This passage is often taken out of context, but is wrong to do so. You should not read the Bible and take verses and apply it to whatever you wish. As we dig deeper into this passage, if we were to read it literally then no one can be called father. This would include our biological father and the “Founding Fathers” of our country. This would also contradict the commandment that we should honor our mother and father. Furthermore, there are also passages where Jesus refers back to the “fathers” of Israel. And, St. Paul in describing his very own church leadership refers to himself as the father to his children in 1 Corinthians 4: 14-15. “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:14–15). There are other versus as well in the New Testament, in Acts 7:2, Stephen refers to “our father Abraham,” and in Romans 9:10, Paul speaks of “our father Isaac.”
In taking the full context of Matthew 23, you see that Jesus is condemning the scribes and Pharisees for lack of humility for not looking toward God for authority but rather setting themselves up as the ultimate authority. In the chapter, Jesus condemns them for using the titles rabbi (master), abba (father) and moreh (teacher), for their own selfishness and personal gains. A very crude example of this is a man having children so that he can get a tax benefit and treats his children as such. He is taking the role of “father” for his own selfishness and personal gains.
Catholics refer to Priest as “father” as a term of endearment and respect. The priests provides for our spiritual welfare just as a father of a family provides food, shelter and love for his family. Priests, through the Eucharist, provide us with our Spiritual food; through Reconciliation, provide us with forgiveness; through mass and the Bible, they teach us about God and His teachings; they listen and give us advise; and by their vocation, they sacrifice their life in service for us and our families. The Priest is our spiritual Father and we are his spiritual children.
“The world looks to a priest, because it looks to Jesus! No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest , and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord” – Pope John Paul II