AN OLD Etonian is expected to be confirmed today as the next Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, of which the Scottish Episcopal Church is part.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England, yesterday accepted the post, according to reports.
The former oil industry executive will become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.
Yesterday Bishop Welby was sitting on the parliamentary commission on banking standards in London, of which he is a committee member. He said he was unable to comment on reports of the appointment.
But Bishop Welby, 56, laughed when a police officer at Portcullis House in Westminster congratulated him on the reported appointment, and was cautious not to answer as he raised his hands defensively.
It is understood the bishop will be announced as the successor to Dr Rowan Williams, after the Crown Nominations Commission put his name forward to Downing Street.
Speculation was further fuelled after it emerged Bishop Welby will not make a scheduled appearance on today’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, being held at the National Railway Museum’s branch at Shildon in County Durham.
Speculation was further fuelled when bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes said they had closed their books on betting for the Archbishop of Canterbury following a rush of bets on Bishop Welby. The confirmation of Bishop Welby’s appointment will be seen as a meteoric rise in the career of the clergyman, who marks the first anniversary of his enthronement as Bishop of Durham later this month.
He worked in the oil industry for 11 years before leaving to train for the Anglican priesthood. He was ordained as a deacon in 1992.
“I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling,” he said in an interview.
Several other senior figures in the Church of England were reported as possible contenders to succeed Dr Williams, who leaves after a decade in the post at the end of this year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
They included Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who was named as an early favourite; the Rt Rev Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, and the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has no direct authority over the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is entirely autonomous within the Anglican Communion.
Asked on Wednesday what qualities he believed his successor needed, Dr Williams quoting the theologian Karl Barth,: “You have to preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”
He added: “You have to be cross-referencing all the time and saying, ‘How does the vision of humanity and community in the Bible map on to these issues of poverty, privation, violence and conflict?’
“And you have to use what you read in the newspaper to prompt and direct the questions that you put to the Bible: ‘Where is this going to help me?’”
Dr Williams announced he was to leave as Archbishop of Canterbury in March, saying: “I would like the successor that God would like and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.”