Welby looks to pour oil on Anglican troubled waters

Former oil executive Justin Welby will be enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury on Thursday after speeding through the Church of England ranks to face the challenge of shepherding the fractious Anglican Communion through the coming years.

His enthronement, just two days after the inauguration mass of Pope Francis, sees both the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches embark on a new era under plain-speaking leaderships focusing on the poor.

Aged 57 and with only one year as a bishop behind him, Welby was considered an outsider for the job of leading the world's Anglicans that comes with being the spiritual head of England's state church. Some observers say he "rose without trace".

Welby from the Church's evangelical wing was bishop of Durham, the fourth most senior job in the Church of England, prior to his elevation.

Self-deprecating but with a razor-sharp intellect, he admitted in his Canterbury application letter that his candidacy was "a joke", thinking it "absurd" to consider appointing someone with so little experience.

Welby replaces Rowan Williams, who stepped down at the New Year following a decade of struggling to keep the conservative and liberal wings of Anglicanism together over issues such as homosexuality and women clergy.

Williams and Pope Francis's predecessor Benedict, both intellectual theologians, got on well and Welby hopes to continue the work reconciling the two churches.

"We've got to do something about that. We've been going at this (problem) for 500 years. It may take a little longer," he told the Sunday Times.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of the world's 80 million Anglicans, the third-largest Christian communion in the world, and its followers are largely in England and sub-Saharan Africa.

As for the issues that have caused fissures among Anglican churches, Welby supports the ordination of women bishops and is against gay marriage. He believes sex outside marriage -- straight or gay -- is "wrong".

An asthma-suffering only child born in London on January 6, 1956, Justin Portal Welby's mother Jane was a secretary for former prime minister Winston Churchill.

His great half-uncle on his mother's side was Rab Butler, a senior politician in the 1950s and 1960s.

Welby's father Gavin was from a German-Jewish background. He traded whisky in the United States during the prohibition era, knew the Kennedy family and had an affair with the actress Vanessa Redgrave.

He later became a professional backgammon player and his alcoholism coloured his relationship with his son.

Welby's parents divorced in 1958 and he was brought up by his father.

He was educated at the prestigious Eton College, which counts several British kings and prime ministers among its former pupils, before studying law and history at the University of Cambridge.

Married to wife Caroline, the first of their six children, Johanna, was killed in a car crash in France in 1983. She was seven months old.

"Johanna's death and the few days after the accident and before she died were the most utter agony. Yet at the same time the presence of God was more clearly present than at any time in my life," Welby told the Sunday Times.

God has been central to his life since, he says, around midnight on October 12, 1975, while a Cambridge student.

"The surrender to God was a moment... like the world changing, like someone I'd never known coming into the room and being there. It was a world in which there was a presence and a purpose I had never known."

He spent 11 years working in the oil industry: five in Paris for Elf Aquitaine and six in London where he was the treasurer of Enterprise Oil, responsible for its financing operations.

He embarked on a radical change of direction in 1987.

Listening to a church sermon, he felt "an inescapable sense of call" towards ordained ministry.

He trained in Durham, northeast England, and took a degree in theology. Welby was ordained as a deacon in 1992.

After working as a canon residentiary at Coventry Cathedral, he was appointed the dean of Liverpool Cathedral in 2007 and then made bishop of Durham in 2011, entitling him to sit in parliament's upper House of Lords.

His ministry has taken him to Nigeria to mediate in conflict resolution and he admits he came close to being murdered three times on his church visits to Africa.

He has written widely on business ethics and, while advocating the good that financial services can do, is not shy of criticising the excesses of international capitalism.

Since moving into Lambeth Palace and officially becoming archbishop on February 4 in a ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, Welby has not shied away from taking on the government, saying welfare reforms would harm vulnerable children.

He tweets as ABCJustin, boasting a 23,000-strong flock.