Catholics disobey Christ when they call priests “fathers”.
It is an unbiblical practice that Jesus forbade in Matthew 23:9:
“Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven”
In Matthew 23:9 Jesus is using rabbinic hyperbole to drive a point. Rabbinic hyperbole is the use of exaggerated terms to make a point. For example, in Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus says if your right hand or eye offends you, cut it off and pluck it out. Certainly, no reasonable person would interpret this passage as Jesus commanding us to cut our hand and pluck our eye. Jesus is emphasizing the severity of sin through the use of hyperbole*.
In the same way in Matthew 23:8-10 Jesus is not prohibiting us to call our teachers, teacher, our fathers, father and our leaders, leader, but rather he is using rabbinic hyperbole to drive the point that the Pharisees have forgotten their proper place in the drama of salvation. The context of Mathew 23 makes this clear. In later verses, Jesus makes a sharp indictment against the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithesof mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Proponents of this objection would respond that what Jesus prohibited was to call no man your spiritual father. However, in the light of the scriptures this interpretation of Matthew 23:9 is problematic:
Jesus himself calls Abraham not only as the physical father of the Jews, but also as his spiritual father:
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.
As did Stephen in Act 7:2, The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. Paul refers to Isaac as our father in Romans 9:10. Moreover, Paul, calls himself a spiritual father:
I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me.
-1 Corinthian 4:14-16
Peter, Paul and John all at one point or another framed their relationship with their disciples as that of a parental relationship:
She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark”
“My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”
-1 John 2:1
Given that these authors were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit it is hard to presuppose that they were disobeying Christ, when they refer to themselves as fathers. Thus, the biblical evidence and the context of Matthew 23:9 reasonably argues against its literal interpretation. Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran interpret Matthew 23:9 in the same light as the Catholic Church does and do call their priests fathers with the implied understanding that there is only but one Father that gives life, namely God the Father.
References and Resources:
Catholic Answers: Call no man Father?
Rev. James P. Peterson