Former Oil Executive Named as Archbishop of Canterbury

Former Oil Executive Justin Welby Named Archbishop of Canterbury
As Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby is the fourth-most senior cleric in the Church of England and entitled to sit in the Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber of Parliament. Photographer: Keith Blundy/AFP/Aegies Associates/Getty Images

Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham and a former oil-industry executive, has been chosen as the next Archbishop of Canterbury to lead the 85 million-strong Anglican communion, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said.

Welby, 56, will succeed Rowan Williams, who announced his retirement in March, becoming the first holder of the post with hands-on experience of the corporate-bond market and trading derivatives during a business career that culminated in a role as treasurer of Enterprise Oil Plc in the late 1980s. Cameron’s office made the announcement in a statement today.

“My initial reaction was ‘oh, no,'” Welby told reporters in London today. “I’m overwhelmed and surprised by it.”

Welby takes over as 105th Archbishop of Canterbury at a time when the global Anglican communion is split over the introduction of women bishops and the ordination of gay clergy. His previous ministry saw him specializing in reconciliation, which along with his links with Africa -- he has visited Nigeria 70 times -- may help him deal with opposition to the changes, much of which comes from the developing world.

Welby will support the ordination of women bishops when the issue comes to the Church of England’s governing Synod this month, he said. He has always recognized “God’s grace and action” in many of those who oppose the change, he added.

‘Go Forward’

“I will be voting in favor and join my voice to many others in urging the Synod to go forward with this change,” he said. “I want the church to be a place where we can disagree in love, respecting each other deeply as those who belong to Christ.”

He also called for “safe spaces” in the church for the discussion of sexuality and said those pushing for faster progress on recognizing same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy should be mindful of the danger a change in the U.K. could create for branches of the Anglican church in less tolerant parts of the world.

“We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the church,” he told reporters. “The Church of England is part of the worldwide church, with all the responsibilities that come from those links. What the church does here deeply affects the already greatly suffering churches in places like northern Nigeria, which I know well.”

He said he will “listen attentively” to the gay community and examine his own thinking. “I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us.”

Independent Commission

Welby was appointed after the 16-member independent Crown Nominations Commission submitted his name to Cameron, who passed it on to Queen Elizabeth II. The announcement was made after the queen, who is supreme governor of the Church of England, gave her approval.

After graduating from the University of Cambridge with a degree in history and law, Welby joined the oil industry, first at French explorer Elf Aquitaine SA, taking him to work in Paris for a time, according to a biography on the Diocese of Durham’s website. He worked on projects in West Africa and the North Sea.

The last five years of his oil career were spent at London-based Enterprise, where he became group treasurer, a role that would have put him in charge of the company’s cash and managing relationships with the banks.

Exacerbated Risk

Welby spoke of his experience trading derivatives in a speech to the House of Lords on June 11, referring to “the use of derivative instruments that have been behind much of the exacerbation of risk in the system since I first traded them 25 years ago, to the point today where their volume is many scores of times that of the underlying cash transactions.”

In the late 1980s, Welby left Enterprise, which was bought by Royal Dutch Shell Plc in 2002 for 4.3 billion pounds ($6.9 billion), to study for the priesthood, though he’s retained an interest in business affairs. He is ethical adviser to the Association of Corporate Treasurers and has written a book entitled “Can Companies Sin?” He was appointed as Bishop of Durham in June 2011.

Welby warned in another speech to the House of Lords on June 20 that there is a danger to society if executive pay is not capped.

“Since the 1980s, the multiple between the average earnings in FTSE 100 companies and the earnings of top executives has risen from about 29 times to at least 140 times,” he told lawmakers. “If we do not see any improvement in these differentials, they will prove dangerous to social cohesion, as has been widely seen across Europe.”

Lords Seat

As Bishop of Durham, Welby is the fourth-most senior cleric in the Church of England and entitled to sit in the Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber of Parliament.

His business background was evident in a speech in May in which he discussed the economic outlook for the area of northeast England covered by his diocese. He referred to the liquidity of the corporate sector relative to households and government and said companies weren’t spending because they were caught in a Keynesian liquidity trap.

He advocated government funding for “shovel-ready” projects to boost confidence and kick-start the economy.

“Confidence comes from cranes and scaffolding: they build confidence as quickly as they erect buildings. When resources are short, we need targeted use of money to bring about quick investment,” he said. “The need for confidence and investment in skills is not merely to have a bigger economy but to enable us to see a transformation of our society. These things will not happen merely through exhortation but they require action and leadership.”

Eton Scholar

Welby, whose father’s first job was as a bootlegger during prohibition in the U.S., according to a Times article posted on the Durham diocese website, attended Eton College, the same private school as David Cameron.

He is a member of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up after the Libor rate-fixing scandal, and the panel’s chairman, Andrew Tyrie, said today Welby would continue in that role.

“I understand that Bishop Justin intends, notwithstanding his appointment, to remain as a member of the commission until the completion of its work,” Tyrie said in an e-mailed statement. “I am delighted about that.”

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