LONDON – The next archbishop of Canterbury will be officially introduced Friday, the British government says, and the expectation is that the new leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans will be former oil company executive Justin Welby.
Welby, 56, 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.
"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.
Government and church officials declined Thursday to confirm speculation about the choice. But The Times and The Daily Telegraph newspapers, along with the BBC, reported it will be Welby, and two British betting agencies stopped taking bets earlier this week after a flurry of wagers backing him.
The naming of a new archbishop for the divided Anglican Communion is long awaited. The Church of England's Crown Nominations Commission met for three days in September but did not announce a choice, leading to speculation that senior clergy were at an impasse.
The commission submits the name of its preferred candidate, together with an alternate, to Prime Minister David Cameron. The prime minister then offers the commission's choice to Queen Elizabeth II for approval.
Cameron's office said the official announcement would 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 favors 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.
Welby was praised Thursday by a U.S. colleague. Bishop Shannon Sherwood Johnston of Virginia, who has been working with Welby on easing tensions within the Anglican fellowship in Africa and elsewhere, described him as a positive, friendly person.
"He's extremely amiable. He's a man of very deep faith and profound learning, but he is most approachable," Johnston said. "His diplomatic skills will be very important. "
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.
Following ordination in 1993 he was a parish priest for nine years before moving to Coventry Cathedral, as co-director of international ministry. In 2005, he became co-director of the cathedral's conflict reconciliation ministry in Africa, where he had experience in the oil industry.
"I have had to establish relationships with killers and with the families of their victims, with arms smugglers, corrupt officials and more," he once said.
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.
His business background still serves him well, Welby has said.
"Treasury teaches you to be decisive. Markets don't allow you to hang about and vacillate," he said in an interview in The Treasurer, the magazine of the Association of Corporate Treasurers. "And treasury teaches you about teamwork and working collaboratively. In treasury you are there to serve the company and the operating departments."
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.
AP religion writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.