LONDON (AP) — A former oil executive with experience in conflict resolution has been chosen to lead a global Anglican Communion riven by sharply divided views on gay people and their place in the church.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced Friday that Justin Welby, 56, a fast-rising priest with only a year's experience as a bishop, had been picked to succeed Rowan Williams as archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans.
Welby, the 105th holder of the post, said he felt privileged, and astonished, to be chosen to lead the church at "a time of spiritual hunger."
"It's something I never expected," Welby told reporters, saying he had been "overwhelmed and surprised" to be offered the job.
Welby said he supported the ordination of women as bishops, and indicated his thinking on same-sex marriage — which he has opposed — was evolving.
"We must have no truck with any form of homophobia in any part of the church," he said, adding that he planned to "listen to the voice of the LGBT communities and examine my own thinking."
Welby, appointed last year to be bishop of Durham, worked for 11 years in the oil industry, rising to treasurer of Enterprise Oil, before deciding he was called to the priesthood.
Even before formally becoming archbishop, Welby could face a test of his mediation skills later this month when the church's governing General Synod votes on allowing women to serve as bishops. Welby supports that change, but the latest proposed compromise has drawn fire from activists on both sides of the issue — either as being too weak or going too far.
He was recently appointed to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which is examining possible reforms of the industry, and he serves as ethical adviser to the Association of Corporate Treasurers.
Welby has denounced multi-million executive pay packages in big British companies as "obscene" and has said the Occupy movement "reflects a deep-seated sense that something is wrong."
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."
Before seeking ordination, Welby worked six years for French oil company Elf Aquitaine and then as treasurer of exploration company Enterprise Oil in 1984. He resigned in 1989 to study for the priesthood.
"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," he said.
Williams had announced plans to retire from the archbishop post in December.