The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams has said he will step down from the post in December this year, the BBC reports.
Intriguingly, the news comes just one day after the British government announced it would press ahead with plans to legalise gay marriage.
Dr. Williams, 61, was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest official in the Church of England, in 2002. In a statement on his website, the head of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion said serving as archbishop had been “an immense privilege”. He will be taking job as Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge.
Dr. Williams’s tenure was marked by tensions within the Anglican Communion over the issues of homosexuality (especially gay marriage gay clergymen) and the ordaining of women bishops, The Telegraph reports.
Notably, Dr Williams had also clashed with British Prime Minister David Cameron over gay marriage, arguing that it was not for the government to decide.
“If it is said that a failure to legalise assisted suicide – or same-sex marriage – perpetuates stigma or marginalization for some people, the reply must be, I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalization have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law,” he once said.
Meanwhile, while Dr. Williams supports the ordaining of women bishops, which seems likely to be approved by the Church of England General Synod by July as well, he is against the appointment of homosexual priests, an issue that has put the conservative African churches at odds with the more liberal ones in the United States and Canada, the AP reports.
In fact, Dr. Williams was so anxious to prevent a split between the two factions that he urged them to adopt the Anglican Communion Covenant in 2010, which says the 38 branches of the Anglican Church should consider the views of the wider church when doing anything that “may provoke controversy,” according to The Telegraph. Failing to do so could invite sanctions and even suspension. Liberal churches see this as a way to prevent gay clergy from becoming bishops, since it would cause a rift.
Dr. Williams admitted that “crisis management” was not his “favourite activity”.
“The worst aspects of the job, I think, have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won’t go away… and that not everybody in the Anglican Communion or even in the Church of England is eager to avoid schism or separation,” he told the BBC.
Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York who has been outspoken against gay marriage, is considered one of the front-runners to succeed Dr. Williams. If he is nominated, he will become the first black Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr. Sentamu is a popular figure for the right wing of the Anglican Church, and writes a column for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper.
“I would like the successor that God would like,” Dr. Williams said. “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.”
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