In a statement issued by Lambeth Palace, Dr 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. “During the time remaining there is much to do and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond.”
He said he was ‘abidingly grateful’ to all his friends and colleagues who he said had ‘so generously supported Jane and myself in these years and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry’. “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.”
In a statement issued by 10 Downing Street, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, paid tribute to Dr Williams’s work. “I would like to thank Rowan Williams for his dedicated service as Archbishop of Canterbury,” he said in a statement. “As a man of great learning and humility he guided the church through times of challenge and change.
Mr Cameron went on to say that Dr Williams had sought to unite different communities and offered ‘a profoundly humane sense of moral leadership that was respected by people of all faiths’. “As Prime Minister, I have been grateful for his support and advice – and for the work he has done around the world, particularly in Africa where he has taken such a close interest in Sudan. I wish Rowan and his family the very best for the future.”
The Archbishop was appointed largely because of his liberal credentials but disappointed the liberal wing of the Church by siding with conservatives over the issue of gay priests. Sources close to Dr Williams said that the final straw was the prospect of defeat over the Anglican Communion Covenant, which was drawn up to find common ground around which the various provinces could unite after the ordination of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, by the US episcopal church. So far about half of the 43 dioceses in the Church of England have voted on the covenant, with 17 voting against and only ten in favour. It appears likely to be rejected.
Dr William’s new home, Magdalene, is one of the smaller Cambridge colleges. It was founded in 1428 as a Benedictine hostel and was the last all-male Oxbridge college, admitting women only in 1988. Its most famous alumnus is the diarist Samuel Pepys. Dr Williams’s appointment in Cambridge was confirmed in an e-mail to Magdalene College members by its president, Professor Michael Carpenter, who said that he had the “capacity and vision” to guide the college in a time of unprecedented change.
“His very distinguished record, both as a scholar and a public figure, will provide for the whole community a model of the high standards of achievement to which Magdalene is committed,” he said. “Dr Williams will also work with Fellows and staff in the vital task of increasing access and widening participation to students from every background and walk of life.”
Normally when the Archbishop of Canterbury leaves office, the next Archbishop is the Archbishop of York. If as is expected the Prime Minister appoints Dr Sentamu, a naturalised Briton as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, Uganda in particular and Africa in general would have been greatly honoured to have an African as the supreme leader of the Anglican Church. Other Bishops in the running for the post are the Bishops of Bradford and Leicester.