31 December 2013, The Tablet

Archbishop of Canterbury says Pope is his Person of the Year

The Archbishop of Canterbury has backed Time magazine's decision to name Pope Francis as its Person of the Year.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Justin Welby described the Pope, whom he met in June, as "an extraordinary man" and a great communicator.

"He has changed the sense of direction and purpose of the Catholic Church with his personal example and his words," he said.

"The Pope has been hugely effective. I would certainly put him as my person of the year," said the archbishop, who met Pope Francis in Rome in June.

"Well, I'd probably have several, but if you want one, I'd put him there. He's extraordinary."

The archbishop was invited to contribute to the Today programme by its guest editor, the CEO of Barclays Bank, Anthony Jenkins.

Regarding the Church of England, the archbishop said that despite overall falling numbers there were many signs of growth. He said Fresh Expressions congregations, which meet in venues such as pubs and clubs, had brought the equivalent of two dioceses into the Church.

“There are signs of growth in many places and particularly at the local level," he told Today. "There is a lot of change happening; there is a lot of new progress and a lot of momentum."

He admitted that the Church of England was still working out how to dispose of £80,000 in shares which indirectly fund short-term loan companies such as like Wonga, which Welby vowed in July to compete out of the market.

When the investment emerged, the archbishop said he was embarrassed and ordered the Church Commissioners to carry out an immediate review.

The Church was trying to dispose of those shares "without disposing of millions and millions of pounds of investment at a loss because they have a responsibility to pensioners", he said this morning.

He spoke for the Thought for the Day, reflecting on hope and arguing that cultural change in the global financial system to ensure it served the common good was "the great challenges for the coming year" and had to come from the  top.

Welby, a former oil industry executive, said the financial sector needed to be led by people with a “vision based in justice and hope so that everyone at every level is committed to change”.

As a member of the parliamentary commission on banking standards, the archbishop clashed with Jenkins earlier in the year over the culture at Barclays, and when the pair shared a platform at a lecture in St Paul’s Cathedral in the summer, Jenkins admitted that business that forgotten its role in the run-up to the financial crisis.

Nonetheless Welby paid tribute to Jenkins’ efforts to steer banking culture in a new course. "People like Antony [Jenkins] are dealing with the impact of 30 years, in which there was strong pressure to go in one direction, which was about maximising shareholder return and a progressive loss of vision as to what banks were for in society," he said.

And he said a number of senior banking executives were still refusing to acknowledge responsibility for the financial crisis. "I don't want to name names but I came across some people recently – senior members of the City from foreign organisations – who were very clearly still absolutely in denial about what happened in 2008."

Three weeks ago the archbishop said in the House of Lords that the City had not altered its goals despite the crash of 2008. “Culture is set by leadership, training and implementation. In a recent report, the City of London emphasised remuneration and shareholder activism. Such recommendations illustrate the problem. Good culture is good through virtue, not out of hope of reward alone,” he said.

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