First Name Basis

Commentators have noticed a vector toward informality in American culture. Clothing is one bit that comes to mind. I wore a dress shirt and tie to Mass in my early Catholic days (1970 to 72-ish). I wasn’t alone, but I was in the minority among my peers. My mother insisted and I didn’t fight it, since I like dressing up in good clothes–as long as they aren’t wool or polyester.

When I began full-time church ministry nearly thirty years ago, dressing up was more often a habit when I was on “active” duty as a music director or liturgical emcee. I wasn’t displeased to find the music ministry in my new parish adhere fairly closely to Sunday dress.

Names are another thing. And they have age-appropriate structures … still. Generally, with teens however they address the youth minister–which is usually first-name–is fine with me. In my first parish, one of my guitarists was a Louisiana import. Her young children were told to address me as Mr Todd. That sounded a bit strange to my ears. But I occasionally run into the address, and it seems downright respectful and fitting. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older.

Much of the time, young people just avoid calling me by any name. I suppose its understandable.

For priests, the usual practice has been Father first-name or just first-name in private or in staff meetings. I always address a priest as Father in public. One priest I worked with added he preferred a third person reference as Father last-name. It’s only polite to go with what the person wants.

One priest I worked with preferred Father last-name in all addresses, private, professional, and public. It was a bit jarring to hear the ordained associate refer to him by first name only. And a new staff member who worked with him in another parish called him Father last-initial. And that was a bit strange, too, as his last name has only seven letters and entirely pronounceable.

I noticed the whisper about a new western bishop and his first blog entry telling his Wyoming flock how he would prefer to be addressed:

Why “Bishop Steven”?  Steven is my baptismal name, and the name that I was called by my family.  As a priest, I used Fr. Steve, so Bishop Steven is similar.  While I understand that using a Bishop’s last name for address is a form of respect, it might also create distance in a relationship which is meant to be fatherly and familial.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to First Name Basis

  1. It is highly inappropriate for a Bishop to market himself on a first name basis, considering the degree to which bishops on the right and the left are implicated in the cover up of pederasty and pedophilia in the church today.

    Also, bishops are listed under their last names on online accountability sites that document their past criminal connections.

  2. Todd says:

    It looks to me as if the bishop I linked is doing less “marketing” and more stating a preference as to how he would prefer to be addressed in person. Since there are likely a number of bishops with that baptismal name, it is less accurate to refer to him in that way when involved in a discussion of either criminal or non-criminal activities. It also seems likely he will retain the use of his family name in addition to his baptismal name in official documents, including the diocesan web site.

    While I share your strong aversion to “unaccountable” clergy, I fail to see what that has to do with a new bishop who, it seems, hasn’t been accused of misdeeds. But I can see that a first-name basis with one’s bishop might seem an “uncomfortable” closeness. But like he says, he’s not going to make an issue of it. And I’m inclined to take him at his word.

    • Unfortunately all bishops in this country, though not necessarily guilty by way of direct contact, are connected to misdeeds with children via chain of command – if “only” by way of not being a stumbling block to implicated clerics.

      Therefore, any Catholic bishop prefering a familial, first name basis title, as predators often do, rather than a more formal, accountable one, seems inappropriate to say the least, at this juncture in Catholic history.

      This is not an accusation against the new bishop, just my subjective “bleeeeckkkk” interpretation of whar seems to be his use of the casual and familiar, to get casual and familiar.

      • Todd says:

        There is no “chain of command” in the sense of how the theology behind the office of bishop is concerned. Bishop Biegler is not really a subordinate to anyone. As for his relationship with the priests in his new diocese, he’s an import. Clean slate. No connection with the previous bishop.

        I get the basic mistrust that some people apply to any bishop these days, but I don’t agree with it. I also don’t see the connection with his request to be on a first-name basis with his people. Accountability is demonstrated mainly through actions. By the way, others with your suspicions might accuse a bishop of hiding behind formality and titles.

      • Of course I wasn’t referring to a theology-based connection. (This is not about right verses left within the church either.)

        I was referring to the widespread shuffling of pederasts priests, and the promotion to bishop only of those individuals trusted to place man’s “welfare” – and reputation of the church – over the welfare of children and exposure of clerical criminal activity.

        This is a widespread, general corruption – not one that is just localized anywhere – thus the term “shuffling”.

        My search pulled a mention of a then “diocesan director Steve Biegler” during a case in 2011 – on one of the accountability sites – but the details are hidden somewhere within endless realms of archived cases, so I didn’t have the patience to work my way through to research it. Point being however, if you really want to find a possible connection, you can.

        Others of my view (I am an assistant criminal investigator) might know bishops use their formal title when attempting to threaten or enforce something, but in today’s world – when a prelate wants to induce trust in a naive populace – he tends to linguistically distance himself from formality.

        This is particularly a tactic with more progressive bishops, but remember “left” and “right” prelates are simply double bind players. Though they may “hate” each other both sides are compromised.

  3. Liam says:

    I can recall a pastor of a former community of mine not so long ago who insisted on Fr Surname, referred to male staff as Mr Surname and female staff as First Name….

    • As a woman, I have noticed more misogyny in the traddie (suppressed/hidden/brute homosexual predatory) ranks than progressive (femme/empathetic/less ritualistic) circles.

      However, wherever predation by force is a “right” against children (male and female) or against women, misogyny seems to go hand in hand. I guess that is because misogyny, even if “only” linguistic, is a form of predation,

      • Todd says:

        The notion of predation as a “right” is absurd. Perpetrators most often see themselves as particularly entitled. Misogyny is how this plays out against women. But it’s not only women who are victimized.

      • You are absolutely correct Todd.

        Predation is evil, and evil is built on the satanic creed that might makes right. The person who is disordered toward predation, fears and hates all that he perceives as “weakness” “feminine” or the “ability to feel or have human empathy”, whether these qualities are present in men or women. Ironicly, these things that make us fully human, are really fully courageous to feel.

        But willingness to suffer for love’s sake brings about the cross, which predators hate and fear the most.

        Therefore, the predator (male or female) suffers with contempt and resentment towards whomever they view as “femme” (male or female) and all those who bear the cross courageously, particularly if the cross-bearer is joyful.

        The corrupt cannot understand how the cross paradoxically frees those who embrace it, and they really fear God’s power when they see it working through the innocense of children, or courageous adults. Evil is really jealous of that joy and the apparent freedom cross bearers enjoy from the bitterness and gravity of the material world. That is why evil “gets off” from sadistic acts that “dominate” “the feminine” and momentarily give the illusion that evil has power over innocense. (And why any form of abuse is really soul murder, against the commandment Thou shall not Kill.)

        With brute homosexual predation of young boys, there are, ofcourse, these elements. Young boys are “feminine” to brute male predators, so there is the perverse sexual pleasure they therefore derive from dominating them.

        But the preference for boys, in this case, is because predators are narcissistic – are sexually attracted to their own false image, which they confuse for their own inner child. Nonetheless they really despise this “inner child” for having been weak – thus the punitive aspect that perversely stimulates.

      • By the way, bet you never thought this post would take this spin. Language and names are a fascinating subject. As I understand it, God has a real name for each of us that we will recognize when He calls us, and we will come to Him.

        That having been said, I am very highly sensitive about words and their meanings. Thus, I do not like the section on this blog entitled “Worthy Women.” I assume good intent, but read the adjective “worthy” as more than unecessary, and therefore, distracting.

        Throughout the ages, people have confused the meaning of Genesis. It is really spiritual – or coded – language, especially meant for our time.

        Men in general have wrongly assumed a superior spiritual wisdom and intelligence as the cause for their “leadership”, rather than sacrifice and service, for way too long. We are now closer to that Book of Revelation in which we should be evolving to realize that this is not so.

        In reality, God gave the physically more muscular “mankind” the command to serve “the feminine”, who is naturally more wise (through “her” intuitive nature) and participates in creation itself through greater ability to bear pain, and therefore life itself.

        In otherwords, and crossing all sexual identifiers, strength should serve vulnerability and weakness – not the other way around. Christ was the prototype for this philosophy of truth – which is the exact opposite of “Might makes Right.”

        The laws of truth confound the proud.

        The command God gave Adam to “work and serve” was the correction to the error that might makes right, the domination creed of brute mankind. Remember, God called Adam (“mankind”) to account, not “Eve”.

        When God said Eve (the feminine) would bear children in pain, and men would dominate “her”, this was a prediction of the results of evil against “Eve” – as the feminine or heart element in all of mankind – not God’s will come to fruition against the female gender in particular.

        St Joseph served Mary, and did not dominate her. Neither men or women are more intelligent, or really “stronger” than the other. Men and women are equals, and are to both submit to one another out of love, in service to the one who happens to be vulnerable at the time.

        We can really understand the story of Adam and Eve better once we realize that when God made “Adam” – “man and woman” He made “him”. In other words, the first humans were spirits with three ribs, not “men” or “women” at all. Mankind was seperated into equals when “he” fell to earth, so that mankind would have an equal partner to love, not one of the animals “he” – both men and women – were given to “own” and “dominate”.

        The anti Christ will be a brute male, a woman will conquer him, and her name shall be Mary.

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