Challenging times ahead as New Archbishop prepares to take leadership

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Justin Welby is the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Rt Rev Justin Welby will have his work cut out for him as the new Archbishop of Canterbury as he takes over the leadership of an institution battered in recent years by rows over women bishops and gay priests.

He will take up the mantle from Rowan Williams, whose tenure has been marked by a bruising war between liberals and traditionalists in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality.

The new appointment also comes as the Church of England stands poised to give final approval later this year for the introduction of women bishops following several years of tortuous negotiations, the departure of some Anglican bishops to the Catholic Church and further threats of schism.

After making the announcement he was stepping down, Dr Williams said he thought his successor would need the "constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros".

In an interview with the Press Association in March, he said: "The worst aspects of the job, I think, have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won't go away, however long you struggle with them, and that not everybody in the Anglican Communion or even in the Church of England is eager to avoid schism or separation."

The long-running war within the Anglican Communion over gay people will be a very difficult issue for the new archbishop, but Bishop Welby's skills in conflict resolution and peace building will stand him in good stead in dealing with the warring factions in the run-up to the next worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops, the Lambeth Conference, which is due to be held in 2018.

Bishop Welby, who is himself opposed to gay marriage, is also well travelled, particularly in Nigeria, and understands the viewpoints of both conservative Nigerian Anglicans and those of the liberal US Episcopalian Church which is strongly divided on the issue.

The contentious debate surrounding women bishops has been rattling on for years, with more than 12 years of work being carried out in preparation and 20 years after the Church first approved women clergy.

A deciding vote was set to take place in July, but was put on hold after protests from pro-women campaigners who said an amendment made in May to the legislation by the Church of England bishops would enshrine discrimination in law by allowing traditionalists to demand a male bishop who shares their views on female clergy.

Members of the General Synod voted in favour of an adjournment so that the bishops of the Church of England could reconsider the amendment - known as clause 5 (1) (c) - with the legislation set to return for final approval this month.

The vote is on a knife-edge - if it is lost it will be viewed by many as a disaster.

If it is won, the new archbishop will have to manage inevitable disaffection from traditionalists.

Public opinion is widely in favour of women bishops, with a Bible Society poll showing that nearly three-quarters, or 74%, of British people think the Church of England should introduce women bishops, with 73% believing that the Church is out of touch with modern society's view that women can do the same jobs as men.

The new archbishop will also have to face declining Church congregations.