Catholic, Church

How to address the clergy

At World Youth Day 2008 we kept running into various priests, bishops, and cardinals. There was an unfortunate incident where I met a cardinal and literally just said, “Oh, hi!”


My fellow pilgrims refused to let me forget it the entire trip.

So when I heard that a bishop was going to be at the funeral I played this morning (there were actually two bishops, seventeen priests, a deacon, and two seminarians!), I did some quick research and made sure I had the correct moniker in my vocabulary just in case.

It gets a little confusing for me, trying to keep all the titles and ways of addressing them straight, so I made a handy-dandy little graphic to hopefully help me (and you too!) out.

How to Address Catholic ClergyPriest:

Generally, a priest is referred to as “Father” but formally, they also can be addressed as Reverend. For example, I didn’t send my wedding invites to Fr. Paul and Fr. Lee, and Fr. James, I sent them to Rev. Paul, Rev. Lee, and Rev. James.

I do actually know a priest that has nieces and nephews who refer to him as “Uncle Father” too, but I think that’s on a case by case basis. 😉


In 25+ years, I’ve only ever met one Monsignor, the former Pastor at Assumption Grotto in Detroit. He was so cool and wore an awesome cape… but that’s beside the point. Addressing Monsignors is easy, just Monsignor. Formally, they are addressed as “The Reverend Monsignor.”


Here’s where I start getting confused. Bishops are addressed as “Your Excellency”. As long as the Pope isn’t there (so most of the time), it is customary to kiss their sacred ring during the greeting, and if it’s your own bishop, to kneel while doing so.

Formally, they are addressed as “His Excellency, the Most Reverend.”


If you are in the United States, there isn’t any difference between addressing a bishop or an archbishop. However, according to my dad (generally, he knows these things) in Spain, England, and Italy (and Western Canada according to wiki-how, so take that as you will), Archbishops are addressed as “Your Grace.”


A Cardinal is addressed as “Your Eminence”. “Cardinal [last name] is appropriate a little more casually,  but formally, it gets even more confusing. As a throwback to the days when people didn’t use last names but used titles, a Cardinal is formally addressed as His Eminence [first name] Cardinal [last name].


If you’re ever fortunate enough to address the pope, he is addressed as “Your Holiness”. The full formal title of Pope Francis for an example would be His Holiness, Pope Francis.

Fun fact, when women have an audience with the pope, they traditionally wear black, and also a black veil. However, female Catholic sovereigns are allowed le privilege du blanc, at the discretion of the pope, and are permitted to wear white.

So hopefully next time you have an audience with a clergy member of any rank, you can avoid my “Oh, hi!” blunder and use the right title.




8 thoughts on “How to address the clergy”

  1. So interesting! We are fairly close with our bishop b/c my husband works for him and we tend to call him “Bishop (last name).” Now I wonder if he’d prefer we use “Your Excellency” because he’s definitely very into the details/liturgical correctness…


    1. I think that would fall into the “Uncle Father” category, haha. It kind of reminds me of the difference between addressing someone as y or usted in the Spanish language. Both are okay, just one is more familiar.


  2. This is a stellar guide!

    I will say, we were married by a monsigneur who was assigned to my parents’ parish community. It was a small, rural community. He preferred to go by “Father.” But, he is certainly a rarity, as I have found!

    Thanks for this! I need to squirrel it away, although I highly doubt I’ll “need” anything higher than “His Excellency.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I get this so confused at times, so the “Oh hi” works for me. LOL! I try but always end up saying the wrong thing to the wrong one. Especially when they are all in one place! This is a great resource for me to go to though, if it ever happens again! So thank you! God bless, SR

    Liked by 1 person

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