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Ex-oil man and son of bootlegger to be next Anglican leader

Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, walks through Westminster in London on Thursday. A former oil executive and critic of corporate excess, he is expected to be named on Friday as the next Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans.

Updated at 5:55 a.m. ET: LONDON — A former oil executive whose father was a bootlegger in prohibition-era America and later a friend of the Kennedys, was on Friday named the new spiritual leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans.

Justin Welby, 56, the Bishop of Durham, who has risen quickly within the Church of England hierarchy since quitting the world of commerce in 1992, will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Church of England is known in the U.S. as the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Its Presiding Bishop is currently Katharine Jefferts Schori.

The change in leadership follows the resignation of the current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, ending a turbulent era in which the Church of England has been sharply divided on issues such as same-sex marriage, female clergy and gay bishops.

Welby faces the near-impossible task of reconciling traditionalists and liberals among the church's 77 million worldwide followers.

Welby went to the same exclusive private school, Eton College, as British Prime Minister David Cameron, London mayor Boris Johnson and Princes William and Harry.

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His late father was sent to America in 1929 as a teenager after his grandmother went bust in the financial crash.

"I remember my father telling me she gave him five pounds and put him on a boat," the bishop told the Mail on Sunday earlier this year. "He said he went to New York in 1929 and traded whiskey. When I was studying history, the penny dropped that Prohibition ended in 1933 and he had a lot of friends who had Italian ancestry, so he was bootlegging. He was illegally trading whiskey."

Bishop Welby added: "He went on to become successful in the whiskey business and must have met the Kennedys by moving in the right social circle."

Rowan Williams quits: could Anglican church have its first black spiritual leader?

Welby’s father introduced John F. Kennedy to his first mistress, a 21-year-old Swedish aristocrat, weeks before the future President’s marriage to society beauty Jacqueline Bouvier, the Mail on Sunday said.

Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the Chicago-based British journalist who first broke the story for the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph, told NBC News:  "It is an excellent choice. He is a very down-to-earth guy and self-deprecating.

"He is nobody’s fool, but many people felt intimidated by Rowan Williams’ intellect whereas I think Bishop Welby will prove to be an effective communicator."

Welby is widely reported to be against gay marriage but broadly in favor of the ordination of women bishops, two of the most divisive issues in the communion.

The Daily Telegraph said: "At a time when the Church is grappling with the aftermath of the banking crisis, he combines — almost uniquely — an understanding of the working of the City with that of life in the inner city, gleaned as a parish priest and Dean of Liverpool."

The new archbishop will earn about $120,000 a year. He will have lodgings in the Old Palace in Canterbury, southeast England, and the historic riverside Lambeth Palace in London. His tenure will last until retirement at 70 or until he decides to move on.

ITV News is the U.K. partner of NBC News.

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