Jennifer Ferrara Was Won Over
by the Pope's Theology of the Body
SPRING CITY, Pennsylvania, 21 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)
When she was younger, Jennifer Ferrara never would have foreseen the
day when she became a sort of apologist for the all-male Catholic
But that's what the former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism
Ferrara, who became Catholic in 1998, recently told her conversion story
in "The Catholic Mystique: Fourteen Women Find Fulfillment in the Catholic
Church" (Our Sunday Visitor), which she co-edited with Patricia Sodano
Ireland, another former Lutheran pastor.
Ferrara shared with ZENIT how her search for theological justification of
women's ordination in Lutheran seminary eventually changed her mind about
the priesthood and opened her heart to the Catholic Church.
Part 2 of this interview will appear Tuesday.
Q: How did you as a former Lutheran pastor come to realize that women
should not and cannot be ordained as priests?
Ferrara: When I entered seminary, I was a garden-variety feminist who
believed men and women were basically the same. I thought it patently
obvious that women should be ordained.
I really gave the issue little thought, but to the extent that I did, it
was a matter of equal rights. I also was not particularly orthodox in my
beliefs. I had studied religion in college; I did not lose my faith in the
process but adopted a mishmash of heretical ideas.
While in the seminary, I gradually became theologically orthodox, which
considering the environment of mainline Protestant seminaries
minor miracle. Slowly, it began to dawn on me that women's ordination was
a new development that needed theological justification. I did not come up
with a full-blown defense until years later when I was a parish pastor.
By that time, I thought of myself as an "evangelical catholic."
Evangelical catholics view Lutheranism as a reform movement within and for
the one Church of Christ. Therefore, Lutherans have a responsibility to
work toward reconciliation with Rome.
The fact that I was a Lutheran pastor put me in an awkward position,
theologically speaking. I was an impediment to that reconciliation for
which I longed. This forced me to take a hard look at the issue of women's
Q: What did Luther himself think of the idea of women priests?
Ferrara: Though Martin Luther did not believe in women's ordination, I
found support for it in his writings.
In his "Lectures on Genesis," he argues that God did not intend for men
and women to have different roles. Differentiation between the sexes is a
result of the fall of our first parents. As a form of punishment, women
have been subjected to men and, therefore, have been deprived of the
ability to administer to affairs outside the home, including those of the
Luther believed that male headship was a matter of natural law. As a
Lutheran pastor, I disagreed. The acceptance of equality between the sexes
throughout the Western world demonstrated otherwise.
According to Luther, societal arrangements should be preserved within the
Church, lest we give scandal to the Gospel. I thought restricting
ordination to men had become a modern-day scandal. Ordaining women seemed
like the best way to serve our Lord in this time and place.
When I started to think about becoming Roman Catholic, I disagreed with
the Church's teachings on women's ordination. I actually thought about
writing an article outlining what I presumed to be the theological
deficiencies with the Catholic position, which in retrospect seems like
In order to prepare for it, I read John Paul II's theology of the body.
There I encountered a vision of creation that challenged all my feminist
notions about men and women.
Q: How so?
Ferrara: According to John Paul, men and women were not created
essentially the same. Masculinity and femininity are not just attributes;
rather, the function of sex is a constituent part of the person. Men and
woman both express the human but do so in different and complementary
ways. Believe it or not, this was a radically new idea to me.
The differences between men and women lie in the way they express love for
one another. Men have the more active role in the relationship: The
husband is the one who loves while the wife is the one who is loved and,
in return, gives love. True authority is exercised through service. As
John Paul II says, "To reign is to serve."
However, men and women serve in particularly masculine and feminine ways.
At the heart of this diversity in roles is the difference between
motherhood and fatherhood.
No matter what men and women do, they bring paternal or maternal
characteristics to their vocation. This is just as true of those who have
chosen the religious life as it is of those who become biological parents.
This means the Roman Catholic priest is not simply a father figure: He is
a spiritual father. To state what has ceased to be obvious in a society
governed by the principle of androgyny: Mothers and fathers are not
interchangeable. Women are not men and, therefore, cannot be priests any
more than they can be fathers in the physical sense. If women can step
into the role of priest, then it is no longer one of fatherhood.
To understand all of this required me to give up my functional view of the
ministry. In most Protestant denominations, the pastor serves a role
within the priesthood of all believers. He or she preaches the Word and
administers the sacraments.
In the Catholic Church, the priest acts "in persona Christi." Christ is
the bridegroom; the Church is his bride. This nuptial mystery is
proclaimed throughout the Old and New Testaments.
According to the Catholic understanding of the priesthood, the priest
represents Christ himself, the author of the covenant, the bridegroom and
head of the Church. This is especially true in the case of the Eucharist,
when Christ is exercising his ministry of salvation.
One must utterly disregard the importance of the nuptial mystery for the
economy of salvation in order to make an argument for women's ordination.
If the Church were to ordain women, the entire understanding of the
importance of the feminine and masculine in the working out of our
salvation would be lost. Much is at stake here. Once I really saw that, it
was relatively easy for me to give up my ordination and embrace the
Church's position. ZE04062121
Jennifer Ferrara on Proper Roles in the Church
SPRING CITY, Pennsylvania, 22 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)
Women can find innumerable opportunities for
service in the Church if only they embrace their proper role, says a
former Lutheran minister who now extols the all-male Catholic priesthood.
Jennifer Ferrara, who became Catholic in 1998,
recently told her conversion story in “The Catholic Mystique: Fourteen
Women Find Fulfillment in the Catholic Church” (Our Sunday Visitor). She
co-edited it with Patricia Sodano Ireland, another former Lutheran pastor.
Ferrara shared with ZENIT how women will find
fulfillment in the Church if they understand that only Catholicism
recognizes the importance of the feminine in society and in salvation.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.
Q: What role is left for women in the Church if
they cannot be priests?
Ferrara: It is not a matter of a role “being left
for women” but of women embracing their proper role. There has always been
plenty for women to do in the Catholic Church.
Remember, the ordination of women in Protestant
communities is a recent development. Before then, women had almost no role
to play in those denominations. Protestant churches are starkly masculine.
As a Lutheran, I had no female models of holiness
to turn to for comfort and guidance. Though many Protestant denominations
ordain women, they do not recognize the importance of the feminine—mother
Church embodied in Mary—in God’s plan for salvation.
I do not see why many Catholics discount the
importance of the women religious in the life of the Church as if they
were second-class citizens. They are our spiritual mothers.
Protestants have never recognized such a role for
women. Moreover, there are also all sorts of lay apostolates, orders and
associations women can join.
Q: Your conversion from a Lutheran minister to
being a Catholic also meant giving up your former ministerial role, yet
some women in the Church argue they feel excluded because they cannot
become priests. What would you say to them?
Ferrara: I would begin by saying I understand their
anger and frustration.
At first, I was bitter about the prospect of giving
up my ordination in order to join the Church. However, I would also tell
them my life as a Roman Catholic laywoman, wife and mother has taken on a
new sense of definition.
For the first time, I am trying to listen to what
the Church has to say about who I am rather than expecting the Church to
conform to what I think she should be.
In general, modern people chafe against revealed
authority because they expect the outer life of institutions to be
rendered serviceable to the psychological inner life of individuals.
Therefore, if women want to be priests and claim to feel pain because they
are not priests, it automatically follows that they should be priests.
Yet women who insist they have a call to the
priesthood and use their pain as evidence of an authentic interior call
from God are, in fact, using the protean politics of pain and not Catholic
theology to explain their experiences.
If they truly wish to empty themselves and renounce
their own will for the sake of God and Church, they will find innumerable
opportunities for service.
Q: How do you explain John Paul II’s claim that men
and women were not created as identical beings to those who think men and
women are the same, interchangeable?
Ferrara: I have found that those who are determined
to embrace the principle of androgyny are not open to hearing about the
However, the average person knows instinctively
that men and women are not the same. This is especially true of those who
have children. They see mothers and fathers, boys and girls, are
John Paul II’s teachings explain reality. That is
where I begin. If you can get people to acknowledge the simple premise
that men and women—though equal in dignity and importance—are different,
you can begin to talk about what this means for the roles they play.
Q: What can be done to combat the movement for
Ferrara: Those of us who oppose women’s ordination
cannot allow ourselves to be put on the defensive. We do not have to
apologize for our stance. The best way to combat the movement for women’s
ordination is to present the Church’s teachings in a positive light.
We do not raise the status of women by convincing
them that they need to be men. Though women can and should be allowed to
do most of the jobs traditionally filled by men—bringing to them a
feminine sensibility—they cannot and never will be biological and
Those who insist otherwise effectively deny that
which is noble and holy about being wives and mothers—biological and
spiritual—in the plan by which God intends to redeem his creation.
The Catholic Church is one the few institutions,
maybe the only one, left in the world that recognizes the importance of
the feminine not only for the proper working of society but for our
salvation. We need to be willing to say just that. ZE04062223