Father (Religious Title)

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The title was in early times given to bishops as teachers possessing authority over the faithful; also, as an early Benedictine rule indicates, to priests as sacramental confessors; finally, to the head of a monastery, the word abbot being derived from abba, father. In modern times it has become the normal mode of address of all priests, whether regular or secular, although previously it had been the exclusive title of mendicant friars. This custom originated in Ireland, whence, as a consequence of Irish immigration, it spread to the English-speaking countries. It was established in England, largely due to Cardinal H. Manning's encouragement, about 1880. This custom is still largely confined to English-speaking countries, in which since 1900 some Anglican clergy also have adopted it. Additional uses today of this title are the continuing ones for a sacramental confessor (compare its liturgical use in the Confiteor) and for religious superiors; it is furthermore used in the form "council father" for all bishops and other ecclesiastics who fully participate in an ecumenical council.

Bibliography: New English Dictionary (Oxford 18881928) 5.2:97, s.v. father, ecclesiastical uses. w. e. addis and t. arnold, The Catholic Dictionary (London 1884).

[b. forshaw]