Dealing with priests

The author addresses in this article some useful points for dealing, both personally and through written communications, etc. with priests and consecrated persons.

Alejandro Vázquez-Dodero-September 24, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Among the topics of interest in this brief article that I have been writing periodically for Omnes, it occurred to me to refer to the way we treat priests and consecrated persons in general.

It is something that deserves attention, just the right amount, but it deserves it. For being who they are, for representing Who they represent - with a capital letter - because it is to the Lord that they have consecrated themselves and it is to Him that they want to show.

We will refer to the secular priest, but all that will be explained here is applicable to the secular priest. mutatis mutandis religious and, in general, to any consecrated person.

The sacred status of the priest

The priest must count on the closeness, affection and sympathy of everyone. He must have a natural, simple, spontaneous manner. But at the same time he must know that he represents Jesus Christ, that he is the bridge between God and man; and to that cause, only to that, he owes his duty.

This requires prudence and the avoidance of any misunderstanding. On the part of those who deal with a priest, there must always be a look that is not only human, because, as we have said, he has that special consideration for his sacred condition. Of course, as we said, it is necessary to show affection, closeness, openness, but it is not possible to remain only in that and not only on the human level.

The key question to ask ourselves when we deal with a priest would be: "Are we seeking Christ? That attitude will shape the way we treat him, how we look at him, how we present ourselves to him, how we love him. The relationship with the priest should always be focused on fraternal support or spiritual guidance, which is what he will procure for us.

Informal treatment. Priest, monsignor, father, priest...?

Certainly, according to the culture in question, and according to the times, the treatment with the priest is one or the other. There are places where he is called priest, as such, because his mission is to deal with the sacred; and where he is preferred to be called priest -because he heals the wounds of the soul given his mediation between God and man-; or father -by exercising the spiritual paternity of the souls he attends-.

And how to greet him informally? It would be appropriate to use terms such as apreciado or estimado, as we would do with any person who deserves our respect and consideration.

In some areas of Europe it is customary to use "don + nombre". The use of "father + name" is perhaps more typical of Anglo-Saxon or Latin American countries. This is true no matter how young the priest may be.

In informal dealings, of course, it is possible to address him on a personal level, but for what has been said above, each one should make an exercise of consideration and determine whether this would preserve the nature or purpose of dealing with the priest, to which we have already referred.

There are, however, those who prefer to address the priest as "you" and with expressions that are not so close, without this implying distance or lack of naturalness.

Obviously, the way we present ourselves - which includes the way we dress - and our gestural communication must take into account the priest's condition, which, as we have mentioned, requires the respect he demands.

Regarding the treatment of women with priests, St. John Paul II, in his 1995 letter to priests, refers in this clear and eloquent way, sufficient for our purpose:

"Thus, the two fundamental dimensions of the relationship between woman and priest are those of mother and sister. If this relationship develops in a serene and mature way, the woman will not encounter particular difficulties in her dealings with the priest. For example, she will not encounter them in confessing her faults in the sacrament of Penance. Much less will she encounter them in undertaking with priests various apostolic activities. Every priest has, therefore, the great responsibility to develop in himself an authentic attitude of brotherhood towards women, an attitude that admits of no ambiguity. In this perspective, the Apostle recommends to his disciple Timothy to treat "the older women as mothers, the younger women as sisters, with all purity" (1 Tm 5, 2).

In short, as we have already emphasized, it is a matter of being comfortable and natural in dealing with a priest, without ever forgetting what is his condition, because he represents the One he represents, and what is his mission - unique - deriving from his ministerial vocation.

Formal -protocol- treatment in written communications.

On the other hand, for written communication with a priest, it will be necessary to refer to the rules of protocol - some written, others not - and adapt them to the specific case. These also depend, like the informal treatment, on the place and the time in which one lives.

If it is a very formal letter, it would be appropriate to use "reverend father + surname" or "dear reverend father" as a greeting. But, even so, if the priest is sufficiently known, "esteemed father + surname" can be used.

If the communication is addressed to a priest of a religious order, the acronym of the order to which he belongs - OFM, CJ, etc. - should be added after the name.

If it is addressed to a brother or sister, monk or nun, the formula "brother + first name and surname" can be used, adding the initials that designate his order. And if it is the abbot or superior, "reverend + first name and surname", also adding the letters that designate his order as abbot or superior.

In these three cases, as for the way to say goodbye in writing, there are various formulas, one of which would be "Sincerely, in the sacred name of Christ + the name of the sender".

The bishop would be addressed with the expression "his excellency the reverend bishop + name and surname + of the locality or jurisdiction". And he would be dismissed with "begging your blessing, I remain respectfully yours + sender's name".

The archbishop would be addressed as "his eminence, the reverend archbishop + name and surname, as well as the name of the city where he was appointed archbishop". Likewise, he would be dismissed by asking for his blessing.

The cardinal is addressed as "your eminence + first name + cardinal + last name", and would be dismissed by asking for his blessing, as in the previous cases.

Finally, the Pope is addressed as "Your Holiness", "Sovereign Pontiff" or "Pope" without further ado. He would be dismissed with a formula such as "I have the honor to express myself to you, Your Holiness, with the deepest respect and as your most obedient and humble servant"; although if one is not a Catholic, it would be appropriate to say a brief "with the best wishes for Your Excellency, I remain from you + name of the sender".

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