The Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, who was formally announced as successor to Dr Rowan Williams yesterday, insisted that he supported the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
But he promised to reassess his own traditional line on the issue “prayerfully and carefully” and pointedly emphasised his support for civil partnerships.
It comes amid speculation that the Church of England – which fears the introduction of same sex marriage could threaten its position as the established church – might reconsider whether or not to offer formal blessing services for same-sex couples as a compromise.
The Church is due to publish a review of its stance on issues around sexuality next year.
Bishop Welby, 56, made his remarks in his first public appearance since being officially confirmed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
In a relaxed and confident performance he said he spoke of his belief that Britain could be coming back to faith after years of declining congregations.
He said he was “utterly optimistic” about the future of the Church, insisting that “the tide of events is turning” and that he was taking over at a time of national “spiritual hunger”.
The Eton – educated former oil trader brushed aside the preoccupation with his privileged background saying he hoped he would not be “pigeonholed” because of his education.
He spoke of his “astonishment” but “excitement” at becoming the leader of the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion, revealing that his initial reaction on being offered the job was to think “oh no”.
And he laughed off the leaks of his appointment, which was confirmed by The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, joking that it had been “the best kept secret since the last Cabinet reshuffle”.
He will be enthroned in March next year, three months after Dr Williams steps down to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
At a press conference at Lambeth Palace, Bishop Welby and his wife Caroline were joined by a large line of extended family, including his children and his two-month-old granddaughter, in the arms of her father, the bishop’s son, Tim.
In a wide-ranging address he gave his strong endorsement to plans to ordain women bishops, which will be decided in a vote at the General Synod in less than two weeks.
And h vowed to speak out on issues be believed were important and said he would ignore those who told him to “shut up”, adding that he would even continue to Tweet – unless his advisers manage to stop him.
And, despite his strong evangelical background, he made much of his links with the Roman Catholic church highlighting the influence of Benedictine and Franciscan monks on his spiritual development as well as Catholic social teaching.
In a reference to his meteoric rise through the ranks of the Church – he has been a bishop for less than a year – he said: “I’m very conscious of my weaknesses, and great need, I will need advice and wisdom, especially from those who are senior among the Bishops.”
He singled out for praise several of the leading churchman who had been tipped as alternative choices for the role including the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and the bishops of London and Liverpool as well as describing Rowan Williams as “one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury”.
Bishop Welby confirmed he exepcetd to remain on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards adding that he expected its report to be “fairly radical”.
Speaking about the scale of the challenge he faces, he acknowledged “deep differences over the issue of sexuality”.
“It is absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of people cohabiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships,” he said.
“We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the church.”
He underlined his support for the Church’s opposition to gay marriage but added: “I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.
“I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us.
“Above all in the church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love.”
Speaking afterwards, he pointedly declined to comment on the question of church blessings for civil partnerships or same-sex couples.
The law was recently relaxed to allow civil partnership ceremonies to be held in religious buildings, enabling a handful to take place through the Unitarian church.
Although the Church of England itself currently does not offer civil partnership blessings -officially at least – here are suggestions it could consider offering them as a compromise to prevent same-sex marriage.
Rev Canon Giles Goddard, of the Inclusive Church group, said: “There is a desire amongst a significant number of people to move forward on this issue and I’m sure this is part of that.
“He has chosen his words carefully so as not to give a hostage to fortune.
“But his comments are welcome.”
Among those who sent messages of support to the incoming Archbishop were the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the Chief Rabbi Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.
Meanwhile David Cameron said his experience in the business world would bring as “breath of fresh air to the Church of England.”
And the Tory MP Tony Baldry, who is a Church Estates Commissioner, added that he looked forward to a future Archbishop being a woman.