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Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Retires
BY AL WEBB and KEVIN ECKSTROM ©2012 Religion News Service
rchbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said March 16 he will step down at the end of 2012, setting the stage for the unique process of government officials appointing the new leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Williams' surprise announcement stunned the religious world, even as the short list of prospective successors swiftly began to circulate. Williams, 61, has led the Church of England and the world's 77 million Anglicans since 2002.
Traditionally, the new leader is chosen by a church committee of Anglican clergy and laity, who then draft a short list of candidates to submit to the prime minister, currently David Cameron.
While Queen Elizabeth II is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and formally appoints the archbishop of Canterbury, the decision is based on the final determination of the prime minister.
The odds-on favorite, according to numerous observers, is Uganda-born John Sentamu, the current archbishop of York and the No. 2 official in the Church of England. Sentamu, the sixth of 13 children, fled his homeland and its dictator, Idi Amin, in 1974.
Sentamu has gained a reputation in some circles as a "cleric of the people" for his actions, including cutting up his clerical collar on live television in 2007 to protest the rule of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe.
Another prospective candidate is Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who gave the address at the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton last year and has a record as a strong campaigner on environmental issues.
Other prospects include Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, who has gained a reputation as a "blogging" bishop for his use of modern technology; and Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens, leader of the Anglican bishops who sit in the House of Lords.
Whoever it is, Williams told reporters his successor will need "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros."
In a statement announcing his retirement, Williams said "it has been an immense privilege to serve as archbishop of Canterbury," and that "moving on has not been an easy decision."
Next January, Williams will serve as master of Magdalene College in Cambridge, returning him to the academic life that defined his early years and where he seems most comfortable.