UK: Process to appoint new Archbishop of Canterbury gets underway

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Anglican officials are preparing to make a final decision on who is to be the new Archbishop of Canterbury, ahead of Dr Rowan Williams’ retirement from the post in December.

The Crown Nominations Commission will begin a three-day meeting today to select a successor.

Earlier this month, Dr Rowan Williams said that while the Church of England was “wrong” not to have advocated gay equality, Prime Minister David Cameron was wrong to embarrass the church over the issue of equal marriage.

Dr Williams had expressed a comparatively liberal approach to homosexuality before his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, but he has overseen Anglican opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples and a storm over gay bishops during his decade-long tenure.

Dr Williams made his announcement to stand down from the post on 16 March 2012 – the day after the government started its public consultation on equal civil marriage.

In 2009, Dr Williams said people may have to accept “two styles of being Anglican” in order to avoid a schism after US Anglicans, including both clergy and laypeople, voted against a three-year moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops.

Dr Williams criticised the election of a lesbian assistant bishop in Los Angeles later in 2009, saying it was a threat to the cohesion of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Communion announced in 2010 it would suspend US Episcopalians from serving on ecumenical bodies.

By that point, Dr Williams had apologised for the language he had used to discuss gay and lesbian people in the church.

In 2010, Dr Williams refused to support an old gay friend, the Rev Jeffrey John, for the post of Bishop of Southwark.

The decision came seven years after Dr John was forced to stand down from his appointment as Bishop of Reading, after it had been announced by Downing Street, and he had been appointed Dean of St Albans.

In March of this year, Dr Williams told a private meeting of influential MPs that he was not prepared to allow Church of England buildings to host religious civil partnerships.

A spokesman for Dr Williams said at the time: “The church still believes on the basis of Bible and tradition that marriage is between a man and a woman and does not accept that this needs to change.

“Civil partnerships now provide legal securities for same-sex couples, but this does not, in itself, alter what we believe to be unique about marriage.

“The Church of England is opposed to all forms of homophobia and would want to defend the civil liberties of homosexual people, and to welcome them into our churches.”

Contenders to success Dr Williams include the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu – the second most senior bishop in the church.

In March of this year, Dr Sentamu argued that introducing equal marriage would be a “misuse” of the state.