Why do Catholics call their priests “Father” despite the fact that Christ said: “Call no man on earth your father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven”! (Matt. 23:9).
Catholics call their priests “Father” because in all matters pertaining to Christ’s holy faith they perform the duties of a father, representing God. The priest is the agent of the Christian’s supernatural birth and sustenance in the world. “Father” is a title which does not conflict in the slightest with Matthew 23:9. Christ forbids the Christian to acknowledge any fatherhood which conflicts with the Fatherhood of God – just as He commands the Christian to “hate” his father, mother, wife, and his own life, insofar as these conflict with the following of Christ. (Luke 14:26). But Christ does not forbid Christians to call His own representatives by the name of “Father.” Catholic priests share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ (not a human priesthood), and their sacred ministry partakes of the Fatherhood of God. Like St. Paul (himself a Catholic priest), every Catholic priest can refer to the souls he has spiritually begotten as his children in Christ. (1 Cor. 4:14). St. Paul considered himself to be the spiritual father, in Christ, of the Corinthians: “For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you.” (I Cor. 4:15). The title of “Father” is entirely proper for an ordained priest of Jesus Christ.
Author: Paul Whitcomb
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Edmund J. Bradley Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Timothy Manning, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General
April 13, 1961