New Anglican leader backs women bishops

2012-11-09 22:30
Britain's bishop of Durham Justin Welby speaks during a news conference following the announcement he will become the next archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace in London. (Matt Dunham, AP)

Britain's bishop of Durham Justin Welby speaks during a news conference following the announcement he will become the next archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace in London. (Matt Dunham, AP)

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London - The new leader of the world's Anglicans said on Friday that he backed women bishops and would examine his thinking on gay marriage, tackling issues that have divided followers across the world.

Former oil executive Justin Welby was appointed as the next archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, capping a remarkable rise for the 56-year-old who has only been a bishop for a year.

In March he will replace Rowan Williams, who will retire as archbishop in January after a decade spent battling divisions in the worldwide Anglican communion of around 80 million people.

Welby, currently the bishop of Durham in northern England, said the announcement of his appointment by British Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office was "astonishing and exciting".

Welby admitted the church faced "deep differences" over the issues of sexuality and the ordination of female bishops, which have threatened to cause a permanent rift with conservative Anglican bishops in Africa in particular.

"The Church of England is part of the worldwide church and has responsibility in terms of those links," he told a press conference at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury's office in London.

Voting in favour

Welby said he would vote in favour of women bishops when the General Synod, the governing body of the worldwide Anglican Communion's mother church, decides on the issue later in November.

"I will be voting in favour and join my voice to many others in urging the synod to go forward with this change," he said.

Welby said he supported the Church of England's official opposition earlier this year in response to a British government consultation on upgrading same sex "civil partnerships" to gay marriage.

But he said he would "examine my own thinking carefully and prayerfully" on the issue.

His naming as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury had been officially approved by Queen Elizabeth II, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England as well as the British head of state, Downing Street said.

Welby will be enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral, in southeastern England, on 21 March 2013.

Financial background

Cameron said he looked forward to working with Welby "and I wish him success in his new role".

The new archbishop was educated at the exclusive Eton College - where premier Cameron, London mayor Boris Johnson and second-in-line to the throne Prince William also studied - and Cambridge University.

A father-of-five, his a sixth child, his daughter Johanna, died in a car crash in 1983.

The balding, bespectacled cleric's management skills and financial background were seen as advantages by the committee, according to British newspaper reports.

He worked in the oil industry for 11 years before leaving to train for the Anglican priesthood and was first ordained as a deacon in 1992. "I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling," he said in an interview.

He worked for Elf Aquitaine in Paris and then for Enterprise Oil, which was later bought out by Royal Dutch Shell.

Torturous negotiations

He went on to become Dean of Liverpool in 2007 before being named Bishop of Durham in 2011. He currently sits on the British parliamentary commission on banking standards.

His appointment followed months of torturous negotiations by a selection commision of 16 voting members including both senior clerics and lay members, chaired by a former British arts minister, Richard Luce.

Welby was widely viewed as less conservative than his main rival for the post, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, aged 63.

Outgoing archbishop Williams, now 61 years old, was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, replacing George Carey.

He announced in March that he would take up a position as master of Magdalene College at Britain's prestigious Cambridge University in January 2013.

Read more on:    anglican church  |  david cameron  |  rowan williams  |  justin welby  |  religion

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