The unfounded and unjust attacks on Papa Benedict XVI are irksome enough, but tonight I came to realize that something about this runs deeper, even when the target is not as high profile.
I'd found that some people would make it a point (and my sense that it is an explicitly made act) to drop "Father" in addressing my parish priest. I'm not scandalized so much as offended. Why? Because this priest is my spiritual father. Every priest is, and so is each bishop and pope. Long ago, I'd already made up my mind that it is ridiculous to agitate at the hierarchy of the Church and demand that it be made flat. Just as it is to experiment with familial structures and put parents and their children on the same level. We already know what a disaster such innovations are.
And so it is with the parish. Our parish priest is not only a pastor, he is a father. He feeds us with the sacraments, i.e., with the very life of God. This is especially true in the Eucharist, fed as we are with Christ's body and blood. He also feeds our minds by educating us in the wisdom and knowledge of God in Scriptures and Tradition. He holds authority over our moral upbringing, not only in teaching us right from wrong, but as minister of the sacrament of Reconciliation.
It isn't that the priest is being equated with our Father in Heaven, just as we wouldn't equate our actual dads with Him. But there it is, plain as plain, in God's commandments: Honor your father and mother. Not because they are perfect (they are not), but because, in the familial structure of God's household of faith, priests and bishops are ordained by Christ our king to be spiritual fathers over us. When we rebel against this ministerial fatherhood, we rebel against its author: our Father in Heaven.