This post continues the reflection around Cardinal John Dew’s letter calling on the addressing of priests as “Father” to stop as it, according to him, has been integral to the Roman Catholic sexual abuse crisis. [Previous posts are here and here].
I am unconvinced.
I would note, in passing, that calling a Cardinal “Father” would be surprising – so Cardinal John Dew’s own title would remain untouched.
The letter in which Cardinal John Dew makes the announcement refers to the Bishop of Rome always as “Pope Francis” – no prizes for knowing that “Pope” is a synonym for “Father”. Having called him Pope Francis, Cardinal John Dew goes on to refer to him as “The Holy Father”. Doing so, I suggest, undermines the very point he is trying to make. It is like a parent hitting a child again and again whilst saying, “I have told you to never hit people!”
From responses to the previous posts, it is clearer to me that diocesan priests for a long time were not referred to as “Father”. Those in monasteries (from “Abbot” = father) were increasingly called “Father”. From there the address spread to priests in Religious Orders (beyond monasteries). And, it seems, from there it extended (apparently a lot through the spread of Irish Roman Catholicism) to diocesan priests. Somewhere in that history must be when it spread into Anglicanism (and beyond).
There are some parallels in other languages. “Pater” is the Dutch for a monk or a priest who belongs to a Religious Order. Otherwise it is “pastoor” [the connections are pretty straightforward, I hope]. “Don” is the Italian for a diocesan (“secular”) priest. “Fra” would be the equivalent in a Religious Order. In Greek: παπάς (papás). Spanish: Padre. Fascinatingly, “padre” is the address used in English for Naval, RAF and Army chaplains. And, curiouser and curiouser: in Spanish, while “padre” is used for priests, the Latin “pater” is used for military chaplains!
I would also add into the mix that I think there is far too much neglect of the baptismal names of Christian leaders.
Finally, from this discussion, was the point that if (as per Deborah Pead’s point) Catholicism needs re-branding, one thing that might need to go is the uniform of the clerical collar (image above). Certainly, I was relentlessly conscious, once the extent of the clerical sex abuse crisis became clearer, that my wearing the same uniform as the abusers meant a complex of associations – including sharing in the abusers’ guilt by association.
Just as I find myself lumped in with Christians whose following of Jesus leads to their holding positions and acting in ways that are often directly opposite to mine (and IMNSHO opposite to Jesus’), so, when I wear a clerical collar, I can be lumped in with others who wear it and have worn it.
It is pretty standard to find an article on priestly sex abuse illustrated with a clerical collar – akin to what heads this blog post. In saying I follow Jesus, I hope, often faintly, that I can change the negative view regularly held of Christians. In wearing the clerical collar, I hope, often faintly, that I can change the negative view regularly held of priests.