April 04, 2008

Familiarity is Contempt

I know other bloggers have ranted about this topic already but I'm so cranky today I can hardly stand myself! I must not be fasting with a happy face. I think I'll go pray a DM Chaplet soon.

A Cranky Cathy post!

Why is it Catholics of the dissident persuasion think it's acceptable to immediately refer to a priest as "Tom" "Dick" or "Harry". They completely drop "Father" and just dive right in. They don't even deign to ask Father's permission.

I'll tell you why. This is the pseudo-Communist mindset at work (told you I was cranky today). We are all comrades. We are all equals. No one should have a title. We are all the same.

I wonder. Do these folks call their Dad: "Tom" "Dick" or "Harry"?

This is a 60s hold over that needs to die a fast death. Well, it will once all these numbskulls with 0.5 children have passed away.

In the meantime, here we are with people greeting our Archbishop with "Hi, Harry!" I'd seriously love it if he'd retort with "Hi, rude bozo!" Actually, I have a stronger retort in mind but he's a man of God. I'm obviously not-so there.

Honestly, I don't even like it when people use Father's first name: like Father Joe or Father Pat-though, at least, that's a step up from Joe and Pat. I can't wait to read all the vociferous protests I'm about to get in my email and comments box. I prefer people use the last name but I, grudgingly, step off when Father says it's ok. I admit that I will often still use their last name (i.e Father O'Hara) or just call them Father and drop the first name.

In my dissident life, I did refer to the dissident priests that I knew by their first name. At their request. It took me quite a while to do it. However, I began using his first name without hesitation, when I began believing that laity should be empowered to do ALL that priest's do and that the priesthood is irrelevent and meaningless.

When you refer to Father by his first name only, are you, by chance, expressing contempt for his office?

46 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

I agree with you - my preference is Fr. Johnson rather than Fr. Peter. However, I've thought in the past it's an interesting combination of a familial title (Father) and the use of a surname (Johnson). The former is a more familiar name, the later more formal. Although, "Father" can today sound much more formal to our ears than "Dad" (think of little Gretel in the Sound of Music: "How long shall you be gone this time, Father?").

I usually just stick with just "Father" anyways.

April 04, 2008 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

The only person in my parish who can get away with calling Father by his first name only is his mum.

April 04, 2008 3:27 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

There was an anonymous poster on Father Longendecker's blog that always started his comments with "Dwight." It annoyed me so much I finally said something. In return I was called a pious old twit

Pious - ok
Twit - ok
Old - very offensive

April 04, 2008 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what people love in a blog post! It is dynamic! It is passionate! It is lively and unfeiegned! It is powerful and dramatic! Cutting edge! The emotions are so real, they jump off the page! The observations so keen and unmistakeable as far as appropriate address when speaking to a priest. Your etiquette is impeccable!

And might I suggest, that the priest who desires to be addressed by his first name only may not esteem the gift of his priesthood as much as he ought to.

I also think it is a lovely custom for the parents of priests to addresss their sons as Fr. - I've known several devout parents who do so.

Oh, Catherne, what a lovely post. Brava! Brava!

Tim Daly

April 04, 2008 4:52 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Ditto to what Tim said.

April 04, 2008 5:04 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Adrienne - LOL! That had to be Jeffrey!

April 04, 2008 5:06 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

Ter - gosh I hope not.
What happened to your hair?? Are you joining a boy band?

April 04, 2008 5:10 PM  
Blogger Melody said...

I have always addressed priests by whichever they preferred; "Father Smith" or "Father John", never just "John". A little formality can be a good thing. However, it goes both ways; I would expect to be addressed as "Mrs. Lastname" rather than "Melody" by a priest younger than myself who was expecting the more formal address.
Like what Dan said, it usually ends up being just "Father", anyway!

April 04, 2008 6:51 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

Dynamic!... Passionate!... Lively!... unfeiegned!... Powerful!... Dramatic!... Cutting edge!... Real.... Jump off the page!... Keen!... Unmistakable!... Impeccable!

Well, I guess I'm going to have to start call you Mistress, Madame, Excellency or some other honorific. Never in my reading career have I seen so many compliments going to one person.

I might get one now and then, grudgingly.

April 04, 2008 7:13 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Smith said...

I would never call Adrienne a pious twit. I save that appelation for Terry.
The whole thing's part of our media/consumer culture cult of down-home informality. Everyone's supposed to be on a first-name basis.

April 04, 2008 7:43 PM  
Blogger swissmiss said...

Maybe the person who called Father just "Dwight" wasn't a Catholic, but that still isn't an excuse. I would never call a Reverend just by their first name. If I had ever called either of my parents by just their first name I wouldn't be here to talk about it. Good for you, Adrienne! Wear your pious old twit title with pride.

April 04, 2008 8:26 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

Just to confuse everybody, of course, my specialty, priests and brothers of religious orders, and nuns, now that I think of it, always go by their first names, but of course as Father Thomas/Tom, Brother William/Bill or Sister Florence (nobody would have dared call HER "Sister Flo."

April 04, 2008 8:31 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

The Bishop of Marquette, MI, Alexander Sample, who is the second youngest in the U.S., has his Mom living with him. I wonder what she calls him.

I believe that his pals can call him "Sandy."

I doubt that my favorite P.G. Wodehouse character, Bishop Boko Bickerton (an old school name from a time long forgotten) would let any of his vicars and curates call him "Boko" to his face.

Boko's schoolmate, still only a vicar, Stanley "Pieface" Brandon was constantly getting in trouble with the "Bish" for having too many orphries on his chasubles, infringing upon episcopal privileges.

April 04, 2008 8:40 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

My pastor lives next door to me and his Mom lived with him for about a year before she passed away. She called him Bill and he jumped when she called. It was pretty cute.

April 04, 2008 8:48 PM  
Blogger Ma Beck said...

What Jeffrey said.

More than contempt for the office (which may exist to a small degree) it's the cult of familiarity.
EVERYONE is on a first name basis.
Callers from businesses: "Hi, uh, Cathy?"

Miss Manners just had a letter from a priest the other day about this.

It doesn't matter what religion you are - you address a person by his or her title.

You wouldn't walk into a doctor's office and say, "Hi, Bob!" except in very rare instances.

You wouldn't address George W Bush as "George."

You wouldn't call Queen Elizabeth II "Lizzie."

People should be addressed by their titles, whatever they are.
Reverend, Doctor, Senator, Mrs., AND FATHER.
(I personally will immediately offer most people the option of my first name, of course, but I appreciate them using my last name until then, or just ma'am.)

Depends on where you are re: how yo call a priest. In most of the world, priests are Don Giovanni, Padre Pio, etc.
In the US, however, it's customary to use the last name.
This is what I do, just cause I grew up doing it, however, I notice in e-mails to me one of my priest friends occasionally signs "Father First Initial" as opposed to "Father Last Initial", though he's been known to use that, too.

I don't think it matters much to most priests, provided you use their title.

And the first priest who says, "Call me Bob" is going to get an unintentional burst of laughter from me as well as a raised eyebrow.
;)

April 04, 2008 9:07 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ma: Well said! Better than me, actually.

Adrienne: I feel like I should beat someone up for saying that to you. I'm sure it was NOT Jeffrey-The Medievalist-as I call him.

Great comments here. I thought I'd be flamed. Well, the night is young...LOL!

April 04, 2008 9:23 PM  
Blogger Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

When I started at a former parish, someone asked me if they could call me by my first name. I said, "Of course, you can call me Father."

I would prefer to be called Father Richtsteig, but as few people can pronounce it correctly, I have to settle for Father Erik.

April 04, 2008 9:36 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Jeffrey! LOL! You do call me a twit! (You are everywhere, aren't you!)

April 04, 2008 9:48 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Jeffrey: Terry's been called a lot worse-trust me. LOL!

Father: Your answer made me snort, yes, snort with laughter! :-) You saved my whole week which has been really LOOOOONG. TGIF-big time. Thanks.

April 04, 2008 9:53 PM  
Blogger Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

I just read this post by PreVat 2 over at Catholic Cavemen, and am listening to this podcast on the need for manliness in liturgy. And what you're complaining about seems like more of the same thing.

Which is a long-winded way of saying "I agree with you entirely, Cathy."

April 05, 2008 7:53 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Arkanabar: I'm behind in my blog reading. The Caveman is on my 'roll but I had not seen his post yet or heard about that podcast. Thank you! I'll be sure to listen to it!

April 05, 2008 9:42 AM  
Blogger Fr. Andrew said...

I choose to have people call me Father Andrew to give reverence to my patron. Also, if I remember correctly I received a few jokes about my last name while in Junior High, so I chose to try and cut that off at the pass.

Father Erik's point about last names led my pastor to refer to himself as Father Joe. When people ask him "What should we call you?" He says: "My parents call me Joe, in the Guards they call me Chaplain, my friends call me Father Joe, those who don't know me call me Joe. Which one are you?"

Another anecdote. My rector in Denver, when he was a young priest, was eating dinner at his secretary's house, a widow from Sicily. Thinking he was polite he said, "If you wish you can call me Michael." She stopped, put her hand on her hip, and, pointing at him with her wooden spoon, said, "Don't think I call you Father because I think you're better than me! I call you Father to remind you who you're supposed to be and how your going to be judged by our Lord!" He passes that lesson on to all his seminarians.

April 05, 2008 10:27 AM  
Blogger elena maria vidal said...

Great post, Cathy! I think that the way many Catholics refer to their priests by their first names or by their last names, without the title "Father," is so disrespectful. The office is holy, even if the man is not, because it is the office of Christ Himself.

April 05, 2008 12:49 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

23 comments for this piece of cr --- er, great post Cath!

April 05, 2008 1:12 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

Well, Terry, if you and I want to jack up our Sitemeter stats, it sure seems like ranting is the way to go.

I waste too many of my rants and complaints on other people's blog as comments. I'd better start saving them for Stella.

April 05, 2008 2:49 PM  
Anonymous bro. AJK said...

Dear Cathy,

Being a religious, I have no problem with either Fr. (or Bro., depending whom I am addressing), or the first name. We are brothers, after all.

April 05, 2008 3:48 PM  
Blogger Tom in Vegas said...

Well, Cathy, I've never before seen the use of the name *Tom* to imply a generic title as implied in "Tom" "Dick" or "Harry." I'm soooo offended. LOL! Just kidding!

I've been in circumstances when the priest has been referred to by his first name and I had no clue as to what his last name was. So, Father Tom, without knowing his last name, became Father Tom to me. Sometimes, in defense of those who have referred to clergy as Father Tom or Father Harry, we have done so because the priest has expressed a preference for the name. I would also argue - in my humble opinion - that it’s just as disrespectful to refer to a sister by her name - either first or last - without her title.

April 05, 2008 4:44 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Father Andrew: I respect that because you gave people permission to use your first name along with "Father". There is a world of difference in that vs. people who just decide on their own to go with your first name only. I still prefer Father (last name) other Father (first name) but I'm trying not to be a stinky-poo about it! :-)

Tom in Vegas: I agree. I left Sisters out of this post but may rant about that in future.

Terry and Ray: :-> Nah, nah!

April 05, 2008 5:58 PM  
Blogger ignorant redneck said...

I dislike calling a priest I am not close to "Father First Name". I prefere "father Last Name". But then again, I prefere to use honorifics in conversation.

However, the Priests I have met who espouse things like transsignification, gay causes, womens ordination, eyc don't get called father--or reverend. I call them mister.

April 05, 2008 6:22 PM  
Blogger Adoro te Devote said...

OK, finally, time for Adoro to weigh in on this:

I think Father Lastname tends to be more formal and proper, however, I do know of some priests who, if we called them Fr. Lastname, it would sound strange because of the last name they have. (Cathy, you know one of them...I think he sang Exultet when you were Confirmed? I suspected that after his ordination he'd go by Fr. Firstname...and he does. Because of the alliteration, I believe.)

I tend to take my cue as to what to call Father by how he introduces himself. And it drives me nuts when he consistently introduces himself or signs his name or refers to himself as Father Lastnae, but people then insist on calling him Father Firstname.

The priest I work for goes by Fr. Firstname, and it seemed a little strange as his last name is just fine, but I've gotten so used to it that if someone speaks of him formally I'm a little confused. Yet he is a very orthodox priest (God bless him!), and while I don't know his reasons for being addressed that way, I think it might in some way be his humility.

I once had a priest write to me via my blog email, and after a brief exchange, asked me to drop his title and refer to him as his first name only. I wrote back to him, explaining why I couldn't do so; by virtue of his ordination, it was ONLY proper to refer to his title, as by referring to him only via first name as any other Joe seemed to be a betrayal of Jesus Christ and the very dignity afforded to him (the priest) for being called to serve in such a sublime way. So he conceeded...and asked me to call him Fr. Firstname. He was a blogger also and did sign his posts "Fr. X."

Is it formation in the seminary? I know that I'm STILL uncomfortable at being called "Ms." by someone, or "Miss", even the kids. It makes me feel old, which maybe is proper because I have grey hair now. (I'll be gray by the time I'm 40, I think).

We do tend, as a culture, to have a problem with formality, and I'm quite certain that I've offended people in how I've addressed them...no matter how I've done so. But "Father"...I won't mess that up. I just give Father Inquestion the reverence his title is due, and that he is due, certainly...and I've found that as long as that title is there, my respect for them does not diminish. I am always reminded of who they have been called to serve, so even if they be the most dissident priest on the planet, well, it reminds me that they were annointed and given that sacred office...and even if they don't deserve the respect, Jesus does. Because if we disrespect a priest, we disrespect the judgment of Christ. (In other words...pray for priests, ESPECIALLY the ones who are messed up.) And I'm certain I'll have to clarify that last sentence..so, people ,before you flame...common sense first, please?

April 05, 2008 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this post, Cathy, especially since I've often thought about it to myself. I heartily agree with you, I feel much more comfortable calling a priest Father "Lastname" than Fr "Firstname". These days, however, it seems many priests prefer the first name, at least around here.

So I think you've hit the bull's eye with this one! Please don't ever take any Prozac, LOL.

God Bless,

Embattled Catholic

April 06, 2008 1:56 AM  
Anonymous Georgette said...

Amen to everything you said, Cathy! I know I've ranted about this myself from time to time. You just said it much more eloquently than I ever could!

April 06, 2008 8:19 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I get what you are saying. Even a dissident priest should still be called "Father" out of respect for his chrism and his office. I think you are responding to Redneck's comment. I agree with Adoro.

Point of clarification: I did not mention priests who use their last name initials: i.e. Father Z or Father V. Father gave us PERMISSION to use his last name initial. My main point is that it is presumtious and rude (among other things) to immediately dive in with Father's first name only or anything other than Father (lastname). Start with formality first-is my motto.

I draw the line, in any case, at only using Father's first name. Even if he asked, I would say "Maybe tomorrow, Father" or "Perhaps tomorrow, Father" :-)

April 06, 2008 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Wow, I'm back after a week away-lots to read up on! I love this topic and agree with you. Do you notice adults insist that children call them by their first names too? Like neighbors- it's no longer "Mr." or "Mrs." Jones, they insist my kids call them "Bob" and "Mary". I don't think it's respectful.

Talk soon Cathy!

April 06, 2008 11:11 AM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

What about "Fr. Know-it-all" or "Fr. Holier-than-thou"? Both of these sound much better than "Fr. Firstname" or "Father Last Name". Yeah, so anyway...

I think it is much better to use their actual name, like Fr. Nelson, or Fr. Terry - if the priest gives permission to use the first name of course. Then, and this is serious and true, priests who are monastics or members of the mendicant orders, always go by their religious name, such as Fr. Terrance. Hence a Franciscan would be called, "Fr. Francis Mary", rather than "Fr. Stone" - unless he is in a court of law or stopped for a traffic violation.

See how that works Miss Demeanor? (Are you happy now that this gives you 35 comments?)

April 06, 2008 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comment hog.

Tom and Katie

April 06, 2008 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forms of address, yes, this is a very good topic.

Mr. Carlton Post III

April 06, 2008 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"When you refer to Father by his first name only, are you, by chance, expressing contempt for his office?"

I have given your rather (rather pronounced 'raa-thur') provocative statement a great deal of thought, and perhaps I should do my own post on the subject, but I would like to comment here, once again (again pronounced 'agane' - very intellectual sounding, wouldn't you agree?) - if you don't mind.

Yes. Yes indeed! In certain situations I do think it is a form of contempt for the priesthood to take it upon oneself to address a priest by his first name only. Yes, I do believe in certain situations it is a deep seated hostility towards religion and authority in general.

Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

Rev. Middlename

April 06, 2008 11:52 AM  
Blogger Fr. Andrew said...

Why not use: Father [first name]? Isn't our first name our Christian name? We are not baptized by our last name but our Christian name.

That thought popped in while tracking the comments...

April 06, 2008 4:39 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

As long as we are beating this subject to death, let me take another couple of whacks.

My best friend in high school went to St John's to become a Benedictine priest. After his freshman year, he entered the novitiate and received his religious name. Being that St John's Abbey then, and I think still now, was the largest Benedictine abbey in the world, most of the good names like Thomas and Robert and John were long taken. My friend, Dave, got Reinhart!

I sensed he wasn't thrilled.

But when I went up to visit him after the novitiate (where he was cloistered), he did tell me that it was OK to call him "Dave" when we were alone. He ultimately dropped out of the seminary before graduation and became a Brother and taught at the Prep School for some years. By that time, post V2, he had become Brother David. He ultimately left the Abbey, married and had a child.

Maybe if he had stuck with Reinhart, he would have become a priest and stayed? Another casualty of Vatican II?

April 06, 2008 5:06 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

I guess I gotta take another whack!

I volunteer a bit working with a priest whom I will call Father Demetrius. That is not his real name. Even though he is a diocesan priest, he has chosen to adopt the name of a saint.

But it is not his legal name and his ID badge shows him to be George Smith.

So apparently "religious names" are not approved by civil courts, at least in the U.S.

April 06, 2008 5:25 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Terry: I think your name would be Father Puck.

Father Andrew: If a priest (like you) says it ok by them to use their first name after Father (ie Father Andrew) than I am ok with that. I still prefer the last name. My 'beef' is with people who immediately assume it's ok to drop "Father" altogether or assume its ok to call you Father Andrew without checking first. Maybe you meant someone else in the comments. I don't know. Sorry, if that's the case. With this many comments, I'm lost! LOL! I usually only get less than 10.

Ray: I don't think religious names are recognized by the courts unless you legally change your name to be your religious name. I've known people who have done that.

April 06, 2008 6:11 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Oh, re: Lisa's comment. I've noticed some teachers are called by their first names in classrooms now too. I don't like that either.

April 06, 2008 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Father Mark said...

Dear Miss Alexandria, You seem not to be aware that in most monastic Orders, the use of last names, i.e. family names, is not customary nor is it permitted. Priests belonging to monastic Orders (and to some mendicant Orders as well) receive a new name when they are clothed in the habit. From that day forward, the use of the new name signifies conversion of life in the grace of monastic consecration. Hence, it is fitting and proper to address a monastic priest as Father Xavier (not Father Callahan), or as Dom Athanasius (not Dom Smith), or as Father Willibrord (not Father van Vliet), or as Dom Finbar (not Dom Cleary).

April 11, 2008 9:04 PM  
Anonymous Father Mark said...

One more thing: the use of Father for all priests is peculiarly American. In French, "mon Père" is generally used for priests belonging to a religious Order, whereas "Monsieur l'Abbé or Monsieur le Curé" is used for secular priests. In Italy, "Padre" is used for most priests belonging to religious Orders, whereas "Don" is used for secular priests, and for Benedictines and Cistercians. In some places it is still customary to address priests, both secular and regular, as "Your Reverence."

April 11, 2008 9:11 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Father: I did not know that. Thank you. However, the point of the post, and maybe it was expressed poorly, is to lament those who immediately assume it is ok to refer to Father by his first name ONLY or even Father (first name) without asking first. It was to point out the almost rude informality of our culture today.

Oh, and you can call me Cathy. :-)

God bless you.

April 11, 2008 9:13 PM  

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