New Anglican leader backs women bishops

The new leader of the world's Anglicans said Friday he backed women bishops and would examine his thinking on gay marriage, tackling issues that have divided the faithful across the world.

Former oil executive Justin Welby was named as the next archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, capping a remarkable rise for the 56-year-old who has only been a bishop for a year.

In March he will replace Rowan Williams, who will retire as archbishop in January after a decade spent battling divisions in the worldwide Anglican communion of around 80 million.

Welby, currently the bishop of Durham, said the announcement of his appointment by Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office was "astonishing and exciting", while his immediate reaction was "oh no".

He admitted the Church of England faced "deep differences" over the issues of sexuality and the ordination of female bishops, which have threatened to cause a permanent rift with conservative Anglican bishops, in particular, in Africa.

"The Church of England is part of the worldwide church and has responsibility in terms of those links," he told a press conference at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop of Canterbury's office in London.

Welby said he would vote in favour of women bishops when the General Synod, the governing body of the worldwide Anglican Communion's mother church, decides on the issue later in November.

"I will be voting in favour and join my voice to many others in urging the synod to go forward with this change," he said.

Welby also said he supported the Church of England's official opposition earlier this year in response to a British government consultation on upgrading same-sex "civil partnerships" to gay marriage.

But he said he would "examine my own thinking carefully and prayerfully" on the issue.

"I am always averse to the language of exclusion," he said. "We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the church."

His naming as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury had been officially approved by Queen Elizabeth II, who is the supreme governor of the Church of England as well as the British head of state.

Welby will be enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral on March 21 next year.

Cameron said he looked forward to working with Welby, adding: "And I wish him success in his new role."

The new archbishop was educated at Eton College -- where Cameron, London Mayor Boris Johnson and second-in-line to the throne Prince William also studied -- and Cambridge University.

He said he hoped to be defined "because I love and follow Jesus Christ", rather than by his schooling.

Wearing a charcoal grey suit, the cleric took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves as he began to answer questions from journalists.

The bishop said he intends to keep his Twitter account once he takes up his new role and said though there were millions in England with no connection to the state church, he was "utterly optimistic" about its future.

"The church grows when we do what we should do, properly. It's very hard work but it's very possible."

Welby's first child, daughter Johanna, died in a car crash in 1983. He has five other children.

He worked in the oil industry for 11 years before leaving to train for the Anglican priesthood and was first ordained as a deacon in 1992. "I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling," he said in an interview.

He went on to become Dean of Liverpool in 2007 before being named Bishop of Durham in 2011.

His appointment followed months of torturous negotiations by a selection commission of 16 voting members including both senior clerics and lay church members.

Welby was widely viewed as less conservative than his main rival for the post, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, 63.

Outgoing archbishop Williams, now 62, announced in March that he would take up a position as master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University in January 2013.

Joking about Williams's hirsute appearance, Welby said: "I've got a better barber and spend more on razors."

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