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Former Lutheran Pastor Defends All-Male Priesthood (Part 2)

6/23/2004 - 7:00 PM PST

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Jennifer Ferrara on Proper Roles in the Church

SPRING CITY, Pennsylvania, JUNE 23, 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 us 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 Pope's teachings.

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 inherently different.

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 women's ordination?

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 spiritual fathers.

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.

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Keywords

Priest, Lutheran, Woman, Ordination, Men

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