THE Bishop of Durham has accepted the post of Archbishop of Canterbury and will be confirmed as the new leader of the worldwide Anglican Church tlater today (Friday, November 9).
It is understood that The Right Reverend Justin Welby, 56, will succeed Rowan Williams when he steps down after ten years in the post in December - becoming the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of 77 million Anglican Christians across the globe.
Yesterday (Thursday, November 8), speaking during a break in the Parliamentary Commission on the Banking Standards inquiry, Bishop Welby said: “I am not able to comment, only Lambeth Palace can.”
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Lambeth Palace refused to comment. But Downing Street sources confirmed a new archbishop would be unveiled this (Friday, November 9) morning.
A police officer outside Portcullis House, in Westminster, where the banking inquiry is being heard, congratulated Bishop Welby on his new post, to which he laughed and raised his hands in defence.
His appointment has looked increasingly likely over recent weeks, leading bookmakers to suspend betting on him being chosen.
However, he was only made a bishop a year ago and the decision would be a snub to Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, who had been seen as the natural successor.
Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, was also said to be in the running.
Bishop Welby is seen as a conservative, but his appointment was welcomed by Gene Robinson, the Anglican Communion’s first openly gay bishop, who said it showed the Church of England was thinking outside the box.
Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont and Pittington, County Durham, and a leading campaigner for women bishops, said he would be a brilliant appointment but Durham would be very sorry to see him go.
New archbishops are appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, who is given the names of two candidates by the Crown Nominations Commission. The Commission held a three-day meeting in September to consider the contenders, but no announcement followed.
In the North-East, Bishop Welby’s met with a mixture of pride and regret.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Bishop is an incredibly intelligent, committed and engaging individual who has used his extensive business acumen to great effect since he arrived in Durham, spearheading a host of projects and events that have helped highlight the important role the church plays in modern life.
“Justin is deserving of the honour of Archbishop of Canterbury. Durham’s loss is certainly the wider Church of England’s gain.”
Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland and a member Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee, said: “This is great news for the Church of England.
“Rowan Williams was a great spiritual leader and Justin Welby’s organisational abilities will build on this.
“It’s a very difficult job which needs a tough person and Justin Welby has that strength.”
Alasdair MacConachie, Vice Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, said: “This is fantastic news – the best thing that could have happened to the Church of England.
“In a very short period of time he has shown enormous empathy for his diocese and the wider region and has made a huge impact.”
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said: “I’m very pleased for him.
“I think it’s well-deserved and it’s good to see somebody who has put so much energy into important issues in the North-East reach national prominence.
“Our loss is the national gain. We have to celebrate his success.”
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said: “I’m really sorry to see him go. He’s been a great Bishop of Durham in the short time he’s been with us. I wish him well and I think he’ll do a great job.”
It is thought Bishop Welby would be the first person to move directly from being Bishop of Durham to Archbishop of Canterbury.
Michael Ramsey, Bishop of Durham from 1952 to 1956, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1961, but only after being Archbishop of York.
George Carey, vicar at St Nicholas’ Church, Durham, from 1975 to 1982, was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, but only after being Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Bishop Welby’s his departure would leave the See of Durham searching for a new bishop for the second time in just over two years – a process which usually takes several months.