Why do Catholics call their priests, Father?

Have you ever wondered why we call our priests “Father”? Does doing so go against what Jesus instructs us to do in scripture?

Karen, a non-Catholic Christian from Minnesota, called Go Ask Your FatherTM to ask, “When scripture says not to call people father, why do Catholics call their priests ‘Father’?”

“Because it would be unbiblical not to,” responded Msgr. Stuart Swetland. “Do you use the words ‘teacher’ and ‘father’ for people who teach and for earthly fathers?”

He warned against picking out part of a scripture verse in argument without looking at the meaning and context behind it. “The passage is Matthew 23:9, so let’s try to get to the truth of the matter here and try to figure out what God is doing in revealing to us in scripture and not play ‘Bible bullets’ where we try to score a point on each other because we disagree. Let’s try to really get at the truth of the matter,” said Msgr. Swetland.

“So, you’re talking about Matthew 23: ‘But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.’”

Now, obviously—or at least, this is how, historically, Christianity has interpreted this verse until very recently when fundamentalists have distorted the meaning of scripture—they have recognized that this is hyperbole. That Jesus doesn’t expect us not to honor our earthly fathers by calling them ‘father’, and not honor our teachers by calling them ‘teacher’ or instructors by calling them ‘instructor,’” explained Msgr. Swetland.

“So, Jesus isn’t setting up a list of verboten words that can’t ever be used by a Christian. But rather, by this hyperbole he meant to remind us that all teaching authority, all fatherhood, all right to instruct comes from God. That’s what He’s trying to say in Matthew 23:8-10. And proof of this is the early Church and the rest of scripture uses the term ‘father’ to describe spiritual fatherhood.”

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.