No, Harrison Butker, men alone do not set the tone

The Catholic Church is stronger and more vibrant thanks to women's diverse contributions—in the home, in religious life, and in the workplace.
Catholic Voices

Harrison Butker, kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, recently gave the commencement address for the class of 2024 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Butker’s opinions on the role of women and men in society, Catholic tradition, politics, and vocation have garnered quite a bit of criticism. As a Catholic, husband, father, and justice promotor for the Sisters of St. Joseph, I am offended by Butker’s comments. The biggest issue with his message is a general lack of awareness of the lived experience of others within our greater church. 

As a football fan, I acknowledge Butker’s gift as an athlete. With success on the field he has used that platform to promote his views on the Catholic Church and his preference for the Latin Mass. As he has recently spoken out more and more for his faith, and against other viewpoints within the church, Butker has drawn both intense criticism and praise. His comments at Benedictine left me frustrated and sad.

His core message was to “accept your lane, and stay in it” while being mindful of what your true vocation should be as a Catholic, spouse, and parent. On the surface, I agree with Butker that we must “never settle for what is easy” and that many spaces within our world are occupied by poor leadership examples and rampant negativity. However, I don’t agree with Butker’s approach to the “outside noise.” As a Catholic man who is happily married and has accepted children with the love and grace of my wife, I feel that Butker left out so much.

One thing he left out was the lived experience of Catholics who are not privileged enough to stay in the lane he advocates. I have had my own journey of realizing that I am a person of privilege within the Catholic Church. I can easily stay in my lane, and I don’t have to write these words—but as I listened, I felt the Spirit tell me otherwise. 


Outside of my vocation as a husband and father, I serve as the director of justice, peace, and integrity of creation for the Sisters of St. Joseph. This role is one that I hold with great passion and joy as it has opened my heart to stories and experiences that have helped me grow in my journey as a Catholic and a socially conscious member of the church. 

Butker told the audience that they are to not play God with family planning and bringing children into this world. He’s right that we are not to play God, and if we are to declare ourselves Catholic then we should be willing to accept children and the vocations that families bring. But vocation looks vastly different for so many Catholics, especially those on the margins. 

In the opening of Pope Francis’ Let Us Dream (Simon & Schuster), a publication that came out of the experiences of COVID-19, Pope Francis states the following: “In this past year of change and crisis, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with: people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.” 

This is what Butker misses from his message: people. People who are underserved, underrepresented, undervalued, without work, without homes, without a voice. As I grow in my own journey as a man I am deeply inspired by the example of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the work I get to do with them. Their example is one based on people. Everything that comes from their spirituality and their service is in direct response to the needs of the people. Whether it is the migrant worker who seeks asylum through our immigration clinic, or a refugee family from a war-torn country who seeks a home, or mothers coming out of incarceration seeking a better future with their children.


Butker’s attempt to declare what a woman’s vocation must be—and the general idea that the journey of becoming a wife and mother is the true beginning of a woman’s vocation—is false. It completely disregards and leaves out the many faithful and important women of the church who are not called to married life or motherhood. These women too do vital things for the church and their community. 

I also disagree with his statement that “as men, we set the tone of the culture.” I am proud of the man I am for my wife and my son, but I am not confident enough to declare that I “set the tone” of my family or any culture. In fact, the tone setters of my life have been the women who have lived out the gospel narrative in their rich and diverse lives. The women of the Sisters of St. Joseph have set the tone for me and have inspired me in my work. My mother set the tone in her journey of adopting me as a two-year-old from Bucharest, Romania in 1995. My birth mother, a woman who chose to put me up for adoption during an incredibly tough moment in Romanian history, set the tone. 

Most important of all is my wife, Nina, a doctor of psychology who never compromised on our journey to marriage and parenthood. Nina has followed her dream of a career in school psychology while also cultivating a loving relationship with me and starting our family. Never in that experience did she put her goals aside to let me “set the tone.” We operated as a team for the greater goal of our dream as parents. 

While Butker attempted to inspire a specific audience, he missed the greater opportunity of displaying that the church embraces both family and the common good of society. Our goal should not be to exist within the silo of our own homes. We are called to hear the cries of the poor and reach out and bear witness to those around us, regardless of our differences. This action of bearing witness does not have to be an either-or. Butker can go to Latin Mass if it brings him and his family joy—but I also would invite him to dialogue with others, including those who disagree with magisterial teaching. I have found my faith grows stronger when in communion with those with whom I disagree.


Butker also referenced the film Silence in his address. The film, directed by Martin Scorsese and adapted from the novel by Shūsaku Endō, should not be thrown into a speech without acknowledging the context: the violent and brutal persecution toward Catholics in Japan which led to characters apostatizing. Butker criticized the film’s message, which he thinks is that we should be Catholic in “silence”—and the controversial ending, in which the Jesuit priest, who earlier apostatized due to violent persecution, is seen dead in a basket for burning as per Japanese custom at that time. In his hand he holds a small cross. The film gently ends on this ambiguous note regarding the private relationship between God and humanity.

Many conservative viewers took this to be an indication that Hollywood wants Catholics to live in silence. What is forgotten is that the cross was placed into the palm of his hand by his Japanese wife, whom he was arranged to marry by law. His wife sneaks the cross into his dead hands because she knew who he truly was and that his devotion to Christ was never gone. She did not need to do that. In fact, it was a risky thing to do. Yet her heart and spirit inspired her to do so. Once again, a women set the tone.

Image: Harrison Butker on the sideline of the AFC Championship in Baltimore on January 28, 2024. Wikimedia Commons.


About the author

Cristian Murphy

Cristian Murphy works for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York as the director of justice, peace, and integrity of creation. Cristian has extensive experience in Catholic ministry to young adults and has a master's degree in religious education from Fordham University. He lives on Long Island with his wife, Nina, and his son.

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