New Canterbury archbishop favors women bishops

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MANCHESTER, England - The newly appointed leader of the world's Anglicans is a former oil executive who said his spiritual director was a Catholic monk.

Bishop Justin Welby of Durham, who will become the new archbishop of Canterbury, did not name the monk, but told a Nov. 9 news conference at London's Lambeth Palace that he was influenced by both Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality.

He also told reporters that he would be voting in favor of the ordination of women as bishops when the General Synod - the Church of England's ruling body - will decide the matter at a two-day meeting beginning Nov. 19.

Bishop Welby's appointment as the primate of England and the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion was announced Nov. 9 following selection by the Crown Nominations Commission and approval of Queen Elizabeth II, the supreme governor of the Church of England. His appointment will be confirmed with an election by the canons of Canterbury Cathedral.

The 56-year-old will be enthroned as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral March 21 in succession to Archbishop Rowan Williams, who leave the post in December.

Soon after the appointment was announced, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, issued a statement welcoming the appointment of the father of five who gave up a six-figure salary to be an Anglican cleric.

"I know that Bishop Welby will bring many personal gifts and experience to his new role," said Archbishop Nichols.

"As the future primate of the Church of England, I am sure that his ministry, like that of his predecessor, Archbishop Rowan Williams, will provide an important Christian witness to this country over the coming years," he said.

"In fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ's prayer that his followers may all be one, I hope that we will endeavor to strengthen the bonds of Christian friendship and mission already established between the Catholic Church and the Church of England," the archbishop added.

"I look forward to working closely with Bishop Welby in the service of the common good and in the common witness we can give to all the people in our land," he said.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told Vatican Radio he hopes to attend the enthronement in March and that he will be inviting the new archbishop to Rome for an audience with the pope.

"I wish the new bishop all good, the blessing of God for his person and for his challenge ... the not-easy situation in the Anglican Communion, and I hope we can continue and deepen the good relationship between the Anglican Church and Roman Catholic Church."

Archbishop-designate Welby has been described as an Anglican evangelical with sympathy for the Catholic tradition.

A Nov. 9 press release by the Church of England said he has "frequently said that the Roman Catholic approach to Christian social teaching, beginning with the encyclical of Leo XIII's 'Rerum Novarum,' up to Pope Benedict XVI's 'Caritas Veritate,' has greatly influenced his social thinking."

Archbishop-designate Welby told the Lambeth press conference he knew the Church of England was "facing very hard issues."

"In 10 days or so the General Synod will vote on the ordination of women as bishops, and I will be voting in favor and join my voice in urging the synod to go forward with this change," he said.

"In my own diocese and before I was a bishop, I have always celebrated the remarkable signs of God's grace and action in the ministry of many of those who cannot agree in good conscience," he continued.

"Personally, I value and learn from them and want the church to be a place where we can disagree in love, respecting each other deeply as those who belong to Christ," he said.

The archbishop-designate also noted that the Anglican Communion was divided over issues of sexuality but said that it would be wrong to tolerate "any form of homophobia in any part of the church."

He added: "I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) communities and examine my own thinking carefully and prayerfully."

He said that to be nominated to the post was "both astonishing and exciting" and something he "never expected."

Archbishop Williams praised his successor as a person endowed with an "extraordinary range of skills."

"He will bring to this office both a rich pastoral experience and a keen sense of international priorities, for church and world," said Archbishop Williams.

Archbishop-designate Welby was born in London and educated at Eton College and Cambridge University.

His father's family included German-Jewish immigrants who fled to England to escape anti-Semitism in the late 19th century and integrated quickly. British ancestors on his mother's side include several clergymen.

For 11 years - five in Paris and six in London - he worked in the oil industry, becoming treasurer of a large British exploration and production company.

The experience of losing a 7-month-old daughter in a car crash in 1983 played a major role in shaping his decision to enter the ministry, and he gave up his job in 1989 and began to study to be an Anglican priest.

He spent the 1990s working in parishes in England but in the past 10 years has also worked in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in the field of conflict resolution.

He has met with religious and political leaders in Israel and the Palestinian territories and on one trip to Baghdad, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, helped to reopen the Anglican Church there. He has lectured on reconciliation at the U.S. State Department.

He was installed as dean of Liverpool in 2007 and in June 2011 was named bishop of Durham.

In the summer of 2012, he was asked to join the U.K. Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

Christian Rees of Women and the Church, an Anglican group lobbying for the ordination of women, said in a Nov. 9 telephone interview with Catholic News Service that she was very pleased by the appointment.

"I came away bowled over by his opening statement," she said. "I thought it was incredibly strong, incredibly positive, and he himself seemed buoyant, confident and so positive. It was just an energizing experience."

Forward in Faith, an Anglo-Catholic group opposed to the ordination of women, issued a Nov. 9 statement that said "the appointment of a man with a proven track record of engagement with, and support of, traditionalists is most welcome, and we look forward to working with him to achieve an equitable solution to the problems presently facing the Church of England."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970