish for uncle. In this way, the Communists would not know a priest was in the mist of the group and could freely administer the sacraments!

There are also Lutherans who call their pastors "priests" and "fathers." This is especially true in European countries.

Still have to chuckle a little about this as no one feels uneasy about calling the Founding Father of the United States anything else than the Founding Fathers!

Dads do not mind being called father by their children. And professors are still called teachers!

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    – Ken Graham
    Nov 27, 2023 at 12:09
  • In Romanian, an Orthodox priest is addressed as părinte, which means "parent" rather than "father."
    – Kyralessa
    Dec 11, 2023 at 14:28
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In my country, translated to English, it is very rare to call a priest “Father”. If any special title is being used, “reverend” is most common if combined with a name, or “mister pastor” if no name is used. Deacons are called the same, unfortunately as a deacon cannot be a pastor here.

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  • Deacons can never be pastors (parochus/parish priest) in Catholicism
    – eques
    Nov 27, 2023 at 19:45
  • I believe you. I can only speak for the languages I know. In my language a pastor is a priest. So not a deacon, as I said.
    – ABM K
    Nov 27, 2023 at 20:14
  • We seem to be saying more or less the same thing, but some terminology appears to be getting conflated. "as a deacon cannot be a pastor here" would imply in English that some other place/location as deacon could be a pastor, but as you agree as pastor is a priest.
    – eques
    Nov 28, 2023 at 0:54
  • Ah, yes, I think we say the same thing. My apologies for any linguistical mistakes!
    – ABM K
    Nov 28, 2023 at 9:22
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In Latin the vocative domne (lowercase "d" and lack of "i"), "O lord", is one way to address a priest; Domine (capital "D" and with an "i"), "O Lord", is reserved for God alone.

The domnus here [in asking a priest "Iube, domne, benedicere.", "Deign, lord, to give a blessing."] used is also customary in other cases to distinguish earthly masters from the heavenly Dominus.

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  • Are you aware of this term being used outside of liturgical ceremony?
    – eques
    Nov 27, 2023 at 19:46
  • @eques No, I'm not.
    – Geremia
    Nov 28, 2023 at 0:04
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The problem with many titles is that they not only designate someone's position, they also indicate a relationship with the person that says the title.

For instance "bishop", "elder", "priest", "senator", "rabbi", "monk", and even "patriarch" should be acceptable to everyone.

But while titles like "father", "milord", "brother", "pope", "abbot", and "monsignor" are fine for members of their own church, many other people would feel uncomfortable using those titles to address someone.

I don't want to address anyone as "my lord" or "father" unless they really are my lord or my father.

Saying "your eminence", "your reverence", or "your highness" provides some distance, acknowledging the position without implying that the position is with respect to oneself.

For references that aren't directly addressing the person, sometimes "the" can be inserted. Saying "the father" or "the pope" merely indicates that you recognize what they are without implying a relationship to oneself.

And if it doesn't feel too awkward, one might even speak directly to someone in the third person.
"Would the Father like another piece of cake?"
"The Monsignor is very amusing tonight."

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  • The division of titles into two categories seems entirely arbitrary; several in the former are relational in origin and some in the latter while they originate from relational terms are used to such a degree that the relational aspect is far from explicit. Adding "the" is sometimes used, possibly without the effect described/intended. Speaking in the 3rd person is done with styles (Your Excellency) but would seem odd for the examples given, especially since using the 2nd person in those implied cases would be more natural and avoid the issue discussed.
    – eques
    Nov 26, 2023 at 19:40
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Here's an analogy: A person who doesn't recognize a US president's election would still address them as "President so-and-so" unless they wanted to be rude about it. In the case "Father so-and-so," the term "Father" is a title bestowed by the Roman Catholic Church, not a personal appellation.

As long as you follow the title with a personal name ("Father Patrick" for example) you are not actually calling the person "Father" but merely using his ecclesiastical title. If one feels conscience-bound to avoid the term, try "Reverend." It's off-putting, but not exactly rude.

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Is it not interesting to note that Jesus himself called his Father ' Abba' which roughly translates to Daddy ?In the Liturgy of Catholic Church involving different Rites, wherever there is a reference to the celebrant, he is referred to as The Priest. In fact the vocative noun Father seems to be of recent origin . Catholic priests of Southern India were addressed as Kassieessa in Syriac and Kathanar, root of the latter being unknown. It was only after the arrival of the English that priests started getting addressed as Father . The counterpart word of the local language for 'biological father' is used with a different set of spelling and diction so as to bring in specific identity.
PS: If calling a priest 'Father'is against Mtt 23:9, calling a Bishop 'My Lordship' is also not proper since the First Commandment says " I am the Lord your God.."

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