Why do we call priests 'father'?



I am often stumped when my non-Catholic friends ask why we call a priest, "Father", when the Bible says call no man on earth Father. I know there is an explanation for this and think I may have even heard it before, but I can't remember it any longer.


Very interesting question... one that is asked over and over. There may not be just one answer.

In calling a priest father, you are not claiming them to be like God. Rather you are seeing and agreeing to their role as Shepherds of the Church. In the fourth century, confessors were referred to as Father. In the last century, is when the term became normal for all priests. This started in Ireland, and spread as the Irish priests immigrated with their people.

Catholics call their priests Father because they are the ordinary ministers of Baptism, through which the faithful receive the new birth of supernatural grace, and because of the pastoral care which is given by priests. Thus, they are 'spiritual fathers' not only through their sacramental ministry, but also through their ministry of counseling and guiding the faithful in the Christian life.

In the context of the Scriptures that you mention, it is important to notice that Jesus is warning against seeing people of earth as the source of authority. Jesus was not so much against the term 'father.' St. Paul himself says that he is the spiritual father of those whom he had converted (I Cor 4:15).