Who will the next Archbishop of Canterbury be?

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams Rowan Williams will stand down as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury on 31 December

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When Dr Rowan Williams announced his intention to stand down as Archbishop of Canterbury in March, the long process of finding his replacement began. The end is now almost in sight, with a decision expected later this month.

The hunt for the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury is far removed from the pomp and ritual associated with the election of other religious leaders.

There will be no black smoke or secret conclave, and no Holy Altar Lottery. Instead the election is governed by committees and parliamentary process.

As the established Church in England, the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury must be signed off by the Queen in her role as Supreme Governor - after some advice from the Prime Minister.

Ultimately the responsibility for choosing the Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). A committee made up of bishops, members of the clergy and laity, and a lay person as a chair appointed by Downing Street.

Its task is to submit the names of two candidates to David Cameron, who is then responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen.

So what will this committee be looking for in the next spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion?

'Hold it together'

Unlike the Roman Catholic Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury is a first among equals (primus inter pares) amongst fellow bishops. He is a leader, but he is not infallible.

Electing a new Archbishop

  • Two names will be presented to the Prime Minister by the CNC. A preferred choice and a second suitable choice.
  • He will then counsel the Queen, who as Supreme Governor of the Church of England will decide who will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Once the Queen has approved the chosen candidate and he has indicated a willingness to serve, 10 Downing St will announce the name of the Archbishop-designate.
  • The College of Canons of Canterbury Cathedral will then formally elect the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • The election is confirmed by a commission of diocesan bishops in a legal ceremony (the Confirmation of Election), which confers the office of Archbishop on him.
  • After paying homage to the Queen the new Archbishop is formally enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral.

Source: archbishopofcanterbury.org

As leader of the state church of England the Archbishop is "chaplain to the nation", presiding over major national events including coronations and royal weddings.

But one of the biggest challenges for the new Archbishop will be simply keeping the Church together. Its broad nature - the Church includes Anglo-Catholics, evangelicals and liberals - means it has struggled to find unity on controversial issues such as gay marriage and the ordination of women bishops.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Right Reverend Peter Broadbent, told the BBC that the major fault line in the Church at the moment is the divide between liberal members and traditionalists.

"Whether anyone can hold the church together along that fault line is a major question. But that will be the task," he said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Bishop of Canterbury and Primate of the 30 dioceses of the Province of Canterbury. Dr Williams has also been involved in improving dialogue between different religious groups.

The 105th Archbishop of Canterbury will be expected to continue and build on this legacy.

"The problem is that it's about five jobs in one," Bishop Broadbent added. "The rational thing to do would be to separate them out.

"The next Archbishop needs to come in and say 'What shall I stop doing? What do I really need to do?' And to fight off the bureaucrats who want him to carry on as before."

He added: "He can be an ambassador, and an articulator of public faith. If the next Archbishop can change the rules of the game, he'll be doing himself and his successors a real service."

Runners and riders

The lives and deaths of Thomas Becket and Thomas Cranmer

Stained glass panel of Thomas Becket (left) and memorial plaque of Thomas Cranmer (right)

Holding the post from 1161 until his martyrdom in 1170 the most famous Archbishop of Canterbury is Thomas Becket. A close ally of the then King of England, Henry II, Becket was Chancellor before being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Henry and Becket fell out after Becket stood up for the interests of the Church over the king. Becket fled to France where he stayed for a number of years before returning to Canterbury shortly before his death.

On 29 December 1170, four knights, believing the king wanted Becket out of the way, confronted and murdered him in the cathedral. He was made a saint in 1173 and his shrine became an important focus for pilgrimage.

The first Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury was Thomas Cranmer. A supporter of Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon he visited Rome to argue the King's case with the Pope.

Sent to Germany to learn more about Lutheranism, Cranmer met and secretly married the niece of a protestant reformer, Margaret Osiander.

He was appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. Once his appointment was approved by the Pope, he declared Henry's marriage to Catherine void, and four months later married him to Anne Boleyn. He helped translate the Bible into English.

He was executed by being burnt to death in 1556 by Catherine's daughter Mary I.

So what is known about who will take over this role? With no decision on the ordination of women bishops we know that the new Archbishop will be a man.

They must also have links with the Church of England, but they can be based in a different province. This hardly narrows it down, but the Church of England will not speculate on the likely outcome.

"This process involves extensive consultation, analysis of the role and challenges of a new archbishop along with prayerful consideration of candidates deemed to have the personal qualities required," said a spokesperson.

"All its proceedings are necessarily confidential."

But with the new Archbishop of Canterbury needed to chair the next meeting of the Lambeth Conference in 2018, they added that it would be "highly unlikely" that a candidate who would be over the age of retirement in the next year would be elected to the post.

This would rule out early favourites the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens and the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres who at 65 and 64 respectively would both be considered too old for the post. It also casts doubt over the chances of the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones who at 64 is the fifth favourite with odds of 9/1.

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend James Newcome and the Bishop of Gloucester,the Right Reverend Michael Perham have been elected by the House of Bishops to sit on the CNC, effectively removing themselves from the running.

Another favourite is the Archbishop of York, . As Primate of England he is the second most senior bishop in the Church.

Earlier this year he decided not to take up his membership of the CNC, which means he can be considered for the post. Many commentators say his decision not to be part of the commission is a clear indication of his ambition.

Whoever gets the role, Bishop Broadbent says he will have the support of the other bishops.

"The Bishops, and the Church as a whole, will, I hope, get behind whoever is appointed, pray for them, and work with them in their difficult calling."

Who? Title and current role Odds Comment

Betting odds according to Paddy Power (31/08/2012)

Christopher Cocksworth, 53

Bishop of Coventry


Son-in-law of David Pytches, former Anglican Bishop of Chile, Bolivia & Peru. He is the youngest diocesan bishop in the CofE.

Graham James, 61

Bishop of Norwich


From a Cornish tin mining family, he is keen on amateur dramatics and has appeared on stage with Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night.

John Sentamu, 63

Primate of England, Archbishop of York


Growing up in rural Uganda he fled during the regime of Idi Amin. A former Bishop for Stepney and Birmingham, he is now one of two Archbishops in the CofE, and the second most senior bishop.

Justin Welby, 56

Bishop of Durham


Studied law and history at Cambridge. After a career in the oil industry, he returned to university to study theology, becoming an ordained priest in 1992.

James Jones, 64

Bishop of Liverpool


A former teacher and television producer, he is a well-known supporter of environmental issues and urban regeneration.

Additional research by Brett Tremble

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