A Monsignor Reflects on the Restriction of the Title”Monsignor.”

010514This is one of those stories that I hesitate to comment on because I’m indirectly implicated in it. But according to substantial rumors, the Pope has decided to eliminate the title “Monsignor” being conferred on any priest under 65.

I say “rumors,” because I have not seen any official Vatican statement. Further rumors like this circulated couple months back and proved unsubstantiated.

The second reason why I consign this to the category “rumors,” is that these reports also claim to explain why the Holy Father has done what he has apparently done. But, without any Vatican statement what is actually in the Pope’s mind, speculations as to why the Holy Father has (reportedly) done this, seems to me to be a lot of conjecture and presumption. Perhaps he just wants to simplify. I don’t know, it is his prerogative.

With that said, I’d like to base my comments more on the discussion that is taking place on the Internet about the title “Monsignor” rather than on the Pope’s thoughts, which we don’t clearly know, at least as of yet when I write this. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. It is not a huge matter. It is more of an “inside baseball” discussion among clergy. So whatever the Pope has decided to do, or not do, involves little more than ceremonial titles which are sometimes, and in certain places, conferred on clergy. Many dioceses have not named Monsignors in decades; in other places it is more common practice.

2. Of course it should go without saying, the Pope has every right to do this. Although local bishops make the nominations, the title Monsignor is a papal honor, making the recipient the ceremonial member of the papal household. So if the pope doesn’t want to confer this title as widely as has been done before, that’s obviously up to him.

Future popes may have different ideas; and that will be up to them. The practice of naming Monsignors, at least here in America, dropped dramatically after 1970, and slowly reemerged in some areas. My guess is that the waxing and waning of things like this will continue going into the future based on the preferences of popes and bishops.

3. I am alarmed that many link the restriction to the Pope wanting to clamp down on so-called “careerism” among the clergy. The Holy Father has not said this, that I am aware. And while there may be some connections people like to make here, it is possible that the connection of this move and careerism says more about those making the connection, than the Pope’s full motives.

My own experience in the priesthood, is that careerism is not a huge problem. As with any collection of human beings, one can always find a few priests who are angling for certain positions etc. But most priests are happy to live and work in parishes. I don’t think any of us ever went to seminary because we wanted to hold a high position in an office at the Chancery office. Most of us dreamed of living and working in parishes, and trained for that alone.

And most who priests who do serve in diocesan leadership, and on the Bishop’s staff, do so at often high personal cost. Many of them long to return to simple parish ministry.

Indeed, the vast majority of priests I know, are humble and dedicated men who love God, love his Church, and his people, and work very hard, whether in parishes or other special ministries or offices.

I can’t even remember the last time I heard a priest say he wanted to be a bishop. We’d probably try to get him into therapy. Most of us instinctively know that being a bishop is often a very lonely duty, involving great hardships, demanding schedules and often unrelenting criticism from many sectors. Priests who are called to be bishops often have to say farewell many close and supportive relationships they developed with parishioners over the years. Surely, to be a bishop is a noble task. But most priest know that it comes a great personal cost.

Also regarding so-called “careerism,” a good number of the comments along those line which I read in comboxes on blogs state that many priest avoid teach on hard or difficult topics, because they are afraid of how it will affect their clerical “career.” Hence they equate silent pulpits with the problem of careerism.

But I think this misses the more poignant and widespread cause of this among priests, which is the problem of “human respect.” Human respect is the sinful disposition wherein one is more concerned about what people think of them, than what God thinks. Alas it is a sin usually committed in weakness.

At the end of the day, priests are human beings, and like most human beings we don’t like conflict, and tend to get anxious when people are offended at us or what what we say.

Let me be clear, as I have commented before on this blog, this is a sinful tendency among priests. I am not excusing it. The fact is, we were not sent out to win a popularity contest, we were sent to preach the gospel whether in-season are out-of-season. If even Jesus, who was sinless, and the best of preachers gave offense, how much more so those of us who are sinners and not as good as Jesus at preaching!

The point here is that most priests are not too silent because it careerism. Most priest are not really quaking in their boots all that much about what might happen to their so-called “career” if they preach the hard truths. No, most priests are struggling with the more common human problem of wanting to be liked, of not wanting people to be mad at them. The problem is about courage, not careerism.

4. A wider cultural trend also manifests in linking honorific titles like “Monsignor” to “careerism” by some. It raises in my mind concern over the increasing hesitancy (and even hostility) in our culture toward bestowing honor, or recognizing achievement.

Why be so cynical about honors given or received? Many comments in com-boxes I have read contain some of this cynicism about the honoring of some priests with the title “Monsignor.” A comment on one site, during the first wave of rumors (a few months back)  went so far as to say, “This serves those ambitious Monsignors right. Now their title will evoke only laughter.” This speaks to me of the wider anger that some have toward the bestowal of honors.

But the bestowal of honors, and the recognition of achievement, are signs of a healthy culture wherein excellence is appreciated and held forth both in gratitude, and also as an encouragement to others to seek and manifest excellence, and other virtues such as generosity, service, love, and so forth.

In recent decades, likely due to excessive application of egalitarian principles, bestowing honors has come to provoke anxiety and also significant degree of cynicism and anger. These trends go all the way down to the schoolhouse level, and children’s sports programs.

In the past, certain students, and sports team members who showed special excellence, received awards. Certain students, because of consistently high grades were recognized as outstanding with honors such as the Principal’s Honor Roll, etc.

Today, at honors ceremonies in most schools and sports banquets, feature almost endless awards. The goal is to largely make sure that no student or sports team member leaves without a trophy, or ribbon, or medal of some sort. Parents and educators often insist on this tactic, saying that to honor certain students is to not to honor others. But of course, this is just a point of honors, to single out those who show for the superlative excellence, who go beyond the average, or norm. But Heaven forfend that a certain child might come away little sorry or sad at not getting certain honors.

At the end of the day, I would argue, this insistence by educators and parents is envy, pure and simple. Envy is: “sorrow, sadness or anger, at the goodness or excellence of another person because I take it to lessen my own standing.”

But the proper response in observing excellence or the good fortune of another, should be joy and zeal. Joy for the gifts they have, that we can all share in; and zeal, to try to imitate wherever possible the excellence we observe in others. Really to be sad that others got honored and I didn’t, is by definition “envy.”

Culturally, we have come to enshrine envy is a kind of a right: “My right not to be hurt, or feel diminished because someone else, deserving of honor, is honored.”

My point: Somehow, we have lost the ability in our culture to confer honors, and bestow rewards without others taking offense. Yes, I fear that we, as a wider culture, have lost the important ability to bestow honor and have sunk into cynicism and some degree of envy when it comes to the practice of recognizing achievement.

It will be admitted, that no culture or institution bestows honors perfectly. Sometimes people are genuinely overlooked who should be honored. Sometimes certain individuals are honored for more political purposes, than due to genuine achievement or honor. But as a general rule, bestowing honors and awards on those who work hard and have excelled, should be seen a good thing.

The bestowal of the title “Monsignor” has traditionally been seen as a way for a Bishop to give special honors to priests who have, for various reasons excelled in some work for the diocese. It is a true fact that not all priests can be honored, some Priest are overlooked, and yes, in certain situations, the title was given for less than stellar reasons. As a general rule however, most priests who are so honored, are honored for good reasons.

5. The majority of the faithful genuinely like the bestowal of honors on their clergy by the Bishop.

I remember when I received the honor in 2005, how excited my parish was. They knew instinctively, and I clearly stated to them, that this award was not for me per meipsum, (for me alone) but was due to the fact that we,  as a parish, worked very hard to accomplish several major goals that the Cardinal had set forth for us;  including assisting him with a capital campaign and also bringing to our local community the wonderful gift of a $5 million recreation center.

The parish where I was at the time, St. Thomas More Parish in Southeast Washington was one of the smaller parishes in the diocese, and in one of the poorest neighborhood in the city. What an incredible zeal they had to undertake these works of charity in support of God’s people. I may have gotten the title, but I was clear with them, (and they knew) the honor bestowed on the leader goes to  all the people. Three busloads from the parish joyfully went to the Basilica the day the honors were bestowed.

In my experience that most Catholic people love their clergy and are happy to see them honored, realizing that honors bestowed on their clergy also accrue to them.

I can only conclude that the cynics in some com-boxes have issues of their own, for it is not my experience tat they reflect the view of most of the faithful, who are glad to see clergy honored.

6. Finally, a few personal notes. When I was a child, my mother said that when someone offers you a gift, say “Thank you” and accept it graciously.

So there I was in the Fall of 2005 in my car, and my cell phone rang. The screen said it  was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Nervously I answered the call, and His Eminence said to me, “Charlie I’ve got good news for you. The Pope has decided to name you a Monsignor.  I’m very happy for you, and I know your mother would be so proud.” I had to pull over to catch my breath.

He went on to tell me the reasons he had nominated me, and we both agreed that whatever meritorious things I had attained to, was thanks to God, and God’s wonderful people. He went on to tell me he was also very happy and proud for the people St. Thomas More Parish.

I did as my mother said.  I said “Thank you, Your Eminence” and, as graciously as I could, I accepted. I thought of many priests older and wiser than I, who were more deserving of the honor than I.

I never consciously sought the title, and certainly did not think it would come to me in my mid 40s. But I was grateful, and deeply moved.

I only tell my own story to illustrate that every priest has these personal stories, and all of us are human. Like anyone, we enjoy a little recognition.  We know that we don’t deserve most of the recognition we get, but we try to graciously accept the love and honors bestowed on us.

I honestly don’t think its all about ambition and careerism, and I’m sure the Pope doesn’t either. Most of the monsignors I know are humble and hard-working priests. We who have the title did not seek this recognition, but were happy and move to receive it.

Epilogue: When I was young, and my mother was proud of me, she would stand before me, look me in the eye, and  then mess up my hair. This was always her sign of affection. One day, not long after the papal honors had been conferred on me, I was praying quietly. I became somehow mindful of my mother’s presence, and then something of a breeze  moved through my hair. It was at that moment that I somehow knew and experienced that my mother was proud of me.

In fulfillment of my mother’s instruction I can only say thank you Lord, thank you Pope Benedict; thank you Cardinal McCarrick; and thank you, God’s holy people.

And yes, Your Eminence, you were right, my mother is proud of me, and for that, I am deeply moved and grateful.

St. Paul says that when one member is honored, all the members rejoice and are honored (cf 1 Cor 12:26). Hence this video that reminds us that whatever distinctions and honors we have, we are all ultimately one and need each other.

90 Replies to “A Monsignor Reflects on the Restriction of the Title”Monsignor.””

  1. Beautifully said Monsignor!! I am thankful to you for your “Yes” and “Thank you!”

  2. I’m so moved that I can’t find the appropriate word to say. A God’s gift to all who participated which requires the courage to climb to the top. Love this so much. Peace and love to all. Amazing.

  3. I agree with you. Maybe clericalism is a big problem in Argentina. I just don’t see it here, though Pope Francis harps on it all the time. He calls it the biggest problem facing the Church and the worst sin.

    1. This is a key point.

      One of the strongest criticisms of Pope Francis has been that he projects the issues facing the Latin American Church onto the global Church. It appears that, prior to his election, Pope Francis had little knowledge or experience of the Church outside Latin America. This impression is reinforced by his lack of comfort in conversing in languages other than Spanish and Italian.

      Hopefully, the council of cardinals [which includes Sean O’Malley and George Pell] that he appointed to advise him on Church governance will help persuade him that clerical careerism is not really a serious issue in the English-speaking Church.

  4. I once attended mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Texarkana, Texas, not to be confused with St. Edwards Catholic Church in Texarkana, Arkansas across the stateline. There is a popular postcard with a picture of a prospector looking man standing on the Texas side of stateline, in front of the FDR works project Texarkana U.S. Post Office which is centered right on the stateline and he is holding the reins attached to the harness on a donkey standing on the Arkansas side of the stateline. The caption reads ” A man standing in Texas with his (donkey) in Arkansas” although the synonym for donkey was used. But I digress. The pastor, Father Priest, a native of Ireland, during the Homily explained that he came from a family of Priest. His father was a Priest, his mother was a Priest and his brothers and sisters were all Priest. That was a title even the Pope couldn’t take from them. Eventhought I understand he is big on humility, I would think that Pope Francis would have the wisdom to grandfather in such a change rather than humiliate pastors by strippping titles from those who have deservedly had them bestowed. In any case, you will always be Monsignor Pope to us and even if he were to do away with the monsignor title, he can’t take away the fact that you are a Pope. Your whole family were and are Popes. Just as a side, have you ever noticed the strong resemblance between Ed Wynn and Pope Francis? Nice selfy. It looks like you are going out for a reflective walk in the snow. Just don’t wear canvas tennis shoes. Those things will ice up on you even if you wrapp them in plastic bags. Happy New Year.

  5. One year ago, in December of 2012, I remember reading one blogger priest’s goals for 2013. He went so far as to list “making monsignor” a goal for 2013. He continues to blog but never rose to “making monsignor.”

    Your reflections are gracious and appreciated. The Holy Father’s are appreciated as well. I am giving him the benefit of doubt along with my prayers.

    1. Yes, I too remember “making monsignor” on that blogger priest’s list of goals for 2013. Well, maybe God wants him to eat a few more “humble pie” first.

      I’m glad Cardinal McCarrick recommended you to Pope Benedict. If anyone deserves that title, Msgr, t’s you.
      Well done. God Bless you.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Msgr. They are well articulated and now that I have seen what the Pope actually has said and intends, I must concur with your point of view. One additional element of the issue is that of international focus. In the USA we often focus on what we think and feel at the exclusion of the 2/3’s world perspective. The careerism issue is apparently a problem in some other parts of the world, Rome included. The reform of this honorific has been underway since Paul VI. Francis is saying he is going to confer it on priests 65 and over. As one only recently so honored, I must say I am more humbled by the response to it by the people who have supported my ministry of this now 38 years. I am surprised and, frankly, disappointed by the disparaging comments by a few clergy. As you know, after the conferral not much changes except having to explain to bunches of people how to spell monsignor; that I don’t get a raise; and no, it doesn’t mean I am going to be a bishop next (thank God). As far as I am concerned, the price of my embarrassment by this event and the attendant attention is small price to pay for the pride and celebration of our people in a time when there seems so little to throw a party about.

  7. Msgr, the story of your mother brought tears to my eyes and they are still coming. I hope I can convey something so important so well to my children. God bless your mom and God bless you.

  8. I’m told that there’s an old joke among the clergy, that in Rome even the cats are Monsignors.

  9. I’m 63 and have known only 2 priests who were hungry for honors. All the rest were just happy to be priests and to serve God and His people. I guess clericalism may be a problem in Europe and Argentina, but I haven’t seen it here at all.

    Our diocese has only one monsignor. He was pastor of our parish for a time and everyone just called him father. He’s retired now, but stays busy giving retreats and spiritual direction. He just turned 80.

  10. Thank you for this, Monsignor. A good lesson on envy that I shall try to apply to my secular career. We corporate lackeys certainly have no right to criticize!!

  11. With all honors come added responsibilities. This is something to discern.

    In the final analysis, the matter of honorifics comes down to whether they abet or detract from one’s path to holiness since honors by themselves do not figure into one’s salvation.

  12. I’m a lot younger than Ellen. I’ve known one Irish priest assigned to the states who every homily was about him wanting to be bishop. My parents stopped going to Mass. Ive tried to encourage them to join another parish but as far as I know they havent. Sad really. As you say it gives all priests a bad rep.

  13. One problem with the clerical title “Monsignor” is that it pre-empts the noblest title of all: Father which is shared by the newest ordained priest, the Pope, and God himself. I don’t think anyone in the Confessional says “Bless me Monsignor, for I have sinned. The Pope has made clear that the title, when conferred ex-officio for some bureaucratic office, or a sign of special favor from the local Ordinary, is indeed clericalist. Moreover, it has greatly been abused in the USA – dozens of priests being given the title all at once in some larger dioceses. Consequently in some places people think the title of Monsignor simply designates a pastor. As Gilbert and Sullivan said, “When everybody’s somebody, then nobody’s anybody.” I predict that the next to go will be Titular Bishops and Archbishops, as in the Vatican diplomatic service. I doubt that Pope Francis is keen on making a man the bishop of a diocese that has been under the water for a thousand years. – Meanwhile, although the Holy Father has said that previously conferred titles may be kept, it would be an authentic act of humility, and one consistent with the Pope’s understanding of the priesthood, for any Monsignor under 65 to cease using the title and the vesture. It would be quite revealing to see how many would object to doing that !

    1. Yes, there are some who prefer to call me Father, and that is fine. But on the other hand, then what about bishops and cardinals? Should we call them Father? Are there no distinctions that ever matter? Granted, Monsignor is a merely ceremonial thing, but some people like ceremony and rank, not just clergy, but the people too. Its a human thing. By the way, there is also a parishioner who refuses to call me Father citing scriptural reasons. She calls me Brother Pope, or Rev. Pope. Fine. I’m not one to insist on titles that make others uncomfortable, but people are people and honors and titles are not without any significance in the human family. About 10 years ago I noticed that “secretaries” don’t like being called that anymore, they want to be called Assistants or “office managers” Fine. Should titles matter that much. Probably not. But they do. A guy with a PhD like to have the Dr. used every now and then. The Director of a Bureau like to be addressed as “Director so and so….” When I worked in the White House the President was always called “Mr. President…” Should any of this matter? No. Does it? Yes. The human condition.

      By the way, in the old days I think you were right Msgr. was almost synonymous with Pastor. Not so today in most places I know. But even then, Msgr. meant something both to priests and people.

      So its not a biggie, but as I try to show in my article, there are a lot of personal dimensions to the issue as well as parish dimensions. Honors have always had a place in culture. I for one have always tried to honor the legitimate titles people have even when they are not titles I fully recognize. For example, Bishop so and so of the Where ever AME Church may not have an episcopacy I recognize, But I still Call him Bishop because he has attained to that among those who respect him religiously. In esteeming him, I esteem the people he represents, legitimate differences aside.

  14. The title does not change the work of serving God’s people. I like the picture of our pope’s service. It would be good if we could imitate his commitment to serve God’s people regardless of title. Nice note, Monsignor!

  15. Thank you! Thank you! Wise, reasonable and thought-provoking words. Unfortunately, many will not read your words and realize that not all priests are “career-track”. The local bishop can keep careerism at bay. And, rightly so, why is it such a problem for a priest to receive a “papal pat on the back” for exceptional service (when in fact there are priests who need regular reminders to be priestly)?

  16. Monsignor Pope, thank you for expressing so well the very same sentiments that many of us share. We need and appreciate clergy like you, to help us remain grounded in the faith and in our church, especially in these unusual times when rumors abound first and later comes the Vatican damage control. May your tribe remain and increase!

  17. Jan. 6th…I do not think we should disparage ‘titles/honors’ but I do not think that calling a Priest “Lord, eminence” etc is the way we should honor them…Jesus was a carpenter as was St. Joseph…I worked for many years in Haiti among the poor and then in India with Mother Teresa and I witnessed countless numbers of Priests and Religious and lay people sacrificing themselves in order to serve God’s little ones. They barely survived and yet were filled with holy joy and were deeply loved and respected by the people. They would say that serving God and His people was honor enough, reward enough. Pope Francis is bringing the Church and God’s people back to a simpler way of life, according to the Carpenter, Jesus. When I watched the papal inauguration and saw all those Bishops in golden miters and robes I flinched and said a prayer that they would find a simpler mode of attire…they looked so awkward and uncomfortable. I have a great reverence for the Priesthood and for Priests and most of them are dedicated, holy men and do not seek honors or fame – Pope Francis has said that he wants to be known simply as ‘Father’ – to be called “Monsignor/my Lord” is not, I don’t believe, appropriate….it’s too regal. Let Priests be called ‘Father’ – there is no title more meaningful or more beautiful title than that…I always look forward eagerly to reading this column and I will continue to read this column – when I disagree, I disagree respectfully.

    1. OK, your preference is clear enough. But remember it is a big Church and people have different feelings about this. Some see the “golden miters” etc as a sign of reverence for the Church and for the offices. Can it go too far? Sure. But to take your own approach, no clerics should be worn at all since Jesus and the Apostles did not do so. Many aspects of the Church and her liturgy were not around in 1st century Palestine or before the Church emerged from persecution. Some balance needs to be found between a kind of antiquarianism and a hyper modern Church with no regard for antiquity. Some developments and structures are good and reflect the needs of the Church at later stages. Thus clerical attire, etc. make more sense in a secular culture wherein signs of faith are more important. The same for Church buildings sacred art etc. Most of this was unknown in the apostolic church.

      As for the use of titles etc, I’ll let what I have said already stand. As a general rule people like titles and use them…as I said above. This is not just clergy it is also many people, as remarks here also show. There is something regal about our faith and most people do like some degree of pageantry, it is instinctively human, at least in the collective sense.

      Next, I don’t think most Americans mean “Mi lorrd” when they use the title “Monsignor”. When I have told people what the title actually means from literal French, we both blush. Monsignor to most Americans just signifies a priest of some rank or honor. Hispanics often think I am a bishop when they hear the title since in that culture the title is more synonymous with Bishops.

      Your remarks about Pope Francis bringing the Church back to a simpler way may have validity but we still have not heard that this is why he is doing this.

      1. Dear Florian,

        Your comments remind my of this beautiful scene from the classic film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”. I hope this embedded code works, because I think all will appreciate it. Now, to be clear, I make no judgement on titles and/or dress other than each certainly have their place. God bless you, Florian and God bless you, Monsignor.

  18. Dear Monsignor,

    Wonderfully, logically, thoughtfully and humbly written! Bravo!

    Oremus pro invicem!

    Fr. Jordan, OP

  19. Dear Monsignor Pope:
    By now you should know I am a fan of most of your articles: “A Monsignor Reflects on the Restriction of the Title “Monsignor.” is no exception. One disconcerting note is your opening: “1. It is not a huge matter”. If that is the case, I suggest you concentrate in your description of your mother’s reactions, never mind that of your former parishioners, etc. Your mother’s gratitude for the honor bestowed on her son more than justifies it. I’ll join her prayers that at this point in your life, a title does not become “a huge matter.” A.M.D.G., Gonzalo T. Palacios, http://www.americanerasmus.com

  20. Thanks for your “kind” remarks. It’s a coat, not a cape. I had just come in from outside where it was cold. Birettas are still worn by some of us, they are allowed. To say that I am stuck in 1955 means you don’t know me very well, you might be surprised if you came to mass at my parish.

    Oh, also, there were no beards on clergy in 1955 and, as far as I can tell they never smiled for pictures in those days. 😉

    Finally, though you are not one of them, most people like when I dress up.

    1. Count me — and LOTS of others I can think of — as liking it when you wear the garb proper to you, Monsignor. May you continue to do so!

        1. You look just fine Monsignor Pope, and FWIW keeping the head warm is one reason for the biretta. Altar servers in central and eastern Europe wore them historically for processions in the wintertime (funerals and the like). Please, continue to wear the ecclesiastical clothes you are entitled to wear!

  21. I remember a priest with whom I serve on a committee that crosses dicesan lines on saying that his local bishop had, several years ago, decided to no longer name monsignori. His comment was,” I thin that’s great., Make one red, the others are green,” speaking directly to envy. Even at the time I thought that was sad–that a priest, of all people, would deprive a fellow man of honr because of his own jealousy and that he did not see this as a shortcoming in those who are sojealous. I mentioned, I think, that I thought that it was an opportunity for humility and charity to rejoice in another’s success and I was disappointed in his position–explaining, I suppose, why we are not great friends to this day. It isn’t a big deal, of course; the early Church had no monsignori, and we even lost the oder of deacons for several centuries before it was returned. But sad, sad to see us catering to our weaknesses by denying others the pleasure and edification of well-earned recognition. And keep on with the biretta. Gives you a certain dashing air….check out Fr. Longenecker on the effects of going to Krispy Kreme in his casssock–an opportunity for street corner evangelism!

  22. I spoke briefly with a priest regarding this Pope’s raising of the age of Monsignor to 65. I asked him what he thought…and he said, if it was directed at him, the age should be 75. And he smiled. I pressed him further and he said, he was so happy to be “just a priest”. I think most priest would feel the same way. Our Bishop is so humble that I think he sometimes wish he was just a parish priest.

  23. Monsignor, we met once in the past and after so many years, I can see why you have such an honor. Thank you. Pax.

  24. Nicely said, Msgr. Your point about the friends of the honored-one taking pleasure in the honor hits the mark. I can think of a pile of priests I’d love to see honored in some way, because it would be such a pleasure to be able to say, “And I know that guy! And he’s great!” It is a mark of a healthy community to have the sense of connection with the accomplishments of others in our community.

  25. People say ‘What is in a name?’ What is in a title? I say, give credit where credit is due. You deserve the title. With the way you reflect, you do deserve it. Even among the disciples there are ranks. St. Peter is the number one, the leader. There was Peter, John and James, the inner circle. There was even a treasurer, Judas Iscariot. There were disciples and there were apostles. So what is the problem? Among the angels, there are Archangels, seraphims and cherubims. I say, there are much greater problems of the Church, like the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the formation of priests, let the Magisterium focus on them, not on titles. GOD Bless our Church. YHWH TSIDKENU!

  26. I would agree I don’t see much careerism in parishes. Even with the one Msgr who hired me, his attitude toward ministry was one of humble service. Wherever he was called. I learned more from him than all my other pastors combined.

    I also noticed there was very little direct connection between “careerism” and any words of the Holy Father. It seems to be an editorial addition, yes. That said, I think there are clergy and lay people alike who are not on the best track with how they serve the Church. There may be no ambition, as such. But perhaps more attention to personal comfort, either physical or intellectual or spiritual. And the multiple assignments of bishops, always moving up, strikes me as a serious problem both pastorally and theologically.

  27. “How can any of you please God when you seek honor of each other rather than of God.”

      1. Perhaps you are thinking of John 5:44,
        How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

  28. I have in my 50 some years in the Church known only two monsignors. One, the pastor of the parish I grew up in, received the title when I was in grade school and he was appointed head of the local deanery, which consisted of 4 parishes, each with a school and a Catholic high school. He was well regarded by both his parishoners and by the community. The second was in the parish I have attended for the last five years, since I returned to the Church. I do not know when he got the title, but judging by the outpouring of love at his passing over the last week, I am sure he fell into the same category. I see it as a special honorific for priests who by position (my current parish is one of the largest in the archdiocese) or by achievement. By keeping it special, it has meaning.

    1. Yes, but so far this is the ONE source that everyone else is referring to. Where is the official Vatican statement? Can anyone show it to me in writing? Otherwise we are all just repeating the La Stampa article. I have no reason to to doubt La Stampa or “Vatican Insider” per se, it’s just odd that there is NO other independent attestation.

  29. Dear Father:
    Wake up and smell the coffee! In other words believe the good news – this Holy Father is for real and the title Monsignor is being eliminated for those priests under age 65. Clericalism is a major problem and the Holy Spirit is guiding this man carefully. Get on board and I strongly suggest you follow carefully what the Holy Father is saying – you can google it daily!

    1. I’m pretty wide awake, actually. That’s why, unlike you, I’d like to hear what he actually has to say on the matter before dreamily, as it seems you do, interpreting. I’m also wide awake looking for some official text.

      Hey Ted… Ted… are you sleeping??…..It’s Msgr here…..Ted….Ted, Wake up man! Help me find that statement by the Pope. Are you dreamin again man? Okay, look, somebody get this guy some coffee!

  30. Great blog Monsignor Pope, and I know that your mother is very proud of your good service to the church. I did just see this article posted from Catholic News Service, which conveys that there is an official word coming soon that is being sent to bishops. I pray that all priests keep a humble heart as you have done with good and true service to our Catholic Faith. Thank you and to all priests who bear a heavy cross in the challenging work of being a pastor of a parish. It is just an earthly title, and the REAL title that we all aspire to is to be a SAINT (I think that Ted may need to get some saintly coffee 😉 )


    Pax Et Bonum,

    1. Thanks for this link. And I note in the article that the Holy Father “Did not give the reason” for the change. Hence I would still hope we would refrain from connecting this to the issue of careerism per se. That careerism is a problem among clergy (and frankly most humans) goes without saying. But I think for the media and others to say that this is THE reason for this move unnecessarily criticizes priests, singling them out, and turns the whole thing into another chance to priest-bash by the 10% of people who love to hate priests (90% of Catholics love and support their priests). Maybe he is also trying to simplify things etc. He has the right to make this move, some age limits do seem appropriate, maybe we don’t need three ranks etc. Any way he has apparently made the decision. So be it. Roma Locuta – Papa Locuta!

      By the way, when I was named a Monsignor, I didn’t even know that there “ranks” So when I went to the tailor, as the diocese instructed the guy asked me my rank, “Are you a Chaplain?” And I said, “No, I’m not in the military.” And the guy looked at me like I’m some kind of idiot (which I was) and said, “Well I can also guess you’re not a Prelate” and again I stupidly said, “That’s right, I am not a bishop.” So he finally said, I’m gonna presume you’re a Chaplain.” I still thought he was saying I was in the military or something. What a mess. SO it took the tailor to explain to me that there were ranks. I never knew that before. 🙂 Later a brother priest noted that “Chaplain” was the lowest rank of the Msgr. and told that really made me a “Mon-junior” Hah!

  31. +J.M.J.+

    I was also writing in to note, as John Clem did above, the Catholic News Service story.

  32. I once thought of being a priest and thought that being conferred the title monsignor was a great honor since after ordination to the priesthood there is no other “promotion.” A nice honor to say something about the good a priest has tried to do. If we really want to look at elitism and careerism, let us consider this: how many individuals cannot get a job with a good salary because they do not possess a bachelors degree? How much more of an injustice is this instead of a dozen or so priests being named monsignor in a diocese? We really need to wake up to bigger injustices due to title that really mean very little (especially if you see how easy it can be to get a bachelors at most institutions today).

  33. Dear Florian,

    Your comments remind my of this beautiful scene from the classic film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”. I hope this embedded code works, because I think all will appreciate it. Now, to be clear, I make no judgement on titles and/or dress other than each certainly have their place. God bless you, Florian and God bless you, Monsignor.

    If the embedded code fails please click this link: http://youtu.be/DYH2WS3CU6A

  34. I’m no theologian nor a biblical expert…But really, I will feel happy if the Pope gives restriction on conferring that title. If I understand it right, Jesus is the real Lord and he is the real “My Lord”….Monsignor. St. Peter said it in his speech during Pentecost…the Father made Jesus Lord. St. Paul wrote it too…that no one else but the Holy Spirit who makes us call Jesus “Lord”. If priests have to be rewarded…maybe it can be done LESS ON TITLES and more on appreciation and support of vocation. I love that word “vocation”…it is not “careerism”…it is something else. Just my view.

    1. Yes, but as I said above people don’t mean “My Lord” when they say Msgr, at least not in America. The etymology of the word you have correct, but that is not the sense of the word people have today.

      By analogy, “Reverend” another common clerical title, Catholic and Protestant, is rooted in the Latin word meaning “to fear” But God says not to fear any but him, and Paul says, Henceforth I fear no man. etc. But when people call me “Reverend” I know they do NOT mean “Feared One.”

      I love etymologies. But we ought to also be aware of etymological fallacies wherein we insert meanings people do not intend simply because a word has a certain history or root meaning.

      A final example: If a person calls another “sincere” are they saying that the person is “without wax” because that is what sincere literally means in its Latin roots and historical meaning: sine (without) + cera (wax) and it referred to the ancient practice of filling in the imperfections in marble columns with a hard waxy resin. Thus a perfect column was said to be sine cera (that is without any wax, it is genuine, 100% marble). But I don’t suppose that if you call me sincere you mean to imply, let alone assert, that I am a marble column without wax.

      By the way, do not the French word “Monsieur” and its English derivative “Mister” also derive from “Mi Lord” I am not sure, just asking. But if so, Kiko, would you advocate the banishment of the word or title from French and English, or at least refuse to use these words?

      1. Mister (“Master”) is derived from “Magister” from which we also get magistrate.

  35. Whatever meaning these titles may have had in the past, they are certainly out of place in today’s world. Why would a priest, who is called to imitate Christ , the one who “Came to serve, and not to be served,” want to be addressed as “My Lord” which is really what Monsignor means? This style of address is particularly inappropriate in the United States ,where one of the reasons we fought a Revolution was to insure that we would no longer have to address fellow citizens as “My Lord.”

    In my diocese, the new bishop made “Monsignors” of any priest who held a position in the Chancery. More than several of them were recently ordained and were in their late 20’s or early 30’s. When they called the parish to speak with some of us older priests, the conversation always began, ” This is Monsignor so and so!” Clericalism is alive and well in the vast majority of chanceries, and I think Pope Francis is well aware of its dangers for the life and health the Church. With the many problems and recent scandals in the Church, do we really want to cling to titles of nobility?

    While those who already have the title will certainly defend its use and its importance in their clerical lives, I would suggest that they follow the Holy Father’s humble example,who even as Cardinal Archbishop, asked to be call Father.

    1. I am not being address as My Lord, that is not what people mean and it is not what I hear.

      As to why would any priest want to be addressed in this manner, which you seem to ask with a harsh, rhetorical tone, please refer to my article. To say I or others “wish” to be addressed this way is not fair and excessive on your part.

      Why do you condemn others so easily or presume the worst motives? Why do you make sweeping statements about the “vast majority” of chanceries?

      What is worse, the use of titles which may or may not be appreciated, or the lack of charity you manifest in your remarks. What ever the Holy Father’s motives in restricting this title forthwith, I cannot think he would join you in your sweeping dismissal of the good faith of many hard working priests.

      If you don’t like the title, don’t use it. I have never corrected any one for not calling me Monsignor nor do I know a another Msgr who has done so. I don’t even correct people who don’t want to call me Father, due to flawed biblical interpretations.

      But as for me, I do use the titles others go by out of what seems to me a graciousness due to others.

      So call me Father if you wish, but frankly I’ll go you one further and say that my greatest title is one you and I share, “Child of God.” Heck you can even abbreviate it if you like and call me “Cog Charles Pope.” I am afterall a “cog” in the system of the Lord’s kingdom and body.

      I would also request in the future that you curb your sweeping condemnations of the motives and stances of others. I am sorry you have had a bad experience in your dioceses and that you felt your age was under-respected. But I don’t think it is fair to say the “vast majority” of others have the moral lapses or insensitivities you accuse them of.

  36. As always, well said Msgr. Pope! The honor given to one priest and honor for all priests.

    1. Thanks Father, I am starting to feel under a little siege here and the sweeping judgment on brother priests alarms me. Your remark is a good reminder of St. Paul: When one is honored, all are honored

  37. I have rarely heard an encouraging comment toward the clergy coming from Pope Francis. I hope I’m wrong and that I have missed some significant praise he made toward the hard working priests who are so often wrongly criticised. I just don’t understand this attitude.

    1. Yes, I certainly don’t think he means it to seem that way but as is evident even here, some seem licensed to making sweeping judgments about priests. I surely don’t think the Holy Father would want to assent to that.

  38. Monsignor, you make some good points here and they are good food for reflection. It is true that any society needs ways to reward and honor those who have done well, and to hold them up as examples. There are two reasons, however, why I doubt that the idea of naming Monsignors has a future in the Church.
    The first is that there is something artificial or even fake about the rank of Monsignor. It gives a priest the right to use the title and some of the attire that are given to a bishop, even though he is not a bishop. I am quite sensitive to anything that is not simple and authentic in the Church.
    The second is that according to a longstanding principle which is still in force today religious cannot be named Monsignors. This principle is due to the idea that the radical renunciation professed by religious includes a renunciation of every honorary title and distinction, even ecclesiastical titles. Religious have always been seen as a model for the whole Church, and if something is not appropriate for religious, I have a hard time seeing how it is a good idea for anyone else in the Church.

    1. Oh no! I’m a fake! And I’m inauthentic too, dabbling in “rights” and dressing up like a little bishop. I am really a bad person and I need you to come over Fr. Ben and just punch me real hard!

      More seriously though: since religious are the “model” then why does the Church distinguish? Why are there secular priests at all? Perhaps it would be good for all priests to take solemn vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, and live in semi or quasi monastic settings.

      But it seems to me that the centuries old practice of having “secular” priests bespeaks a wisdom that you too easily dismiss. For example, the faithful often lament that priests are “out of touch” with life in wider world. I think to some degree that is true. But then why retreat more in monastic manners.

      IOW I think there is a wisdom in the branches of clerics wherein some engage the world more directly, albeit imperfectly. Others live apart more and manifest the Evangelical counsels more strictly and communally within specific charisms. Secular priests are a lot like foot soldiers, or infantry and we can be deployed more variously whereas Religious priests are more specialized, living more communally and focusing on their charism.

      Maybe instead of talking about “models” here we could talk more about the value of both as distinct witnesses to vocation and serving distinct needs in the Church.

      1. ‘But it seems to me that the centuries old practice of having “secular” priests bespeaks a wisdom that you too easily dismiss. For example, the faithful often lament that priests are “out of touch” with life in wider world. I think to some degree that is true. But then why retreat more in monastic manners.’

        Because you’re (generically) falling between two stools. I can’t understand why priests resemble the rich young man who went away sorrowing, instead of the Apostles and early disciples. The very term, ‘counsel of perfection’ seems odd, insofar as Jesus counselled us all to be perfect, even as our Heavenly Father is perfect. How much more so then, the ministers. In any case, religious celebrate public Masses, hear confessions, serve as chaplains in hospitals – the full ministry, don’t they?. Is the only difference, then, Monsignor, that they don’t lead pilgrimages to Lourdes, etc?

      2. I did not mean to demean the value of the secular priesthood: it is a beautiful and powerful vocation and it is very necessary for the Gospel to be preached in the midst of daily, secular life. Having a car, living in a regular house, perhaps having a dog, going to the grocery store and cooking your own meals; all of this is part of the call to live the priesthood in the world and among the people. I fail to see how the title of Monsignor fits into this picture or is part of being in the world and among the people.

  39. Titles like monseñor serve a positive reinforcement for the conduct which the Pope wishes to promote. He can give the title to who he chooses. He could very easily can state the criteria for the title, for example: one who will recieve the title of monseñor should..live evangelica poverty, dilligently attend his flock providing numerous oportunities for confession, Mass and other sacraments, handle his parish finances with transparency, promotes christian charity for the poor and marginalized.

    My thought is that such titles should not be eliminates but used to promote the style of sacerdotal, pastoral leadership that the pope wants.

    1. Thanks for the link. Again no reasons given and I think that is just as well. Our Holy Father has his reasons and I think it is enough to simply say Papa locuta. The rest is commentary and speculation that likely speaks more to our agendas than his.

  40. Thank you for your prayerfully considered and candid reflections, Monsignor. I especially appreciate your brief discussion of envy and egalitarianism.

    Envy is a deadly sin, but so is the lust for power – the libido dominandi, the superbia vitae, the temptations that hound all men because we are fallen.

    Ambition is wonderful if it aims at the right goals and is properly ordered. For all priests, that is the sanctification and salvation of souls, including their own, I’m sure.

    But here in the DC area , so full of political aromas, one easily views the hierarchy in senses often applied to the laity. A staffer longs to be a representative. A representative longs to be a senator. And, as we have seen, even the most incompetent of senators can aspire to be president.

    So, a practical question: One of my favorite priests, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, believes that bishops should be appointed for life to one see. No “small potatoes” to “bigger potatoes” (small diocese, bigger diocese, archdiocese, red hat).

    Do you think that would dampen somewhat the **temptation** to the wrong kind of “careerist” ambition?

    Along the same lines, are we laymen mistaken when we get the impression that a bishop here or there might refuse to address a fundamental problem (let’s say, the abuse crisis, pre-2002) because he wants to preserve his position, or even to advance it?

    A Humanae Vitae bishop once told me that he “didn’t have time” to exercise fraternal correction with hisbrother bishops. In fact, Cardinal Burke is the only bishop I’ve ever seen who has corrected a fellow bishop – a Cardinal, no less, and your ordinary (regarding Canon 915).

    (Abp. Gomez’s comments regarding his predecessor are of a different character).

    So, do you believe that bishops don’t criticize one another because, perhaps, they don’t want to be criticized by other bishops?

    Thank you so much for an inspiring and informative reflection.

    Auguri Lei, Monsignore!

  41. ‘But the bestowal of honors, and the recognition of achievement, are signs of a healthy culture wherein excellence is appreciated and held forth both in gratitude, and also as an encouragement to others to seek and manifest excellence, and other virtues such as generosity, service, love, and so forth.’

    But excellence in the Christian ministry is not in the least bit akin to excellence on the sports field. What is it about the values of the Apostles and disciples of the early Church that repels people who are leaders within the Church? Can you imagine any of the Apostles accepting an honour or awards from anyone other than Christ? Or thinking their bestowal might encourage the faithful. Servants don’t bestow honours, Period.

    That was the great failing of the Tridentine culture; the traditions of men had led to a culture that didn’t understand that ‘pearl of great price’, poverty of spirit, so honoured by Eastern religions; instead patronising the laity and encouraging clericalism in the hierarchy with what in effect are worldly honours. And there have been some terrible errors made through such bestowals.

    1. Eastern religions? Do you mean Buddhists or something? And if so are you exalting it over what you call “Tridentine Culture” (I have not heard this term but I think I know what you mean – and would only presume you are also not a fan of the TLM!)

      1. Yes, the topic is treated at length in Aldous Huxley’s essay, The Perennial Philosophy, a survey of the shared principles of the mainstream religions of the world, with great quotations from both Protestant and Catholic churchmen, theologians, as well as Sufis, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus et al. It was that minimalist, ascetical kind of spirit that attracted me as a youngster. Nevertheless, I came to see that the personal nature of God and his relationship with us, as our faith states, could not be overstated.

        As regards the TLM, no. I would like to think that if the Anawim, Mary and Joseph, were to come back to earth, and visit a church in their country, they would be able to understand the services. Apparently, when an American lady-tourist visiting Rome, remarked to a bishop how wonderful she found all the priceless sculptures and paintings there, he replied,: ‘Yes, but the loss of Northern Europe was rather a heavy price to pay.’

  42. I like learning from you that a priest designated “monsignior” is adjudged by his superior and ultimately the Pope as worthy of being a bishop. Reason:
    The Ordinaries of the Roman Catholic Anglican Use in the USA, the UK, and Australia — de facto hold the office (and all the burdens) of a bishop, but who cannot be bishops because they were married while still Anglican clergy — are each a Monsignior. I have the privilege to know two of these three priests / monsigniors, and they are of outstanding holiness, wisdom, and pastoral charity. I understand that people who know him say same of the Australian Ordinary, whom I have not met. When the three of them have met in Rome, one of them said “the three of us are delighted that we are all of one mind and heart” in their vocation to serve the Church Universal in the Anglican Ordinariate each in his native land.

  43. ‘The second is that according to a longstanding principle which is still in force today religious cannot be named Monsignors. This principle is due to the idea that the radical renunciation professed by religious includes a renunciation of every honorary title and distinction, even ecclesiastical titles. Religious have always been seen as a model for the whole Church, and if something is not appropriate for religious, I have a hard time seeing how it is a good idea for anyone else in the Church.’

    Spot on, F Ben, imo.

  44. Boy do you get defensive! It would seem that I am not the only priest who has this callous cynicism!

  45. Great post! Forgive my picking on your Latin.
    Under 5., you have “per meipsum”. This means “through myself.”
    I think you want to say “pro meipso.”

    1. Yes, I can’t remember what I was saying, was that in a comment? At any rate, my recollection is that I WAS trying to say, “Through my very self.” I’d have to go back and look which I can’t do now.

      1. OK, I just checked, yes, I was intending to say “for my very self.” (Which I euphemistically render “for me alone”) and yes, I should have used pro instead of per, but isn’t meipsum still proper when used with per (e.g. “per ipsum”). In other words my one typo led to another. At any rate I am surely better at reading Latin than writing it!

  46. Our diocesan newspaper constantly is filled with photographs of bishops and priests giving awards to each other and to laypeople. I cannot picture Our Lord handing a bronze plaque to The Apostle of the Year.

    1. But honestly, Bill is it fair to compare the situation of a small itinerant band in 1st Century Palestine to a Church of 1.2 Billion members across a wide globe speaking every language and in every culture? There weren’t big Church buildings either or electricity or purified water, and people didn’t wear socks, pants weren’t invented yet and all the men had beards and the ladies wore veils, and…and…and…. No bronze plaque but Peter did get the Keys to the City….does that count. I mean really, I’m just not sure that EVERYTHING we do must be found in Palestine 33 AD

    2. Apostle of the year? Not that I recall, (hough I can think of 2 things that are vaguely similar), but there was a greatest prophet ever award in Matthew 11:11.

      But more generally:

      “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.”

      Not sure what you’re getting at, Bill. Are you saying that because Jesus didn’t carve out bronze plaques, we must pretend that achievement doesn’t matter? That recognizing achievement is bad and/or unnecessary? That it is in some places overdone? That last is a matter of degree, and may be true in some places, but the first two are flatly contradicted by scripture.

      Though I have to say I am pretty amused (probably just because it’s late) by the mental image of heavenly recompense including a bronze plaque with “This plaque certifies that on this ___th day of ___, ____ has successfully died without being in a state of mortal sin,” with the blanks filled in in cursive and little “signatures” of each member of the Trinity on the bottom. I’d put that on my wall.

      But seriously, a little recognition can go a long way, to remind people that the hard work they are doing is actually for a purpose and appreciated.

  47. Thanks for your article, Msgr, but I agree with Pope Francis for the reform of this noble program due to the abuse by some bishops and priests.

    IMO, it is used sometimes as a political tool by some bishops to use to advance their personal and pet agendas like church renovation with all the ‘lies’ that go with it. It happened in our archdiocese.

    Don’t get me wrong because some priests deserve the title but I have met some who IMO do not and even gives you the impression of them insisting to be addressed as ‘Msgr.’ instead of ‘Fr.’.

    Regarding clericalism, it is well and alive even in the English speaking countries like here in the U.S. I have been a victim of it for so many times especially when I give constructive criticism about liturgical abuse and ignorance by some priests.

    When asked to give our opinion as parishioners on a church renovation, I oppose it and got booted out as a lector because the pastor said that I can only work either inside or outside the church. When I chose the latter and practiced my Canon 212 right, I was told by him that I am no longer welcomed at the parish! He asked for an opinion about renovating the church and I gave it then I got punished for it!

    But I kept the faith since it does not depend upon a priest, a bishop or even a Pope for that matter.
    It only depends and belongs to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ but as a faithful Catholic I respect and obey the Church and its leaders appropriately.

  48. As to titles and changing of meaning over time (Monsignor having been once meant My Lord, as an example): when I was on active duty in the Navy, the decision was made by some high muckety-muck that the rank of Commodore should be brought back as a term for those who were Rear Admirals (Lower) (who, of course, were outranked by Rear Admirals (Upper))(both of them being junior to Vice Admirals, who were junior to Admirals[apparantly, the higher the rank, the shorter the title?). This lasted for a few years, until someone with too much free time and not enought work observed the Commodore, in both spelling and pronunciation, was very close to Commode Door. We went back to Rear Admirals (Lower), forsaking the fact that no rational thinking human being with ever confuse a Flag Officer with bath room fittings. I am sure that Commodore Perry, among others, was either rolling in over in his grave, in either amusement or anger (or a little of both).

  49. Here is a situation that might apply to clericalism: my wife who was baptized but raised mostly outside the Church( still not back due to various factors, misconceptions) was excited to see a close childhood friend who became a priest while in Nicaragua. He came to the house to baptize her niece ( after accepting a decent amount of cash) and acted stuck up like he barely knew her. There has been nothing but obstacles in guiding her back to the Catholic faith, even at my local U.S. parish.

  50. Wow, Monsignor…you seem to have struck a nerve, judging by the avalanche of responses! Thank you for your treatment of this big and tender topic. I had not recognized just how cynical a society, and an envious one, we have become. If they do stop making monsignors, what a blessing that you are one already, before the freeze!

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