New Anglican leader Justin Welby backs women bishops

Justin Welby also promises rethink on gay marriage while tackling divisive issues

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 3:44am

The new leader of the world's Anglicans said yesterday 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 the next archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, capping a remarkable rise for the 56-year-old who has been a bishop for just 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 80 million people.

Welby, the bishop of Durham in northern England, said the announcement of his appointment by 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 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.

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 this month.

"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.

"I am always averse to the language of exclusion," he said. "We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the church."

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

The bishop said he intended to keep his Twitter account once he took up his new role and said though there were millions in England with no connection to the state church, he was "utterly optimistic" about its future.

"The church grows when we do what we should do, properly. It's very hard work but it's very possible."

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 Cameron, London mayor Boris Johnson and second-in-line to the throne Prince William also studied - and Cambridge University.

A father-of-five, his sixth child, a 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 media reports.

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

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

He became Dean of Liverpool in 2007 before being named Bishop of Durham last year. He sits on the parliamentary commission on banking standards.