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Ex-oilman named new leader of world's Anglicans

Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, walks through Westminster in London November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, walks through Westminster in London November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

By Alessandra Prentice

LONDON (Reuters) - A former oil executive was named leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans on Friday, ending months of closed-door negotiations as the church struggles with bitter rifts over senior women clergy and homosexuality.

Justin Welby, 56, who has been bishop of the northern English city of Durham for barely a year, will replace incumbent Rowan Williams in December.

He is widely regarded as an opponent of gay marriage but in favor of the ordination of women as bishops, two of the most divisive issues facing the Church.

Welby's appointment as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury caps a meteoric rise in the Church of England hierarchy since he quit the oil business world and was ordained in 1992.

The bespectacled and soft-spoken Welby accepted the appointment at London's Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for 800 years.

"My initial reaction was, 'oh no'," a smiling Welby told reporters in a wood-vaulted room adorned with portraits of former archbishops and gold chandeliers.

"It's something I never expected. And the last few weeks have been a rather strange experience, to put it mildly."

The long-awaited appointment, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron's office, follows weeks of intense speculation that a row over whether to choose a reformer or a safe pair of hands had stalled the nomination process.

"Well this is the best kept secret since the last cabinet reshuffle," Welby told an audience that included his wife, five children and a baby grand-daughter, after opening his address with a brief prayer.

"It's exciting because I believe that we are at one of those rare points where the tide of events is turning and the church ... has great opportunities to match its very great but often hidden strength."

Welby - who trained as a priest after the death of his infant daughter in a car crash - is likely to come under intense pressure to prevent the Anglican church tearing itself apart over women bishops and gay rights.

Liberal church leaders in the United States and Britain are at odds with more conservative figures in Africa and elsewhere.

"What the church does here deeply affects the already greatly suffering churches in places ... like Nigeria," Welby said.

Williams once famously warned that his successor would need the "constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros". Commentators say Welby's experience of tough negotiation and deal-making in business will stand him in good stead.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Andrew Roche)

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