FORMER LUTHERAN PASTOR DEBUNKS
by Jennifer Ferrara
[When she was younger, Jennifer Ferrara never would have foreseen the day when she became a sort of apologist for the all-male Catholic priesthood.
But that's what the former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism has become.
Ferrara, who became a Roman Catholic in 1998, 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.
In this article - originally published by ZENIT (see dtails below) - Ferrara shows how her search for theological justification of women's ordination in Lutheran seminary eventually changed her mind about the priesthood.]
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 was — considering the environment of mainline Protestant seminaries — a 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 ordination.
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 Church.
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 sheer hubris.
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.
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.
This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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