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UK News

Justin Welby speaks about anti-Semitism, mental health and the next Archbishop of Canterbury

by Cara Bentley

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live's Emma Barnett on Wednesday, Most Rev Justin Welby was first asked about his response to the Chief Rabbi's comments, where Ephraim Mirvis said many Jews are scared of a Labour Government.

The Archbishop repeated the support he gave the Chief Rabbi online, saying: "Obviously I know him quite well and when you look at his article, he talks about it being one of the most painful decisions he's ever had to take and I know that's true. His instincts, like mine and others, are that during an election you keep schtum, you say nothing. And a lot of people in the Jewish community were saying 'you've got to speak' and he felt that there was no choice."

When asked if Jeremy Corbyn should say sorry over anti-Semitism, the Archbishop replied: "I can't comment on him and we're in an election period, I'm not going to comment on individuals. I think one of the things we've learned in the Church of England is that repentance, which is a sort of technical churchy kind of word, means both acknowledging where things have gone wrong but also changing course and action. All parties and all parts of our society have this profound history of anti-Semitism going back hundreds and hundreds of years, in which the church has also been caught up scandalously, appallingly.

"What we published last week was about saying 'we have to acknowledge our own guilt' and we have to ensure that we are completely different. Now, this isn't confined to one party or one group. This covers the whole of society. What we know is that Jewish communities and Muslim communities have in recent years felt very under attack, very threatened, very vulnerable and to deal with that, true repentance means a positive course of action that will make them feel reassured.

"I have no doubt that the Labour Party is deeply anti-racist, as are other parties, but I don't know enough about their internal workings to know whether that positive step has been taken."

He compared political failures at dealing with internal problems to the mistakes made in his own institution over child sexual abuse.

"We've learned ourselves - to our cost - and had to learn, just sorting it out internally is not always the answer, that where we've dealt with safeguarding we have to recognise the need to act in a way that gives a different perception for survivors and victims of our safeguarding failures and just doing the right thing isn't enough, they've got to know and feel it for themselves that it's changed."

Speaking about the importance of truth and the Conservative's renaming of one of its Twitter accounts to 'factcheckUK', he said: "One of the real tests of leadership is to say 'I got that wrong - we got that wrong. Yeah, I shouldn't have done that. Let's move on. We won't do that again."

The head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion also spoke about the persecution of Christians worldwide, saying that the Bishop of Truro's report helped bring their plight to more public attention.

When asked if he felt frustrated that the Government has taken a while to take the issue on, he replied: "It has in the past been frustrating. I think they're getting more and more into this. Freedom of religion and belief is a major plank of cross-party government and opposition policy, that really is there.

"It has in the past been a frustration - it [faith] was sort of seen as a hobby or a side activity rather than the basis of the life of over 80 per cent of the world's population - to have a faith of one kind or another and it's going up, not down. There was a brilliant report by the Bishop of Truro in the middle of the summer which got a lot of attention in which he did a survey at the request of the Foreign Office of British policy and of places of persecution of Christians and that revealed a really shocking global pattern and the Foreign Office has responded to it and with the support of the opposition."

He said that he was very aware that speaking out about certain countries can endanger Christians there even more and that he prefers to visit or meet Christians.

Presenter Emma Barnett also asked him about his mental health and the fact he recently said that he took anti-depressants last year.

When asked if he had felt nervous talking about it, he said: "Yes, I certainly did and it's like jumping off a high board into cold water. I sort of thought, right, there's no use standing here, I've just gotta go."

He added that taking medication had helped him.

"There is a danger of saying all Christians should be sort of Tigger [from Winnie the Pooh] the whole time, you know: 'woop-dee-doo', 'I'm a Christian', 'life's full of joy', 'there are no problems'. Human beings just aren't like that...every person is a different person. Two people deal with the same problem in completely different ways within themselves and part of the stigma is that.

"This time last year, I would sit and think I don't know why I'm down - I've got one of the best jobs in the world. I've got a fabulous family, I've got wonderful working colleagues and what more could I want? The answer to which is nothing. So why am I feeling down? And it's just sometimes it's not rational."

At the end of the interview Emma Barnett asked him if the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be a woman, to which he answered: "The next Archbishop of Canterbury is, very fortunately for the church, not my choice and there are certainly women in the church now who are senior bishops who would be brilliant archbishops, whether they're chosen is not up to me. The next Archbishop of Canterbury should be the person called by God to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury."

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