The meteoric rise of the Bishop of Durham is expected to be confirmed on Friday when he is officially unveiled as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Right Reverend Justin Welby, an Eton-educated former oil industry executive, will become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million strong Anglican Communion.
He said he was unable to comment on reports of the appointment as he sat on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards in London, of which he is a committee member. When asked if he was to take on the role, he replied: "I am not able to comment, only Lambeth Palace can."
But Bishop Welby, 56, laughed when a police officer at Portcullis House in Westminster congratulated him on the reported appointment, and was cautious not to answer as he raised his hands defensively.
It is understood that the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England will be announced as the successor to Dr Rowan Williams, after the Crown Nominations Commission put his name forward to Downing Street.
Speculation about the appointment was fuelled after it emerged that Bishop Welby will not make a scheduled appearance on Friday's recording of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions at the National Railway Museum at Shildon, Co Durham. It was fuelled further when bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes said they had closed their books on betting for the Archbishop of Canterbury following a rush of bets on Bishop Welby.
The confirmation of Bishop Welby's appointment will be seen as a meteoric rise in the career of the clergyman, who marks the first anniversary of his enthronement as Bishop of Durham later this month. He worked in the oil industry for 11 years before leaving to train for the Anglican priesthood. He was first ordained as a deacon in 1992.
"I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling," he said in an interview.
Several other senior figures in the Church of England were reported as possible contenders to succeed Dr Williams, who leaves after a decade in the post at the end of this year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
They included the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu who was named as an early favourite, the Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham James, and the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres.