Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to stand down

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams Dr Williams will continue as the Archbishop of Canterbury until the end of the year

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Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has announced he is to stand down in December.

He will take the position of Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge from January next year, his website says.

Dr Williams, 61, was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002.

In a statement on his website, the head of the 85 million-strong Anglican Communion said serving as archbishop had been "an immense privilege".

He said stepping down had not been an easy decision and that during the time he had left there was "much to do".

Dr Williams thanked those in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion who had "brought vision, hope and excitement" during his ministry.

In a more in-depth interview, Dr Williams reflected on growing divisions within the Anglican Church, and said it seemed some conflicts would not go away "however long you struggle with them".


Rowan Williams did not want the job of archbishop of Canterbury, and has sometimes seemed not to enjoy it.

The noise and stress of Anglicans' bitter dispute about homosexuality - and to a lesser extent about women bishops - has largely wasted the opportunities offered by Dr Williams' charisma, personality and intellect.

Instead they've been used to prevent the Communion from fracturing and minimise the rift in his own Church.

It is not surprising that Dr Williams wants to shed the burden of his job to concentrate on academic work, but the timing does seem strange.

Dr Williams managed to prevent a split in the Communion at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Churches, and even to create a nascent two-tier structure, to preserve unity albeit in looser form.

But the agreement cementing this new order has yet to be accepted by the Church of England.

It is only a few months before the Church of England's ruling synod will conduct a critical vote on women bishops.

Dr Williams is becoming a lame- duck archbishop, just when the success of each achievement seems to rely so heavily his personal prestige.

Under his leadership, the Church of England has come close to splitting over the ordination of gay clergy and women bishops. Dr Williams has consistently supported the ordination of women, and previously showed no objection to the appointment of an openly-gay bishop in Reading.

Dr Williams also reflected on his controversial remarks in 2008 that adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the UK seemed "unavoidable," saying he stood by his argument.

He will continue to carry out all the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury, both for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, until the end of the year, Lambeth Palace said.

The Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, has been informed, it added.

The Crown Nominations Commission will consider "in due course" the selection of a successor.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said he had received the news "with great sadness" and described Dr Williams as a "remarkable and gifted leader".

Prime Minister David Cameron said Dr Williams had "guided the Church through times of challenge and change" and praised the work he had carried out around the world, including in Africa. Last October Dr Williams delivered a sermon in Zimbabwe as part of an African tour to try to heal divisions within the Anglican Church.

'Avoid schism'

His resignation marks the end of more than 20 years as a bishop and archbishop. His predecessor, Lord Carey, held the post for 11-and-a-half years and retired at the age of 66 in 2002.

Dr Williams has also been pivotal to national events, including the Royal Wedding at which he married the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Westminster Abbey in 2011.

Start Quote

He has been the most able Archbishop of Canterbury for centuries and perhaps his true worth will only really be appreciated by the Church once he's gone”

End Quote Dr Barry Morgan Archbishop of Wales

His departure comes after tensions within the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality and women bishops.

Dr Williams said: "The worst aspects of the job, I think, have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won't go away, however long you struggle with them, and that not everybody in the Anglican Communion or even in the Church of England is eager to avoid schism or separation.

"But I certainly regard it as a real priority to try and keep people in relationship with each other."

Responding to the announcement of his retirement, Church of England General Synod member Alison Ruoff said: "He's a kind, wise, warm, godly man, but had he actually stood up and been counted as a leader, I think we would be in a very different place in the Church of England from where we are now, and that is thoroughly regrettable."

In an interview about his potential successor, 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.

"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."

Prime Minister David Cameron: ''He (Dr Rowan William) is a very, very thoughtful and wise man''

Dr Williams described serving as archbishop as an "enormous privilege".

"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," he said.

"I think there must be very few jobs where you have quite that degree of open doors for you."

He said he did not believe that Christianity was losing the battle against secularisation in Britain.

"I think there is a great deal of interest still in the Christian faith," he said.

Dr Williams becomes the 35th Master of Magdalene College from January next year.

A statement on the college's website said Dr Williams had the "capacity and vision to guide the college in a time of unprecedented change in higher education".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    Williams was the worst possible leader. He gave in at every whim of the leftists and liberals, never once chosing Christianity. His going is a victory for Christ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    From what I've seen, Rowan Williams is a decent man - he focused on humanity and common bonds, rather than preaching sanctimonious nonsense like "atheists have no morals."

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    Big deal. Tell me when the Pope's THAT is proper news!

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    Looking at all these ignorant pro-religion, anti-reason arguments makes me miss Christopher Hitchens all the more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    I think Rowan Williams has been the finest person we have had as AB of C in my lifetime. But he's a thinker and so am I. It seems that many people want a more bossy leader to tell them what to do and think, to take away their responsibility to rise to the challenge of Christianity and live in a state of creative doubt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    Wonder if there is any chance if the Church actually cares about equality and helping the poor, as Jesus purportedly did, they could perhaps sell one of the Archbishop of Canterbury's TWO palaces to donate the proceeds to charity?
    I know they don't have the billions of dollars of wealth the Vatican hoards, but Lambeth Palace would make a few million to feed a starving nation or two surely...

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    To #528 ericferret. Reasonable answer. I understand that its genetics that makes us who we are. Did darwin consider this because his arguments were purely on a phenotypical level (characreistics he could see). He argued from one type of finch evolved different types of finches but genotypically we now know that the combinations of genes gives us our diferences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    I think his disastrous debate with Richard Dawkins has a share in his qiut. A religion must not give in to atheism, especially when the basics of the religion are concerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    @555 aylesburyboy

    Ever heard of Galileo?

  • Comment number 557.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.


  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    To all the atheist slagging off the church of God. Christianity has never tried to kill science but despite all your years of trying God is still very much alive in all our hearts. The truth eats at you everyday and that is why you are ever so vile when it comes to religion. God is not going away from his creation

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    His exit will mark the end of a 10 year decline in the anglican communion. He is going to to his true calling (Academmics). What the church needs is a spiritual leader who is committed to the teachings of Christ and not a confused academic trying various interpretations.
    The Bible preaches love, non-violence and tolerance and does not apologist like him to placate the morally bankrupt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    I wish to say thank you very much for Rowan Williams' service to Christianity and the Church of England. A great man and scholar. He has led the church carefully in a time when you simply cannot please everybody. My personal belief is that it is the duty of Christianity, and all religions, is to highlight the plight of the fringe of society, just as Jesus himself did. God bless Rowan, and us all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    I loved him. He was an old hippy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    @Ignorancesmasher(163): "Good, hope the next guy knows to keep his beak out of politics and realise that in a modern, civilised state, religion and politics should be separate."

    If you want to see people denied their freedom of expression on political issues, be it religious leaders or anyone else, you might prefer to take up residence in North Korea rather than a modern, civilised state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    #533 - so that would be the Orthodox Church? Anglican, Roman and Orthodox Churches are all Catholic. Until the Roman Church recants of its 19th century invention of the Bishop of Rome's Infalliability then I doubt either of the two other Catholic branches of the Church are going to officially allow the Roman Church into full communion with themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    The best news ive heard all day! just the other week he was saying some rant about how we should do this preaching we should do that, and sticking his big hairyness in politics,this must of been his last blow-out rant of stupidity knowing no one cared what he said, so the most fashionable thing to do when your loaded is to say ''i resign'...doe's this mean he will be signing on,on monday doubt it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    Well, Jesus said if people persecute him they sure will persecute His followers. So Christianity is not an openly accepted faith and not a bed of roses. But resigning when things get this hot? You get the idea that he doesn't want to be at the helm when this new wave of post-modern secularism really takes a hold of CofE.

    Well said the Master, 'Many are called but few are chosen'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    "521.Phffft "
    Secular religion. It`s so tolerant,that the only thing not tolerated is intolerance to that tolerance.Cross that line,& see how tolerant they actually are.LOL.
    I could not have put it better myself!!!!


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