New Archbishop of Canterbury named

2012-11-09 13:27
Bishop of Durham Justin Welby poses for a photograph in Durham in November 2011. (Aegies Associates, Keith Blundy/ AFP)

Bishop of Durham Justin Welby poses for a photograph in Durham in November 2011. (Aegies Associates, Keith Blundy/ AFP)

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London - Former oil executive Justin Welby was named on Friday as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the world's Anglicans, in a move aimed at healing schisms over gay and female bishops.

Welby, aged 56, who only became the Bishop of Durham a year ago, said the announcement by British Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office was "astonishing and exciting".

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

The prime minister's official Twitter feed said: "Downing Street is pleased to announce the appointment of Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury."

The appointment 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 in a statement.

Welby would be enthroned as archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral, in southeastern England, on 21 March 2013, the Archbishop of Canterbury's official office said in a statement.

Decision much later than expected

"To be nominated to this post is both astonishing and exciting," he told a press conference.

"It is something I never expected, and the last few weeks have been a very strange experience, to put it mildly.

"It is exciting because we are at one of those rare points where the tide of events is turning, and the church nationally, including the Church of England has great opportunities to match its very great but often hidden strengths."

The decision on a new archbishop was much later than expected and comes after months of tortuous negotiations by a committee that met in secret to find a replacement for Williams.

But Welby had been the leading contender and bookmakers even suspended betting on him earlier this week after a number of huge bets were placed on him to be the next archbishop.

He 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.

Less conservative

The incoming cleric faces a huge task in healing deep schisms among around 80 million Anglicans worldwide over the appointment of female and gay bishops, especially among evangelical parts of the church in Africa.

British newspapers said father-of-five Welby - a sixth child, his daughter Johanna, died in a car crash in 1983 - was an opponent of same sex marriage and the appointment of openly gay bishops.

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

Balding, bespectacled Welby's management skills and financial background were also seen as advantages, according to the reports.

Welby 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.

Risk of permanent rift

He went on to become Dean of Liverpool in 2007 before being named Bishop of Durham in 2011.

Other contenders for the post included veteran churchmen such as Bishop of London Richard Chartres, aged 65, and Bishop of Norwich Graham James, aged 61.

The selection commission has 16 voting members including both senior clerics and lay members and is chaired by a former British arts minister, Richard Luce.

Williams, now aged 61, 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.

His tenure was marked by his difficulties in maintaining unity amid disagreements over the consecration of female bishops in Britain, and of openly gay bishops in the United States.

The rows have threatened to cause a permanent rift with conservative Anglican bishops in Africa in particular.

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