World News‎ > ‎

Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury to step down

posted 16 Mar 2012, 13:52 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 16 Mar 2012, 13:53 ]

Dr. Rowan Williams says he will step down after 10 years as Archbishop of Canterbury, calling the experience "an immense privilege".

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (FILE - SEPTEMBER 17, 2010) (UK POOL) - The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who has long struggled to prevent a schism over women and gay bishops and same-sex unions, announced on Friday (March 16) he will step down at the end of the year.

The 61-year-old Williams, the head of the Church of England, the Anglican mother church, will return to academia, taking up a role as Master of Magdalene College, a senior role at Cambridge University. He previously taught theology at Cambridge and Oxford universities.

The normal retirement age for Church of England bishops is 70.

"Well, at the end of this year I'll have been in the post of Archbishop and just over 20 years as a bishop, so that's part of it, feeling that after 10 years it's proper to pray and reflex and review your options," he said.

Williams, who was appointed to the post in 2002, will step down at the end of December and take up his new role in January.

The Archbishop, who conducted the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in London last April, will remain in place to preside over Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee, marking her 60 years on the throne.

He said the archbishop position had helped open many doors for him.

"It has been an enormous privilege being Archbishop of Canterbury. You are given access to the life of churches worldwide in a really unique way. And it is not just travelling abroad of course. Every year I make two or three visits to dioceses in England and just spend three or four days visiting parishes, schools and so forth. And the privilege is that you are taken into the heart of the local church's life for a few days.

 You see what really matters to people in parishes, schools and prisons and hospices and so forth. And I think there must be very few jobs where you have quite that degree of open doors for you, and of course I deeply treasure the connection with the Diocese of Canterbury," he said in an interview on Friday.

This is a busy year for the Church of England, with its parliament, or General Synod, set to vote in July on the consecration of women bishops, and a landmark Anglican agreement called the Covenant.

Williams has invested much personal authority in these issues but has suffered embarrassment in both.

He put forward a compromise on women bishops in an attempt to keep traditionalist Anglo-Catholics from taking up an offer from Pope Benedict to switch to Rome within an ordinariate.

"I'm actually very hopeful that there's plenty of goodwill to make things work, between now and then there's a huge amount to do in terms of building relationship, building trust, exploring what options might make the legislation just that tiny more acceptable all around, and so I'm determined to carry on with that work. And I do feel quite upbeat about that at the present, for all the difficulties there is a huge amount of goodwill," said the Archbishop.

It is still unclear what form this compromise will take, but it is more than likely the synod will vote for women bishops after the dioceses, or parishes, overwhelmingly said "yes".

The dioceses are at the moment voting on the Covenant, an initiative put forward by Williams in an attempt to prevent disputes between churches in North America and Africa over gay bishops and same-sex unions. But dioceses look set to vote it down.

Williams has warned that the Anglican Communion faced a "piece-by-piece dissolution" if member churches failed to undertake to avoid actions that upset others.

The bookmakers' favourite to replace him is the Church of England's second most senior cleric, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, though there are some who are against his outspoken views at a sensitive time for the church.

Another in the running is the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, a friend of Prince Charles. But his chances may have suffered over St Paul's Cathedral's botched handling of a four-month camp by the anti-capitalist movement Occupy London on its doorstep.

"I think that it is a job of immense demands, and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros really. But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a Church which, for all its problems, is still for so many people a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration. I think the Church of England is a great treasure. I wish my successor well in the stewardship of it," said Williams.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has led tributes to Williams, describing the Church of England's most senior cleric as a man of "great" learning and humility.