British PM to announce new Anglican leader

British Prime Minister David Cameron's office says it will shortly announce the name of the next archbishop of Canterbury, but reports say it is the bishop of Durham, Justin Welby.

Media reports say new archbishop of Canterbury is Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, shown during the Easter day service at Canterbury Cathedral, southeastern England, in April, is stepping down at the end of the year. (PA, Gareth Fuller/Associated Press)

The next archbishop of Canterbury will be officially introduced Friday, with the expectation that the new leader of the world's Anglicans will be former oil company executive Justin Welby.

Welby made an unusual mid-career shift from the oil industry to the clergy. He has said he faced conflicts between his beliefs and how companies acted — and has made business ethics and standards part of his work.

British media reports say the new archbishop of Canterbury is Justin Welby, the bishop of Durham. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

"I don't believe in good human beings," Welby said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in July. "But I believe you can have structures that make it easier to make the right choice or the wrong choice."

He has impeccable establishment credentials, having been schooled at Eton College and Cambridge University. His mother was a private secretary to Winston Churchill. But his father went to the United States during Prohibition and became a bootlegger, Welby was quoted as saying by the Mail on Sunday newspaper in July.

If British press reports are correct, Welby, 56, is set to become leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans.

Rowan Williams retiring at end of year

Government and church officials declined Thursday to confirm speculation about the choice. But The Times and The Daily Telegraph have reported it will be Welby, and two British betting agencies stopped taking bets earlier this week after a flurry of wagers backing him.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office said the official announcement will be made Friday morning.

Welby declined to say 'yes' or 'no' to the swirl of speculation. "I am not able to comment, only Lambeth Palace can," he told reporters, referring to the church's headquarters.

The next archbishop will replace Rowan Williams, who is retiring after a turbulent decade dealing with the Anglican Communion's deep divisions about gay bishops and homosexuality.

Before he steps down, Williams is pressing hard to resolve a dispute over whether women can serve as bishops, the issue preoccupying the Church of England. A vote is set later this month by the church's governing General Synod.

Welby favours female bishops. He serves as ethical adviser to the Association of Corporate Treasurers and was recently appointed to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which is examining possible reforms of the industry.

Former oil executive

Before seeking ordination, Welby worked six years for French oil company Elf Aquitaine and then as treasurer of exploration company Enterprise Oil in 1984.

His views on corporate responsibility, he has said, "came out of working in an extractive industry often in developing countries where ethical questions were very frequent."

"During my time there I came to realize there was a gap between what I thought, believed and felt was right in my non-work life and what went on at work."

In 1989, he resigned to study for the priesthood, but only after a struggle.

Welby has recalled being interviewed by a bishop who asked why he wanted to be a priest. "I said: 'I don't, but I can't get away from the feeling it is the right thing to do."'

His dissertation in theological college was published under the title "Can companies sin?" He believes they can.

In 2007 he was appointed dean of Liverpool Cathedral, Britain's largest church, and in November last year he was elevated to Durham, the fourth-ranking diocese in the church of England.

Welby and his wife Caroline have two sons and three daughters. Their first child, a 7-month-old girl, was killed in a traffic accident in 1983.

With files from the CBC