Behavior of Protestants in the Presence of Catholic Officials

DISCLAIMER: I am not trying to deliberately offend any Catholics. This is a genuine quest for knowledge.

  1. How should a Protestant address a priest, especially in light of Matthew 23:9? “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and He is in Heaven.” (Yes, I’m probably mis-interpreting this verse, but I’ve yet to receive a good explanation.)

  2. How should a Protestant react when a bishop (or such) enters the room and extends his hand, expecting me to kiss a holy relic? Just say “Sorry, I’m not Catholic” and hope he gets the hint?


How should a Catholic address a priest. “Father” is inaapropriate as well…

I understand this is an injunction against Mithaism - the numer one religion at the time - whose Magi were called “father” something uniques to world religions at the time.

Any non-Catholic can certainly address a priest as “Reverend” if calling him “Father” makes you uncomfortable.

I’ve been around a few bishops and cardinals, and except in highly ritualized circumstances nobody expects the “kissing the ring” sort of thing (these officials do not generally carry relics around on a regular basis) – normally we just shake hands. I would find it odd that a non-Catholic who objects to such things would put themselves in a position of being at such a ritual in a position to have to decide what to do.

As far as it being “inappropriate” for Catholics to call their clergy “Father,” Robroy, I’m afraid I don’t recognize your authority to say so. You may have an opinion as to whether you think it should or should not be done, but for you to tell a few hundred million people that what they call their clergy is flat-out inappropriate is, well, inappropriate.


Melin - it’s all just strictly hypothetical.

The one time I ever spoke directly to a RC prist was at the Y. He said “Good morning, child” and I said “Good morning,” thus not addressing him at all.

As for being in the presence of a bishop (or higher), I was thinking of that scene in “Ghostbusters II” where Cardinal Such-n-such entered the room and extended his left hand. The mayor kissed the relic, and the cardinal then extended his (left) hand to one of the Ghostbusters, who then extended his own (left) hand and shook it.

Just use “Sir”.

I remember the Pope’s first visit to Poland. About half those present (Catholics) kissed his ring, the other half (Protestants and Athiests) shook his hand. All the highranking Communists present fell into the latter catagory.

Elmer J. Fudd,
I own a mansion and a yacht.

I recommend a sneering “PAH-dray,” a la Buck Henry’s Colonel Korn to Anthony Perkins’ Chaplain Tappman in the film version of CATCH-22.


The topic reminds me a bit of the urban legend in which a group of American tourists happen to be present when the Speaker of the House of Lords is greeted by a friend.
Although by no means a Catholic, I would not (and do have) a problem with addressing a priest as “Father”, which, although it implies a spiritual relationship with him, has been so denatured in colloquial usage as to have lost that meaning. OTOH, I have declined (politely) to take the Eucharist.
It seems to me the situation is very similar to that involved in meeting the Queen of England. Call her “Your Majesty” on first being introduced; but bowing is not necessary.

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

Fahgawdsake, don’t use the “Rev’-runnn” thing. Unless you’re in the habit of calling judges “Hon-ra-bul Jones” and suchlike.

If the priest in question is in charge of a parish church, “Pastor O’Toole” is entirely appropriate; that’s his job title, after all. (Note: There are virtually no Episcopal priests who are Pastors by job title, and it is inappropriate for them.)

“Sir,” or “Mr. O’Toole” or “Dr. O’Toole” if the priest has a doctorate (a small proportion do) will do the job.

If you have a problem with “Father O’Toole” make sure never to be introduced to Alec, Lord Guinness! :smiley:

“Pastor” only works for the pastor, not for the associate pastors. And in my mind that is a very Protestant title. I’ve never heard a Catholic priest addressed as “Pastor Jones” except when it has been necessary to identify him as the pastor. And “Sir” just doesn’t work except for formal occasions.

I have to say that I think that using simply “Mr.” is inappropriate, IMHO. I have NEVER heard a Catholic priest addressed that way by anyone who knew him to be a priest (there was a Catholic priest in law school with me, but he was addressed by fellow students as “Mike” and by teachers as “Mr. Jones” or just “Jones,” but they did not know that he was a priest). Same with “Dr.” Those priests who do have a doctorate (and they tend to be the scholars, not the pastors) are not generally addressed as “Dr. Jones;” they are still normally “Father Jones.”

I call our priest/pastor John.


I am a Protestant. I am also a firm believer in calling people what they want to be called, if doing so doesn’t offend my religious beliefs, which this does not.

I have a passing acquaintance with a Catholic priest who was the professor of a class I took at our local (Catholic) college. I am considerably younger than he, and would therefore never dream of addressing him as “Bob.” I call him Father Keenan, just like the rest of his students. Does this mean I recognize his religious authority over me? Certainly not. It does mean, however, that I recognize that he is a priest, that priests are generally addressed as “father,” and that he in particular is used to being so addressed. It also indicates that I respect his position as a man of the cloth, even if it happens to be a different “cloth” than mine. Like I said, I, as a Protestant, have never had a problem with this.


Fiat Justitia

How about, “Hey, you, the guy with his collar on backwards!”

Rasta, in looking at your question, I have one for you. The verse you have interpreted says not to call anybody on Earth “father” because your Father is in Heaven. So, um, what do you call your dad?

Yes, this sounds like a smart-ass question, but I’m more-or-less serious. If you can make an exception and call your father “father,” then the verse obviously doesn’t really mean you can’t call anybody “father.” It’s a thought, anyway.

Aside from that, maybe the Catholics around here can tell me – do “fathers” have other offices as well? For example, I was talking to a friend of a local “Monsignor” who had been accused of molesting altar boys (who then “recovered” the memories – I was gathering info to write an article about it and a couple letters to the editor about the dangers of such “recovered” memories, but I digress). Anyway, while the friend sometimes called him “Father X,” I called him “Monsignor X,” and that’s how he was referred to in the paper as well (the article was co-written by a guy who used to work for the local Catholic newspaper). Ok, so what’s my point? My question is: Is “Monsignor” an “office” like “Cardinal” or something? Or does it mean something else entirely? And if it is an office, do other “fathers” have similar offices that it would be ok to use in reference to them for people like Rasta who don’t feel comfortable using “Father”?

I’m not Catholic, but I do know at least part of the answer to that question. I’m not going to answer it, however, because I don’t think it was posted in good faith and because I don’t personally like the poster, whom I advise you all I intend to ignore. If someone I actually like happens to post the exact same question, I’ll answer it then.


Fiat Justitia

A monsignor is simply a priest who has some seniority and has accomplished something worthy of recognition. It doesn’t really mean much in the overall hierarchy – not like a bishop having a diocese, for example – it’s simply an honorific. The pastor at the Roman Catholic church in the town in which I live is a Monsignor. (Cynically, I note that this is an upper middle class neighborhood and parish, and that such a one is more likely to have a Monsignor than a poor parish would.)


Ah jodi, wish I’d seen your post before I made mine . . . I didn’t even read who the poster was before I answered the question – I have a tendency to skip over that and just read the post itself.


OK. Jodi, I’ll ask the question so the truly intersted will know. What is Monsignor? As a Catholic, I know, but in the spirit of fellowship I’ll let you take it.

Well, Jodi, Melin beat you to it with her well intentioned definition. Let me add, a Monsignor is the next highest level after parish priest, usually the head of a parish or group of priests. He has been assigned prelate status: “a priest having permanent honorary membership in the papal household” It comes with seniority.


IIRC (Melin or Tom, make the necessary corrections), Monsignor is a title bestowed by the Pope on “deserving” priests – with vanishingly few exceptions at the behest of their Bishop. Might be done for turning a dying parish around, or on 25th anniversary of ordination, or some such significant accomplishment or occasion. It strongly resembles a British knighthood – it’s an honor, modifies how the person is addressed, and is otherwise totally without significance.

BTW, on the original question, I completely agree with Jodi. “Father” is a title of respect; if the man is accustomed to it and has not IMHO debased himself from that respect, he deserves to be called by it. (Not suggesting that you’re wrong, Rasta – this is a de gustibus sort of thing.)

Hmmm Jodih will you marry me? I decided I like women that make great points better than weak and dumb ones.

Hey jodi – we’re hiring!