Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has announced that he will step down as the highest clergyman of the Church of England in December 2012 after 10 years in office. The announcement prompted praise for his tenure from Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols.
“In the last three years I have grown to appreciate more and more the fine qualities of Archbishop Rowan: his kindness, his sharp intellect, his dedication to striving for harmony between peoples, especially within the Christian family, his courage and his friendship,” Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said March 16.
“These will be much missed when he steps down from his demanding office in December. I will miss him.”
Archbishop Nichols thanked the Anglican archbishop for his service and particularly recalled his “warm welcome” to Pope Benedict XVI at Lambeth Palace during the 2010 papal visit to the U.K. He also noted that Archbishop of Canterbury met and prayed with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Saturday.
Williams said he was stepping down to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He will be 62 at the time of his retirement.
“It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision,” he said March 16.
The Anglican churchman said he is “abidingly grateful” to friends and colleagues who have supported him and his wife.
“I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church’s mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead.”
After his announcement, the Anglican archbishop told the Press Association that he wanted to give his organizer time to organize for the 2018 Lambeth Conference, the worldwide assembly of the bishops of the Anglican Communion.
He listed several of his accomplishments like the Christian-Muslim “Building Bridges” seminars, new mission outreach programs, and new relief and development programs.
“The best part of the job has certainly been seeing churches at grass roots worldwide – seeing why and how they matter to people,” he said.
Williams also does not think Christianity is losing a “battle against secularization,” but he lamented that there are many people “who don’t really know how religion works, let alone Christianity in particular. And that leads to confusions and sensitivities in the wrong areas.”
He noted major upcoming Church of England events that are “watersheds,” such as church legislation on women bishops. He expressed hope that there will be “goodwill” to make the controversial legislation work.
His comments touched on the theological and moral controversies in the Anglican Communion, which have caused some national churches to break communion with other Anglican bodies.
“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,” Williams said. “I’ve certainly regarded it as a real priority to try and keep people in relationship with each other.”
In 2003, the Episcopal Church’s ordination of a bishop in an open homosexual relationship caused major controversy within global Anglicanism.
“Crisis management is never a favorite activity, I have to admit, but it’s not as if that has overshadowed everything,” Williams remarked. “It’s certainly been a major nuisance, but in every job that you’re in, there are controversies and conflicts and this one isn’t going to go away in a hurry. So I can’t say that there’s a great sense of ‘free at last.’”
The next Archbishop of Canterbury will be named by the Crown Nominations Commissions, which will submit a preferred candidate and a second acceptable candidate to the Prime Minister. He will then advise Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Church of England, on the appointment.