The Bishop of Durham, the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England, has accepted the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, according to a report.
Sources have confirmed that the Rt Rev Justin Welby will be announced as the successor to Dr Rowan Williams as early as Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported, after the Crown Nominations Commission put his name forward to Downing Street.
Is this the next Archbishop of Canterbury?
The news comes just hours after it was revealed that the Rt Rev Welby, 56, will not make a scheduled appearance on Friday's recording of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions at the National Railway Museum at Shildon, Co Durham, a spokesman from his office confirmed.
Leading bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes also fuelled speculation that he is to be appointed after they announced that they had closed their books on betting for the Archbishop of Canterbury following a rush of bets on Bishop Welby.
The reported confirmation of the Rt Rev Welby's appointment as 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million strong Anglican Communion will be seen as a meteoric rise in the career of the clergyman, who marks the first anniversary of his enthronement as Bishop of Durham later this month.
The Eton-educated bishop worked in the oil industry for 11 years before leaving to train for the Anglican priesthood. He was first ordained as a deacon in 1992.
"I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling," he said in an interview.
A Lambeth Palace spokeswoman declined to comment. A Downing Street spokesman refused to confirm or deny the appointment. He said: "An announcement will be made in due course."
The report comes after several other senior figures in the Church of England were reported as possible contenders to succeed Dr Williams, who leaves after a decade in the post at the end of this year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
They included the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu who was named as an early favourite to be appointed to the post, the Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham James, and the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres.
Dr Williams told a news conference today that he believed his successor needed a "newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other".
Asked what qualities he believed his successor needed, Dr Williams quoted the theologian Karl Barth, who said "you have to preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
"You have to be cross-referencing all the time and saying, 'How does the vision of humanity and community in the Bible map onto these issues of poverty, privation, violence and conflict?'
"And you have to use what you read in the newspaper to prompt and direct the questions that you put to the Bible: 'Where is this going to help me?'" he said in his final press conference as president of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), held in New Zealand.
"So I think somebody who likes reading the Bible and likes reading newspapers would be a good start!" he said.
Dr Williams announced he was to leave as Archbishop of Canterbury in March saying: "I would like the successor that God would like.
"I think that it is a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros really."
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