SPECULATION is growing over who will be the next Bishop of Durham when the new man is announced on Thursday (September 12).

Following confirmation a successor to the Most Reverend Justin Welby, now Archbishop of Canterbury, will be named by Downing Street on Thursday morning, many possible candidates have been suggested.

The decision has, in reality, already been taken, following a lengthy process which began in February.

However, the Church of England is famously tight-lipped about its senior appointments, following established procedure to the letter.

Bookmakers have installed Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, as the favourite, with Ladbrokes quoting odds of 5-1 and rivals William Hill offering 6-4.

The married father-of-three has been a priest since 1976, joined the House of Lords in 2004 and chairs the BBC’s Standing Conference on Religion and Belief.

He was said to be among the frontrunners for the Archbishop of Canterbury role when Justin Welby was chosen.

However, at 62, he may be considered too old to take on a new position.

Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, is also being tipped. He is seen as a hard-liner, having reportedly suggested homosexuals should seek psychiatric treatment.

Martin Wharton, Bishop of Newcastle and a former Durham University student, and Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, have also been mooted.

There have been persistent rumours that Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, will become the Church’s first openly gay bishop. However, some believe it is unlikely a gay man would be promoted to what is the Church’s fourth most senior post at this stage.

What is certain is that it will be a man – the introduction of women bishops having been rejected by the Church’s governing Synod last November.

On a lighter note, bookies will offer 100-1 on Justin Welby abandoning Canterbury to return to Durham and 500-1 on Pope Francis as a shock appointment.

The new bishop will be chosen by the Queen, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister who by tradition accepts the first of two names submitted to him by a Crown Nominations Commission responding to a role brief drawn up by a Vacancy In See committee.