ASK FATHER: The priest is a jerk and has hang-ups

From a reader…


Can priests be trusted with all parishoners or do they have hang-ups with particular types of people?

I am a single woman and I feel like the priest at my church doesn’t like to be called Father because, well — I don’t know. What should I do? The priest won’t speak to me because I think he understands he was inappropriate.

Firstly, after reading this a few times, I must say that I’m not sure what the heck she is saying.  I think I know what she is trying to say.  That said, I gave this question to Fr. Ferguson because, well, see above.  Also, his responses often make my laugh aloud.  By the way, I am not inviting the peanut gallery to opine about what she is trying to say.  This is the ASK FATHER feature here, after all, not the ASK EVERYONE feature.

With that… I think Fr. F gets it right.


It often comes as a surprise to people that priests are, generally speaking, human beings. We are subject to the same temptations, struggles, personality quirks, aversions, neuroses, and physical conditions as everyone else. We have bad days. We get colds. We get tired. Some are freakishly afraid of spiders. Others are allergic to strawberries. Some simply dislike white wine. Some have brown hair. We have grumpy days. We get lonely. We drink too much coffee and have that combination of high energy and the need to spend time in the loo. We take a nap that goes on too long and wake up disoriented. We get fifteen robocalls in a row and then answer the phone in an agitated state. Some are fascinated by Byzantine history. Some could watch hours of bowling on TV. Some are jerks – most are jerks at times. They – like all human beings – have hangups with particular types of people. Some are better at managing this, or hiding it than others.

Some, like this priest, apparently, does not like to be called “Father.” He may have made a poor choice in vocation, considering that’s pretty standard these days. You have two options – continue calling him Father and let him learn to deal with it (the option that I would choose) or call him something else. “Jerkface” might be appropriate, but would probably not win you his friendship. I would recommending calling him “Bob,” especially if his name is not Bob or Robert. If he doesn’t talk to you, the best response is to laugh at him, “O, Father, errr, I’m sorry, ‘Bob,’ I know you’re having a bad day, but the bathroom downstairs is acting up again. Have a great day!”

It seems that, in recent years, there has been a rising tide of thin-skinnedness in society. Everyone is getting offended – and often by minimally offensive things. It is not conducive to a healthy society. We all have to grow up a bit. People are going to insult us. People are going to take something we said the wrong way. People are going to call us by names we don’t like or don’t appreciate. People are going to be bullies and jerks. We should not tolerate abuse, but neither should be cower and cringe in the face of it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Diana says:

    Awesome response. :) Thank you Fathers!

  2. Legisperitus says:

    Wonder how he’d feel about “Padre.”

  3. Fr. Andrew says:

    Oh please let me write one about those who refuse to call me Father!

  4. APX says:

    What should I do?
    Get angry and go for a drive. Put on Kim Stockwood’s, “You Jerk” and make up your own lyrics to reflect your situation. Perhaps create a mix tape of other similar 90s hits to make yourself feel better. (the 90s was a great decade for music)

    Wonder how he’d feel about “Padre.”
    Or “Pater” for that matter.

  5. tzard says:

    Spiders! Oh my. I would suggest taking him to a local pub (hopefully well fumigated) and buy him some beers. I recommend this prescription weekly until the problem resolves itself.

  6. Diane says:

    Fr. Ferguson and Fr. Z, Thank you for this reply. In my longish life I have known many priests…at least since I joined the church at the age of 20. I have known a couple who suffered from depression, bless their hearts, but they’ve all been wonderful people. And I made a list of them all and pray for each one every morning! I just found out that our Pastor is going to be retiring in 3 months so who knows who we’ll be dealing with next. I will keep your note nearby in case any of the things you mentioned appear on the scene. I am blessed to have known so many awesome priests in my 70 years! I thank you all!

  7. THREEHEARTS says:

    mike hurcum again
    call him your grace that should please him.

  8. TonyO says:

    If’n you wanted to get cutesy and try to wean him out of his (fairly stupid and almost certainly bad-theology-driven) dislike for “Father”, you could come up with a really obnoxious substitute that is sure to make him even more uncomfortable. Something like “the Reverend Herr Doctor Professor X (lastname)”. I really like the idea of adding “the” to it when speaking to him, AS IF it was in the third person when it isn’t – this mimics how some people speak of themselves in the third person at inappropriate times. It should be very irritating, all in all.

    However, that would probably be over the top and quite incompatible with what Fr. Ferguson says above,

    Everyone is getting offended – and often by minimally offensive things. It is not conducive to a healthy society. We all have to grow up a bit.

    More than likely, if he says “please, call me ‘Mike’ “, your response with a tiny little laugh, with a completely incredulous look (as if he had just said the most ridiculous thing – which he had), and following it up with “well, okay, Miiiike, (significant pause, another incredulous smile), as I was saying…” would enough. Repeat the incredulous fake smile and pause every time you say (in just the same tone) “Miiiike” if necessary.

    I am not usually this ornery, but a priest who cannot stand to be called even the familiarized “Father Mike” almost certainly has BIG theology problems. And if he really does have those theology problems, more needs to be done with him than just handling his aversion to “Father”.

  9. iPadre says:


    I think she needs to visit either the Bisho of New Zealand, I mean Bob who wears the funny pointy hat that doesn’t want his priests to be called Father.

  10. bonhomme says:

    Very appropriate answer. People do forget that priests are human like the rest of us. I wonder how many people who grumble about their priest ever analyse how they behave towards him. It is also true that people are way too thin skinned these days. One thing I would re-phrase is the part about people insulting you. As Eleanor Roosevelt said you can only be insulted with your permission.

  11. Grant M says:

    I recommend the medieval English practice of calling one’s priest “Sir” plus the Christian name. This form of address combines tradition, formality and familiarity.

  12. hwriggles4 says:

    We all have different personalities. Years ago (and I am not a perfect person), a good engineer presented to a group of us younger engineers in attendance was that a great skill to acquire is the ability to read people. Some people are extroverted, others are introverted. Some are shy and reserved, others are the life of the party. Some have good social skills, others do not.

    Another thing I have learned is it takes a while to build up trust with others. For some, trust takes years to build. As far as church, I have helped organize a few mens conferences, and if a pastor does not have experience with certain individuals on the outreach committee, it may take some convincing before he lets us put posters up at his parish, or return a phone call. This is the case of a “stranger” saying, “excuse me sir (or ma’am), but could you please……”

    Another thing I have learned that is church related – do not ask Father X for anything specific after Sunday Mass when he is in the narthex greeting parishioners. It’s a matter of courtesy. That’s not the place – Father X has other things on his mind, particularly if he has the next Mass in 45 minutes. You are better off calling the parish office during the week.

  13. maternalView says:

    Yeah I’ve about had it with the over-sensitivity that’s rampant. More often than not people are hearing and seeing things that aren’t there!

    Get over it.

    Nowadays every little thing we don’t like about someone else is taken as a personal attack. How about maybe it wasn’t personal? Maybe we’re over sensitive. Maybe we just need to accept people as they are.

    If Father doesn’t like being called Father how is that an offense to you? Seems to me as mentioned it may be a theology problem. And perhaps he is in need of intense prayers. Maybe I’m not getting it but priests are who they are. We need to learn to deal with our disappointment that they often don’t fit our ideal image of a priest.

  14. grateful says:

    Quite possibly he has had an extremely bad experience with which he associates personally being called that word from which he needs healing.
    I believe Fr. Z has mentioned many forms of prayers for priests at this site multiple

    Daily Prayer for Priests
    O Almighty Eternal God, look upon the face of Thy Christ, and for the love of Him who is the Eternal High Priest, have pity on Thy priests. Remember, O most compassionate God, that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation which is in them by the imposition of the bishop’s hands. Keep them close to Thee, lest the Enemy prevail against them, so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree unworthy of their sublime vocation.

    O Jesus, I pray Thee for Thy faithful and fervent priests; for Thy unfaithful and tepid priests; for Thy priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for Thy tempted priests; for Thy lonely and desolate priests; for Thy young priests; for Thy aged priests; for Thy sick priests, for Thy dying priests; for the souls of Thy priests in Purgatory.

    But above all I commend to Thee the priests dearest to me; the priest who baptized me; the priests who absolved me from my sins; the priests at whose Masses I assisted, and who gave me Thy Body and Blood in Holy Communion; the priests who taught and instructed me, or helped and encouraged me; all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way, particularly N. O Jesus, keep them all close to Thy Heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.

    +Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison, 6 September 2018

  15. Jerome Charles says:

    Maybe the priest has taken Mt 23:9 to heart. Or maybe he doesn’t mind being called “Father” and has a different issue with this woman. This woman is making presumptions all over the place. Hard to conclude that he’s a jerk or has hang ups, from the fuzzy piece she wrote.

    But in general, I don’t think that not being comfortable with a title is the worst trait a priest could have.

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