The Church of England was once described as “the Tory Party at prayer” – not so, these days. The new, 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, although a former oil company executive with strong business credentials and more pragmatist than radical, is what the Financial Times describes as “a trenchant critic of the excesses of capitalism”. His views on social issues such as gay priests – against – and women bishops – in favour – that are dividing the church reflect a more cautious centrism.
Bishop of Durham Justin Welby will take over the archbishopric and with it the role of titular head of the 77 million-strong Anglican communion worldwide at a difficult time for the church. But there is a worldliness and pragmatism about him that marks him out from incumbent Rowan Williams, a brilliant academic and theologian. The latter may have, as one newspaper put it, “made the country a more thoughtful place”, but he struggled to keep the church united. Welby had a record in the oil business as a conciliator and says he has a “passion for reconciliation”.
Eton- and Cambridge-educated, he has had a fast rise in the church since he abandoned business for Holy Orders. He was elevated to bishop only last year, scarcely time, unlike rivals, to antagonise any of his brothers.
Welby was recently appointed to the parliamentary committee into UK banking standards, specifically the lapses which led to the Libor scandal, and is expected to retain his place on the committee where he has impressed politicians with his expertise.
He takes over at the end of the year the job Williams once said required the “the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.” Whether he possesses either, time will tell.