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 586.

    I believe Rowan Williams is much better suited to academia where he can make a valuable contribution. His scholarship and intelligence shine in his writings (on his chosen topics). However I found face-to-face meetings with the Archbishop a disappointment. He was often condescending to those around him and avoided any discussion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    Sentamu will be a step backwards in my opinion, another measured intellectual like Rowan Williams would do the Church good, where to find one to fill this man's rather large shoes however? either way, i'd rather have Sentamu than someone like Carey thats for sure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.


    "For me the ordination of women is a matter of common sense rather than a theological issue. . ."

    The argument goes that none of the 12 apostles were women so there shoulden't be women priests. I rather suspect that none of them were trainspotters either, but they still ordained W. V. Awdry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    Was there ever enough time for bringing the good news & caring for that beard?.Some thing had to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    Is this news?

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    As a member of the Methodist church, not Anglican, I always warmed to Dr Williams even when I didn't wholly agree with his views. He was without doubt one of the most learned and intelligent men whose opinions were in the media, and those who discredit him for "believing in an imaginary man in the sky" should think about the prejudice they are spreading. Toleration of all is what is key.

  • Comment number 580.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    the next achbishops job should be to please GOD not men, to do what is right not what is expedient, no slight intended on the present incubent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.


    as a fellow atheist could I just say for what its worth, 'well said sir'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.


    Ok, and I agree, atheism != religion. However, you can be an atheist & religious. There are two large groups of people being ignored, the theistic irreligious, and the atheistic religious. The atheistic religious represent most Buddhists, Taoists, etc. The theistic irreligious represent most Westerners who believe in some sort of God but don't practice religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    Perhaps Britain should stress the primacy of the State and leave religion to those who choose it.
    James Madison wrote: "Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, needs them not"
    That is as true today as it was in the 1700s Madison wrote it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.


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

    The only ignorance on this HYS is spouted by bigoted atheists!

    @aylesburyboy. I like your posts, keep it up!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    It is sad to see so many posters giving Atheism a bad name.
    All those things claimed to be at fault with religion and yet the angriest, most negative, intolerant amoungst the posters here are those claiming there is no God.
    It makes me sad to actually call myself an Athiest when I could be classed in the same group.
    To the faithful amoungst us, please realise that not all Athiests are so rude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    For all those who choose to pour scorn and vitriol on Rowan Williams, it is easy to do this from the safety of your PC screen. None of you would be able to do the work he has done, in the full global public glare. To Rowan I say be proud and glad that you know you have tried your hardest, achieved more than many, and stayed true to your heart and faith, you are a great mind in a muddlesome world

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    @ 555

    Apart from attempts to stamp out evolutionary teachin and the work of Gallileo. Orthodox church also objected to the dissection of human corpses too. Also, atheists aren't trying to kill God. We don't believe God exists. You cannot kill that which does not exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    Goodbye and good riddance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    Interesting that the tolerance in most of these contributions seems to come from the atheists/agnostice whereas the Christians appear to detest RW & anyone who disagrees with them. It seems to me that Christians should be following what Jesus Christ taught, which I think you'll find was about tolerance, love & turning the other cheek. This arrogant hypocrisy helps to turn people away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    I really liked Rowan Williams, a man who I share many beliefs with. I will be sad to see him go. He came across as a compassionate, gentle and kind man one he visited my primary school many years ago.

    Personally, I just hope he isn't replaced with John Sentamu but someone as thoughtful and progressive as the current archbishop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    As an atheist I believe that God doesn't exist.

    By my belief is not like your belief. It is completely different !!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    @554 aylesburyboy

    Whilst I disagree with you on Rowan Williams, I certainly agree that the Bible (taken as metaphorical, whatever you believe about the factual accuracy of the contents) is about encouraging love, peace and brotherhood. I think a problem with many churches nowadays is an emphasis on "what you believe" rather than "what you practice" and that goes for both liberals and evangelicals


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