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Archbishop of Canterbury to Retire

Religion: Candidates to succeed George Carey range from a Pakistan-born expert on Islam to a former Oxford don to a royal family ally.

January 09, 2002|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONDON — The archbishop of Canterbury, who introduced female priests and rock gospel to the Church of England, announced his retirement Tuesday as the spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans and Episcopalians.

George Carey, 66, said he will step down Oct. 31 after Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

"By the end of October, I shall have served 11 1/2 years in a demanding yet wonderfully absorbing and rewarding post," Carey said. "I feel certain this will be the right and proper time to stand down. I look forward to exciting opportunities and challenges in the coming months, and then to fresh ones in the years that follow."

He gave no further explanation for his retirement, but he once called the job "very wearying" and reportedly wants to give his successor ample time to prepare for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 2008.

The archbishop of Canterbury--a post first held by St. Augustine 1,400 years ago and once filled by Thomas a Becket--is the leader of the Anglican Communion, which groups autonomous churches in more than 160 countries. He is also the primate of all England, a symbolic role that Carey has used to foster interfaith dialogue.

Carey has also worked hard to maintain peace between the liberal and conservative wings of his divided church, which will vie in a secret selection process to fill his post. The front-runners include a Pakistan-born expert on Islam, a former Oxford University don known as a liberal and a conservative ally of the royal family.

"It is not an easy issue. The church is divided," said Grace Davie, an expert on the Church of England at the University of Exeter. "It could be considerably more divided. Carey has held it together by being generous and sensitive to both sides."

Although most archbishops of Canterbury have come from the Oxford- and Cambridge-educated elite, Carey was the son of a hospital orderly from London's working-class East End. He was selected by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from a list of two presented to her by the church leadership and was installed in April 1991.

He defied easy labels, supporting the 1992 decision to ordain women as priests but opposing the ordination of practicing homosexuals. He sought to shake up a fusty church by bringing in pop and gospel music and taking God's work out to pubs and supermarkets. He has also arranged for Muslims and other clergy to serve as prison chaplains--posts that by law should be held by members of the Church of England.

Davie said this, and Carey's efforts to foster interfaith communication, shows that he takes seriously the work of the primate of England.

"We have a weak state church, but a weak state church is able to do things strong churches are not able to do, such as to be an umbrella," Davie said. "Others view it as a protector rather than a threat. Carey played that role well."

But she added that although Carey was a caring archbishop, he was never a great thinker or public speaker.

"He is," she said, "more of a pastor than a prophet."

Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States and the subsequent debate about relations between the Christian and Muslim worlds, many observers think that the church will be looking for a more dynamic leader who will focus on the role of religion in international politics.

Carey's successor will also have to grapple with the church's dwindling membership--fewer than 1 million people attend Sunday services, down from 3 million in 1950--and with continuing debates over women becoming bishops, the role of gays in the church, Anglican union with the Methodists and whether the church should agree to officiate at weddings involving divorcees.

The candidate heading most lists is the Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, 52, the Pakistan-born bishop of Rochester and a member of the church's conservative wing. He is a respected authority on Christian-Muslim relations who many people believe could help ease tensions between the country's South Asian minorities and the white majority. But he has raised the hackles of liberals with his comment that married couples who choose not to have children are "self-indulgent."

The archbishop of Wales, the Rev. Rowan Williams, 51, a former professor of divinity at Oxford and charismatic intellectual, is said to have support among liberals in the church. But his support for homosexual clergy could rule him out among conservatives, and his outspoken nature may not rest well with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Conservatives are more likely to support Bishop of London Richard Chartres, 54, who has close ties with the royal family and was chaplain to Carey's predecessor, Robert Runcie. Blair is said to favor the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, 53.

A compromise candidate could be Christopher Herbert, 58, bishop of St. Albans, who is known for his speeches on moral issues in the House of Lords.

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