Cardinal Dew: Stop Calling Priests ‘Father’

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by Martina Moyski  •  •  June 10, 2019   

Declares change will help combat clericalism

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Cardinal John Dew of New Zealand has recently called on Catholic laity to stop calling priests "Father."

Dew said this move is inspired by Pope Francis' appeal to take action against clericalism.

In a missive to Catholics of the Pacific archipelago, Dew explained his preference for being addressed as "John" over "Father": "The Holy Father appealed to all of God's people to take action against 'clericalism' which he sees as the source of abuse perpetrated by priest and bishops."

Dew referred to Francis' letter Carta del Papa Francisco al Pueblo de Dios issued last August in which he described "clericalism" as "a peculiar way of understanding the Church's authority" and "one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred."

Notably missing from Francis' accounting of and for the sexually abusive behavior of Catholic religious is the elephant in the room: homosexuality.

The Pope went on to say that clericalism "not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people."

Dew has said that he would no longer like to be referred to by his title and encouraged priests to do the same, according to The Catholic Herald.

Jean-Pierre Roche, a priest of the French diocese of Crétei, provided three reasons why Catholics should stop calling priests "Father."

  1. Using a title to refer to a priest may constitute clericalism and thereby support clerical sexual abuse. To support his point, Roche cites Matthew 23: 8–9: "You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven."
  2. Referring to priests as "Father" is demeaning to and infantilizes Catholics. Roche questions if it is "possible to have fraternal relationships between adults who are equals, if we are all brothers and sisters except for one person — the one we call 'Father.'"
  3. Calling priests "Father" is psychologically unhealthy: "The practice of calling us 'Father' can, quite frankly, be unhealthy when it is the expression of an emotional dependence based on a false idea of obedience. Fatherhood is, in effect, a mixture of affection and authority. But it can be dangerous."

Thus, Francis and Dew, who lauds Roche's arguments, promote the argument that priests engage in sexual abuse of minors and adults because of the Catholic tradition of being referred to as "Father." Notably missing from Francis' accounting of and for the sexually abusive behavior of Catholic religious is the elephant in the room: homosexuality.

Nixing the behavior of referring to priests as "Father" is not Dew's first non-traditional recommendation.

Dew ordered what he described as a "creative initiative" in 2017, which, he said, was again inspired by Pope Francis, specifically Francis' urging to make the Sacred Scriptures "better known and more widely diffused."

Dew's creative initiative rearranged the liturgical protocol of the Gospel reading, which is traditionally conducted by priests, to a Lectio Divina reading of Gospel, conducted by laypersons.

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, section 59, it is clear that only a priest may read the Gospel at Mass.

Lectio Divina, an ancient Benedictine practice, involves reading and reflection of Scripture, followed by prayer and contemplation. It is most often used by individuals and sometimes groups as an aid to contact the living God rather than to gain information. It is not included in Mass rubrics.

Instead of two readings (one from the Old Testament and one from the New) and a responsorial psalm before the Gospel, Dew recommended just the reading of the Gospel.

Dew tutored New Zealand Catholics by providing a detailed lesson on how to perform Lectio Divina during Mass, published by CathNews New Zealand.

Although Dew's recommendations have received wide support by change-happy prelates, they have received pushback.

Peter Lineham, a retired professor of religious studies at Massey University in New Zealand, spoke to several priests about Dew's desire to eliminate the practice of calling priests "Father." According to Lineham, they regarded it as "the oddity of John Dew, that he would say such impossible things." Lineham added that Dew was regarded as "a reformer with a habit of expressing his opinions."

Online critics were less circumspect.

The asinine fiction of 'clericalism' was created by Bergoglio to deflect dealing with homosexuality.

One said: "The asinine fiction of 'clericalism' was created by Bergoglio to deflect dealing with homosexuality. Prelates who perpetuate the fiction should be excommunicated as soon as we get a real pope."

Another asked: "How would not calling priests 'Father' stop the homosexual priests from being pederasts? These people never cease to mock the laity's intelligence."

Another stated simply: "John Dew needs another job."

Regarding Dew's recommendation that laity read the Gospel at Mass, one blogger headlined: "New Zealand's 'Dew' is not that of the Holy Spirit but of Bergoglio's 'god of surprises.'"

Traditional Catholics are left whirling not just at Dew's recent proposals but also of the ongoing shocking revelations and disconcerting changes assaulting them at increasing frequency.

Dew's change in language may strike some as unlikely, or impossible, to happen on a large scale. But others remind us how culture runs downriver from language. Bits of linguistic information enter one person's mind from another person and then people entertain a new thought with sometimes profound effect on subsequent behavior.

To stop calling priests "Father" hits at "the heart of the special status of the priest," according to Lineham, which is "the essence of the Catholic Church."

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