It is a matter of some irony that the Church of England – a body which would outline the parameters of a moral life – sets such a poor example in its own affairs. The selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury has been a shambolic affair, fraught with leaks and flurries of clandestine betting from individuals ready to preach to others about respect, integrity and the evils of avarice. High up the agenda of Justin Welby (if he is, as expected, elevated from the bishopric of Durham today) must be ensuring a more dignified and transparent method of choosing his own successor.
Bishop Welby comes with some apt qualifications for the archbishopric. Eleven years as an oil executive have given him not only an understanding of sophisticated financial products but also experience of managing complex processes and organisations. He is also a skilled diplomat and negotiator – qualities honed working, as a canon and a dean, on conflict resolution in war zones. All such skills, and more, will be needed to cope with the bitterly divided institution he inherits from Rowan Williams.
The new Archbishop of Canterbury has been a strong advocate of women bishops, but has tried to find ways to protect the place of dissenting traditionalists. Though theologically conservative, he has been outspoken on social justice issues. And, despite a charismatic evangelical background, he embraces much papal social teaching and is an enthusiast for Catholic styles of worship. As a result, most Church factions welcome his appointment.
There is much to applaud in the new Archbishop, then. When it comes to gay marriage, however, he is a less promising prospect. Friends say he knows what he wants but does not always take the most direct route. So be it. But this is an issue on which the British public will judge the Church against criteria of equality and compassion, not theology.