Dr Freier praises Archbishop of Canterbury's faith, courage over paternity revelation

Archbishop Freier urges Australian Anglicans to keep Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and his family in prayer.

April 11 2016Archbishop Philip Freier has applauded the Archbishop of Canterbury’s announcement about his parentage as a beautiful affirmation of the centrality of Jesus Christ in the lives of all Christians.

Dr Freier, who is Anglican Primate of Australia as well as Archbishop of Melbourne, urged Australian Anglicans to keep Archbishop Justin Welby, his mother Lady (Jane) Williams of Elvel and  Archbishop Welby’s family in prayer. Both Archbishops are in Lusaka, Zambia, for the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, a body comprising bishops, priests and laypeople from the 85-million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Welby and his mother issued public statements late last week about recent DNA tests that showed that his father was the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne, not the late Mr Gavin Welby as the Archbishop and his mother had believed. Sir Anthony was Private Secretary to former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill during his last term of office in the 1950s and until Sir Winston’s death in 1965. Lady Williams had been Sir Winston’s personal secretary when he was Prime Minister.

In a personal statement from his London residence Lambeth Palace on 8 April, Archbishop Welby said the discovery in the past month that his biological father was not Gavin Welby but Sir Anthony had come as a complete surprise.

“My mother and father were both alcoholics,” Archbishop Welby said. “My mother has been in recovery since 1968, and has not touched alcohol for over 48 years. I am enormously proud of her.

“My father died as a result of the alcohol and smoking in 1977 when I was 21.

“As a result of my parents’ addictions my early life was messy, although I had the blessing and gift of a wonderful education, and was cared for deeply by my grandmother, my mother once she was in recovery, and my father as far as he was able.

“I have had a life of great blessing and wonderful support, especially from Caroline and our children, as well as a great many wonderful friends and family.

“My own experience is typical of many people. 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.

“By the grace of God, found in Christian faith, through the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service), through Alcoholics Anonymous and through her own very remarkable determination and effort, my mother has lived free of alcohol, has a very happy marriage, and has contributed greatly to society as a probation officer, member of the National Parole Board, Prison Visitor and with involvement in penal reform.

“She has also played a wonderful part in my life and in the lives of my children and now grandchildren, as has my stepfather whose support and encouragement has been generous, unstinting and unfailing.

“This revelation has, of course, been a surprise, but in my life and in our marriage Caroline and I have had far worse. I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes. Even more importantly my role as Archbishop makes me constantly aware of the real and genuine pain and suffering of many around the world, which should be the main focus of our prayers. 

“Although there are elements of sadness, and even tragedy in my father's case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives. It is a testimony to the grace and power of Christ to liberate and redeem us, grace and power which is offered to every human being.

“At the very outset of my inauguration service three years ago, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, a young member of the Canterbury Cathedral congregation, said: ‘We greet you in the name of Christ. Who are you, and why do you request entry?’ To which I responded: ‘I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in His service together.’ What has changed? Nothing!”

In his response to Archbishop Welby’s statement, Dr Freier wrote: “From his intimate and vulnerable personal life, Archbishop Justin has gifted this letter to us. In responding to the issue of his parentage, the Archbishop affirms so beautifully that which holds our life: the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Please give thanks to God for the clarity and grace of the Archbishop's statement and the example he gives us of both upholding his earthly family and belonging firmly and unalterably to the Lord Jesus Christ. Uphold him, his mother and family in your prayers.”

Lady Williams has been married for more than 40 years to a Labour peer, Lord (Charles) Williams of Elvel, a biographer of figures as disparate as Don Bradman, wartime Vichy France leader Marshal Philippe Petain, former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, post-war West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and 20th century French political and military leader Charles de Gaulle.

In her statement, she said her marriage to Gavin Welby was “short and, sadly, dysfunctional” but that “neither of us ever doubted that we were the parents of our son Justin, who was born almost nine months to the day after our marriage in America on April 4, 1955”.

“I still recall our joy at his arrival. So this DNA evidence with which I have now been presented proving that Gavin was not Justin’s biological father, so many years after Gavin’s death, has come as an almost unbelievable shock.

“Naturally, my son has deserved an explanation and I have been as open as I can, given the passage of more than 60 years with all the lapses in memory that age entails, in giving it to him. But I accept that what would in normal circumstances be of interest only to those immediately concerned must now, because of my son’s position in public life, be given wider circulation. So I write this in order that the matter be put to rest.

“Gavin Welby, my ex-husband, was a very strong, possessive character. At the end of March 1955 he was bullying me to leave my job as personal secretary to the Prime Minister and run away with him and marry him in the United States where his divorce was being finalised.  At the age of 25, as I was, the pressure became too great and in the end I found myself unable to resist.

“One feature of this pressure is that I was already drinking heavily at times.  Although I could then ensure that this did not affect my work, it was later to develop into serious alcoholism during the 1960s which only came to an end when I entered rehab in 1968. I have not drunk alcohol since.

“Although my recollection of events is patchy, I now recognise that during the days leading up to my very sudden marriage, and fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides, I went to bed with Anthony Montague Browne. It appears that the precautions taken at the time didn’t work and my wonderful son was conceived as a result of this liaison.   

“After leaving my job and getting married, I didn’t see Anthony again for a long time. After Gavin and I broke up in 1958 Anthony and I met occasionally but although he may have asked how Justin was, there was nothing that gave me any hint that he might have thought he was Justin’s father.

“My beloved husband Charles Williams and I have enjoyed a loving a stable marriage from 1975 to the present day. With that stability and love I have been able to blossom as never before. I have served on the Parole Board, as a magistrate, as a member of a Board of Visitors of a prison, as chair of a Howard League committee and as a deputy lieutenant for Greater London. Even at the age of 86 I lead an active life both in support of my husband and in my own right. 

“Furthermore, I have watched Justin, from an almost impossible childhood (Gavin was alcoholic as well), grow into what he is today, marry his beautiful wife Caroline in 1979 and see his children and now grandchildren grow up around them. As a family we are truly blessed. But none of this would have been possible without our firm Christian faith and a determination never to relinquish hope. God has given us so much and my gratitude knows no bounds.”