Pride may be a sin but I think we can forgive the newly installed Archbishop of Wellington, John Dew, for wanting to show off a little. In any case, it is a thing - albeit a grandly named thing - he is keen on showing off.

He leads us through his lovely pink cathedral to one of those odd, musty, utilitarian rooms which exist in the back areas of churches and here we behold his cathedra.

This is Dew's very own chair, on which he sat on Thursday for the official ceremony of becoming archbishop. What terrific jargon the Catholic Church uses.

"You're an art exhibition," I tell Dew.

"Yes," he says, "or a microwave, or something."

He wants to show us his embroidered coat of arms, with the green archbishop's hat and the four rows of tassels. He would quite like it to be in the picture (sorry about that, Your Grace) so he and the photographer lug the chair, which weighs about as much as a baby elephant, through to the cathedral.

He won't sit on it because this would be inappropriate given that he is wearing a suit. But he says I should feel free. Of course I don't. I am far too respectful, as I'm sure the archbishop would agree.

He agrees with most things, because he is a very agreeable sort of chap. He is also as good as a politician at not answering the things he doesn't agree with.

When he pointed out that the embroidered panel had been set slightly off-centre in the chair frame he said, teasingly: "Which way is it leaning? To the left? Or to the right?"

"Let me hazard a guess," I said, "that it's leaning towards the right."

"You can hazard a guess," he said.

So he is leaning towards the Right? He said vaguely, "Oh, I don't think so," and avoided answering the question, in any form, for the rest of the interview.

This is an important question just now - which is no doubt why he's not going to give any easy answers - because of the death of the man whose photograph dominates the altar of Dew's cathedral.

It is because of the Pope's death, too, that Dew's ceremony couldn't be carried out by the man he succeeds. Cardinal Tom Williams, who will be part of the conclave which elects the next Pope, is in Rome.

It is, in a way, rotten timing for Dew - although he would not say any such thing. He does admit, though, to a slight disappointment that it was not Williams who would be the one to hand on to him the crozier, the pastoral staff that has been used since 1887.

Such ritual is important to the church, but not as important as much bigger ritual business in Rome.

When Dew talks about the Pope, and almost everything he says loops back to John Paul II, he slips in and out of talking about him in the present tense. The Pope was his boss and, he says, a friend.

He celebrated Mass in the Pope's private chapel and had lunch with him. He likes to tell people, who always ask, that they had "fish and chips". They were, though, posh fish and chips and the bishops washed them down with very good red wine. They do very nicely for themselves at the Vatican.

But Dew, obviously sensitive to accusations that he's living it up, is quick to point out that what I call his flash double-breasted suit is "a 10-year-old suit", and that, when I ask the keen foodie whether he eats out at Wellington's posh places, says he's as likely to be at a cheap Malaysian joint.

See how terribly careful he is.

Of course when you are an archbishop whatever edicts the boss hands down, you echo. Carefully. "When it comes to faith and morals, yes." And there are certain rules the church will never shift on: abortion is one; gay marriage another.

He acknowledges that there is a political spectrum within the church, "there always will be where there are human beings involved". Of those leanings of his, the most he will say is, "What we've been taught by the church is: this is what we believe. There will be some things not definitively laid down in the scripture which could change."

He is adept at holding his tongue. "There are a lot of things I'm not commenting on," he says, smiling happily when I attempt to tease him about all of those VIP atheists who come to special services at the church of the Archbishop of Wellington.

His is a strange job, really. He is in part a diplomat, a cleric who deals regularly with those politicians his predecessor called "modern barbarians". He holds a high-up role in the church and is due, and offered, much respect. So he has to maintain the status of his role while guarding against distance. He says he strives for authority without being authoritarian.

When I first meet him, he's wearing shirt sleeves and an undone dog collar. He puts on his suit for the pictures. He thinks it is easier to be an archbishop these days: "Years ago ... the best china was put out. That doesn't happen any more."

He says he has never "been lonely" in the priesthood, although he knows people have the idea that he might be. The idea of married priests makes him gulp a little but he says, "Um, it's a possibility". Good heavens.

He adds, "Well, I believe in celibacy for the fact that it enables you to make that total commitment and I know that, ha" - he is laughing at the very idea of being married - "I wouldn't be able to do nearly half, a quarter of the things I do today."

He thinks the church has "a long way to go" in its thinking about the role of women. "We're trying to involve women more and more, as much as we can, in ceremonies." And within, obviously, the patriarchal structure that is the church. "Yeah, that's why we've got a long way to go."

He quotes John Paul II on the contentious issue of women priests: "Well, Jesus was a male and he chose male disciples. [The Pope said] I've got no right to change that. It may change. But I think it might take a long, long time."

Dew's probably safe enough - it won't be in his lifetime - but should it happen he'd be okay with women clergy: "I think so, yeah."

He certainly put up with a lot over two hours from a woman. I'd nominate him for a sainthood if it were not that the Catholic Church is rather overloaded with candidates just at the moment. Also, he did rather blow it at the end.

This was because of his mate Herman, who does, unasked, odd jobs around the church, including cleaning the glass on the Pope's picture, oh, at least 100 times a day. Herman told me that if I signed one of the condolence books destined for the Vatican, I'd go to heaven. So I did. Who wouldn't?

Then I told the archbishop it was guaranteed: I was going to heaven. He most certainly had an opinion on this. He grinned, and raised a sceptical eyebrow.