Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion who criticized the election of openly gay bishops in the American Episcopal Church, will step down at the end of 2012 to take a position at Cambridge University.
In a Friday statement that did not specify the reasons for his departure, Williams said, “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.”
[Dr. Williams] will be leaving a church struggling with dwindling congregations and torn by debates over issues ranging from homosexuality to the role of women in the church. Those issues have contributed to new strains with the Roman Catholic Church, which has offered to accept Anglican clerics who disagree with what is seen as a liberal trend among some Anglicans.
In 2010, Williams called “regrettable” the election of Mary D. Glasspool, a gay clergywoman who is now a bishop suffragan in the Los Angeles Episcopal diocese (the Episcopal Church is one of 38 provinces within the Anglican Communion, which counts an estimated 80 million followers).
Williams said that growing tensions between the more liberal-leaning Episcopal Church and conservative Anglican churches in Africa and elsewhere were “made still more acute by recent decisions in some of our provinces,” referring to a subsequent decision by the Episcopal House of Bishops consenting to Glasspool's election.
Williams became archbishop in 2003 as stateside controversy brewed over the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, who became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop.
In a Friday interview, Williams said the archbishop’s role is one “of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros, really.”