The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has discovered that he is the illegitimate son of a one-time private secretary to Winston Churchill — and not the child of an alcoholic Jewish whisky salesman as he had previously believed.
Welby, the most senior figure in the Anglican Communion consisting of some 85 million Christians globally, said the news, reported in Friday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, had come as a “complete surprise.”
But the clergyman, the most senior bishop in the Church of England, insisted he was not disturbed by the revelation.
“In the last month I have discovered that my biological father is not Gavin Welby but, in fact, the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne. This comes as a complete surprise,” Welby said in a highly unusual statement issued through the Church of England.
“I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes,” said the London-born Welby, who is 60.
Welby had previously believed that his father was Gavin Welby, the son of German Jewish immigrants to the UK, and believed he had relatives who perished in the Holocaust.
But the Telegraph found evidence indicating that Montague Browne was actually his father, a finding it then discussed with Welby who decided to take a DNA test.
A comparison between a swab from his mouth and hair samples from Montague Browne, who worked for Churchill between 1952 and 1965, showed a 99.9779 percent probability that they were father and son.
Welby said both his mother Jane and Gavin Welby had been alcoholics, although he stressed that his mother had not drunk alcohol for nearly 50 years.
“To find that one’s father is other than imagined is not unusual. To be the child of families with great difficulties in relationships, with substance abuse or other matters, is far too normal,” Welby said in his statement.
“Although there are elements of sadness and even tragedy in my father’s (Gavin Welby’s) case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives.”
Welby’s mother Jane issued a statement saying the news had come as an “almost unbelievable shock.”
She confirmed she had slept with Montague Browne shortly before marrying Welby, “fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides.”
Montague Browne died in 2013.
Gavin Welby kept many secrets, and never told Justin Welby that he had an estranged older sister, or a first wife. He never told him his real birthdate, or the name — Bernard Gavin Weiler — under which he was born. And Gavin Welby never told him that he was born a Jew. Jane and Gavin were divorced in 1959; Gavin died in 1977.
Welby was enthroned in Canterbury on March 21, 2013, and visited Israel later that year. Asked by reporters why he made a visit to Israel a priority so early in his term, he responded, “This is the cradle of the three great world faiths. It’s the cradle of our own faith, of Christian faith. It’s where Jesus lived and walked and died and rose again. It is in so many ways the center of the world, in so many extraordinary ways. What possible reason could there be to delay?”
Welby has had limited experience working with Jewish groups, but activists speak positively of his relations with Jews in his former parishes and in the interfaith world.