, LONDON, Nov 9 – Former oil executive Justin Welby was set on Friday to be named Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, in an appointment aimed at healing schisms over gay and female bishops.
Welby, 56, the current Bishop of Durham, has only been a bishop for a year but has reportedly been chosen as the best candidate to reunite the church after a decade of divisions under incumbent leader Rowan Williams.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office is set to make an official announcement just before 1100 GMT, then there will be a press conference shortly afterwards at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s headquarters.
The appointment must also be officially approved by Queen Elizabeth II, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England as well as the British head of state.
The decision on a new archbishop was made months later than expected and comes after months of tortured negotiations by a committee that met in secret to find a replacement for Williams, who is retiring next month.
But Welby had been the leading contender for months 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 the elite Cambridge University.
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.
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.
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 Sentamu, 63, Bishop of London Richard Chartres, 65, and Bishop of Norwich Graham James, 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 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.