AP Style Religious Titles

The AP Stylebook has a few different guidelines when referring to people with religious distinctions. Here is a summary on how to treat individuals with religious titles in your text.

Generally in the first reference to a clergyman or clergywoman, you should include a capitalized title before that individual’s name. For example,

  • The cardinals selected Pope Francis to succeed Pope Benedict XVI.

Also, many times “the Rev.” is the designation that applies before a name on its first reference. For example,

  • The Rev. Billy Graham is an influential Christian minister.

Use “the Rev. Dr.” only if the individual has earned a doctoral degree (many doctor of divinity degrees are honorary) and the reference to such a degree is relevant.

On second reference to members of the clergy, use only the last name. For example,

  • “the Rev. Billy Graham” on first; “Graham” on second.
  • “Pope Francis on first”; “Francis,” “the pope,” or “the pontiff” on second.

If the individual is only known by religious name, repeat the title.

We have detailed guidance listed for specific titles and descriptive words such as “priest” and “minister” in the entries on the major denominations found on the main AP Style Guide page, but here are some general rules to follow.

General AP Style Guidelines

Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops

The preferred first reference form is to use Cardinal, Archbishop, and Bishop before and individual’s name. For example,

  • Cardinal Angelo Sodano
  • archbishop of Canterbury
  • Bishop Josu Iriondo

On second reference,

  • Sodano or the cardinal
  • the archbishop
  • Iriondo or the bishop

Substitute “the Most Rev.” if applicable and appropriate in the context. For example,

  • The man spoke to the Most Rev. Jose Gomez, archbishop of San Antonio.

On second reference, use “Gomez” or “the archbishop.”

Ministers and Priests

Use “the Rev.” before an individual’s name on the first reference.

Substitute “Monsignor” before the name of a Roman Catholic priest who has received this honor.

Do not frequently use “curate,” “father,” “pastor,” and similar words before an individual’s name. If these words appear before a name in a quotation, capitalize them. For example,

  • The women stated, “Pastor Steve prayed with me for my family.”

Rabbis

Use “Rabbi” before a name on the first reference. On the second reference, only use the last name.

Nuns

Always use “Sister” or “Mother,” if applicable, before a name. For example,

  • Sister Agnes Rita in all references if the nun uses only a religious name.
  • Sister Mary Ann Walsh on first reference if she uses a surname; Walsh on subsequent references.

Officeholders

The preferred first-reference form in AP Style for those who hold offices within the church but who are not ordained clergy in the usual sense is to use a construction that sets the title off from the name by commas. However, if the formal title is used directly before an individual’s name, capitalize it. For example,

  • Bill Connel, who serves as treasurer at the church, is a great guy. (Preferred)
  • Treasurer Bill Connel is a great guy. (Acceptable)

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