by Lekan Olanrewaju
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams announced on Friday that he will step down at the end of the year.
The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who has long struggled to prevent a schism over women and gay bishops and same-sex unions, and recently made headlines for admitting to a belief in evolution, will return to academia, taking up a role as Master of Magdalene College, a senior role at Cambridge University.
“It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade,” he said in a statement “and moving on has not been an easy decision.”
The head of the Church of England, who conducted the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in London last April, will remain in place to preside over Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, marking her 60 years on the throne.
Williams’ retirement is seen as coming early, with the spiritual leader being only 61, despite the normal retirement age of bishops of the Church of England being 70.
Williams gave no reason for his stepping down, but his tenure has been notable for seeing some of the most turbulent times for the church, with him suffering embarassment over his attempts to prevent disagreements over female bishops and same-sex unions.
He acknowledged his decade-long tenure had been marked by “crisis management”, but also gave a passionate defence of christians.
“I think there’s a great deal of interest still in the Christian faith and although I think there is also a lot of ignorance and rather dim-witted prejudice about the visible manifestations of Christianity which sometimes clouds the discussion.” he said. “I don’t think that there’s somehow a single great argument that the Church is losing.”
“There are an awful lot of people now of a certain generation who don’t really know how religion works, let alone Christianity in particular.” he added. “And that leads to confusions and sensitivities in the wrong areas … does wearing a cross offend people who have no faith or non-Christians?
“I don’t think it does, but people worry that it will, and that’s partly because there’s a slight tone-deafness about how religious belief works.”
Replacements for the cleric are already being named, with favourite being the Church of England’s second most senior cleric, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.