The former pastor of my parish, who is going on trial in New Hampshire on charges of soliciting sex from a minor, wants the judge to order that his vocation not be disclosed to jurors. Fr. Fred Guthrie, who had been on medical leave for several years prior to his arrest in 2001, said that if jurors learn that he is a retired priest from Massachusetts, they will be prejudiced against him.
It’s actually not a new tendency for Guthrie. Even before his arrest, the people in the town where he lived never knew he was a priest, he never wore a collar, and he always identified himself only as “Fred Guthrie.” Even when he was pastor of my parish of Immaculate Conception Church in Salem, Mass., about 8 years ago, he would tell people to just call him “Fred.”
Not apropos of the charges against Guthrie, still it bothers me when priests seem to go to great lengths to cover up the fact that they’re priests. If a priest objects to me calling him “Father”, I reply: “I’m not calling you ‘Father,’ for your glory but for the One you represent, for your office.” I would no sooner call a priest by his first name than I would call President Bush, George.
It never leads to good when a priest tries to hide his vocation. What would you say about a married woman who removes her wedding rings and goes by her maiden name when she’s away from home? A vocation isn’t something you leave behind; it’s something you are.