To Father Alberto Ferrarese

On Hearing Women's Confessions


Rome, June 29, 1555

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          Alberto Ferrarese had been in Venice but several months when he began to grow uneasy about the Venetian women coming to confession in dress that he considered immodest. Of the Jesuit priests in his community, he was the only one permitted to hear the confessions of women, since the Inquisition there had stipulated that only priests who had reached their thirty-sixth birthday could serve as confessors for women. Ferrarese was, at this time, forty-five years old, and the only one in the community over thirty-six. Hence all women's confessions fell to him. In his letter Ignatius tells him how to deal with women who dress according to the Venetian fashion. Ignatius' letter was written in Italian [Ep. 9:266-2167].


          Beloved Father Master Alberto.

          The peace of Christ.

          From father rector's letter we learn that your reverence is uneasy about the dress and personal adornment of the women of Venice, and you are quite right, for in this matter they frequently offend both God our Lord and are the cause of others offending Him. Where the practice is common, however, and there neither is, nor appears to be, any excess other than the said practice, and no intention of sinning or of causing others to sin, it is not considered mortally sinful. Moreover, if any women should do this to please her husband, there would not even be venial sin.

          On other occasions we have written on this matter as follows. Where there is no notable curiosity—nothing beyond what is common—and no bad intention, though there might be some vanity in a woman so presenting herself as to display her charms, and so forth, they could be absolved the first time with an admonition and a bit of advice. But if they return and again confess this, especially if they are frequent communicants, you must make them give up this vanity and put an end to this bad practice, as much as possible. Should they be unwilling to comply, you could tell them that you will absolve them this time but not in the future, and if they do not wish to give up their vanity they should go to confession elsewhere. Even though you do not condemn them as guilty of mortal sin, there is great imperfection, and if one does not wish to give up such imperfection the Society will have nothing to do with them.

          Your reverence may be allowing your zeal to mislead you, and so, in such cases, you should be guided by the judgment of the rector, since it is possible for him to know, outside of confession, what everyone knows and sees. Do not be timid or scrupulous when he thinks you should not be.

          I will say no more, except that charity and the desire to help souls is accustomed to make the members of the Society brave, and in this way God helps them. I beg of Him to bestow upon your reverence the abundance of His grace.

          From Rome, June 29, 1555.


1 Ferrarese’s family name was Azzolini, but because he had been born in Ferrara (about 1510), his Jesuit brethren referred to him as Ferrarese. He entered the Society in Rome in 1552, had been rector of the college at Gubbio, and when that institution closed in 1554, he went to Venice. He died in Ferrara in April 1558.