Yes, Father, YTA

Yes, Father, YTA May 27, 2024

I enjoy reading Reddit’s popular forum, Am I the A**h*le? (AITA). Curious souls who wonder if they might have behaved badly submit their conundrums to the often very biased judgment of the Internet, which tells them in no uncertain terms whether or not they are indeed the AH in the scenario they recounted. Some of the scenarios seem so outlandish as to be the product of someone’s feverish imagination, but many of them seem entirely plausible. In any case, it’s always fun to pass judgment on strangers on the Internet.

Which got me to thinking about what a Catholic version of AITA might look like. So, I created a scenario, drawn from a real-life story from my social media newsfeed. (The words here are mine, based on a Facebook post from a priest that I found in my newsfeed.)

I’m a priest who loves football. Huge fan of my hometown team, and I enjoy talking football on my social media platforms. I was thrilled when Kansas City Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker recently stood up for traditional Catholic teachings during his commencement speech at Benedictine College. Not a Chiefs’ fan myself, but I really loved Butker’s defense of the faith. To show my support, I bought Butker’s jersey and announced it to my social media readers. Some people are saying this was an AH move. AITA?

You might think I’m going to launch into a critique of Butker’s speech. Not so. The story is old news now and of secondary importance to the question of whether Father is an AH. For those who are interested in a tackle of the kicker, I recommend Amy Welborn’s essay. I particularly liked this suggestion for what Butker might have talked about instead of lecturing women about being wives and mothers (slightly edited for readability):

[Many] of us work at jobs that don’t have deep, profound meaning on the surface. Even the jobs we begin with great hope, convinced that are the fulfillment of our dreams, gifts and talents become drudgery. All of us who work do so for imperfect, compromised institutions. How do we do that? How do we make that fit with our call to be conformed to Christ?

I prefer to look at the deeper issue behind Father’s choice to publicly brag about buying Butker’s jersey, thereby choosing to align himself with a football kicker and his opinions. In doing so, I’ll imagine that I’ve been asked to give a commencement speech at a seminary. (Not that it’s likely a laywoman would be asked to send forth the ordinands with words of wisdom, but let’s indulge my imagination, okay?)

Today, you receive the degree that will prepare you to be ordained a priest. As you fly forth from the seminary into ordained ministry, dear ordinands, there is something I ask you to remind yourself of on a daily basis. If you must, write the following sentence down on a small card and tuck it into a breast pocket, to be pulled out and repeated as necessary:


What this means, dear fathers and servants in Christ (yes, deacons, I hope you will take this advice to heart as well), is that, by submitting yourself for ordination, you are now specially set apart for Christ and must act like you are set apart for Christ in all aspects of your life. In doing so, you must give up some of the perks of the laity. If you are being ordained to the priesthood, you may think that refers to marriage and a family. To permanent deacons, you may think that refers to marrying again if your wife predeceases you.

No, there is a full spectrum of activities that are legitimate choices for the laity, but which should be eschewed by you in deference to your higher calling. For centuries the Church has taught that it is unfitting for the ordained to hold political office, to fight in wars, to engage in blood sports, and even to carry weapons for any reason whatsoever—including self-defense. In our modern age, I will dare to add another to this list. Ordained persons should refrain from any form of social media commentary that can be construed as either taking sides in political or social debates or as attacking other persons, no matter how public those persons may be.

By your ordination, you are supposed to be a father and/or servant to all. You should be considered a safe port in a storm to any person in need, no matter how well or how poorly that person lives his or her life. When you do things that are unbecoming of your vocation, such as by aligning yourself with public figures who have staked out highly controversial positions in the culture war, or by rhetorically attacking laypeople in various public venues (no matter how deserving they may seem to be of your rebuke), you may end up making it harder for those people to come to Christ. You may end up leading others, both your brothers in the clergy and laypeople, into following your problematic example.

In short, you are ordained. As a free person, you have the human right to make your opinion known, but as someone who is ordained you have an even higher responsibility than most people to temper your opinions with kindness and prudence. If you find it difficult to do so, then you might want to consider refraining from social media commentary altogether.

Congratulations on your ordination! Now, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

The priest who bought Butker’s jersey and bragged about it on social media isn’t an AH because he bought the jersey. While his reason for buying the jersey of a player on a rival football team may be problematic, his purchases are his business when he keeps them his business. In this case, he went further and publicized his purchase, precisely as a thumb in the eye to everyone who had been dragging Butker for his arrogant comments to young female graduates—and, because Butker’s not unintelligent and undoubtedly knew his words would reach a wider audience, to women around the world.

By aligning himself with Harrison Butker in such a public way (and, frankly, in such an obnoxious way) the priest has shown that he is not a father to all, or a safe port for vulnerable souls seeking consolation in Christ.

Judgment: Yes, Father, YTA.

(Image: “Blessing” by Teodor Axentowicz, Wikimedia Commons, used with license.)

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