Monday, February 26, 2024

Anglican bishop: My invitation was a "risk" for the Pope

Bishop Jo Bailey Wells meets Pope Francis to discuss the role of women in  the Church

Anglican bishop Jo Bailey Wells believes that Pope Francis took a "risk" by inviting her to speak to the Council of Cardinals about the ordination of women. 

"I am aware - not least because of the various reactions afterwards - that many consider this opportunity to be special, if not historic," Wells told the US newspaper "National Catholic Register" on Monday. 

The deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion was one of three women to speak about the ordination of women at the most recent meeting of the Council of Cardinals in the Vatican at the beginning of February.

The invitation to speak to the Pope's closest advisory body about the ordination of women shows that Francis sees ecumenical dialogue not only as an opportunity for the churches to work together, but also as a way to learn from one another, Wells continued. 

The Italian nun and theology professor Linda Pocher had invited her to a meeting of the Council of Cardinals last autumn. 

Pocher had asked her to speak about the ordination of women in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion, and to present a broader perspective on the topic through a personal approach.

Great interest from the Pope and the Council of Cardinals

According to Wells, she presented the life story of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman to be ordained as an Anglican priest, to the Pope and his advisors. 

The Chinese woman from Hong Kong, who had previously worked as a deacon, was ordained a priest in 1944 because male priests had no access to her community in Macau at that time due to the Second World War. 

But as early as 1945, Li voluntarily suspended her permission to celebrate the sacraments in order to avoid a conflict with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, who had criticised the extraordinary ordination of a woman. 

It was not until half a century later, in 1992, that the General Synod of the Church of England came out in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood. Wells herself belonged to this first generation of Anglican women priests, according to the theologian.

The Pope and his cardinals had listened to her with interest and a discussion had developed after her presentation that had surprised her in a positive way, said Wells

Looking to the Synod on Synodality, she hopes for changes in the Catholic Church on the topic of women's ordination. 

"The Spirit is working to affirm and utilise the gifts of grace given to women for the good of the whole body of Christ." 

Wells, 58, was appointed Bishop of Dorking in 2016 and consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. 

She previously taught as a theologian in the UK and the USA and was a chaplain at Lambeth Palace, Welby's official residence, until her consecration as a bishop.