World's Anglican leader announces retirement

Carey plans to step down in Oct. after 11 1/2 years as archbishop of Canterbury

January 09, 2002|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - The Most Rev. George Carey, the 103rd archbishop of Canterbury, whose moderate style helped shepherd the Church of England and worldwide Anglican movement through a decade crammed with difficult social and religious issues, announced yesterday that he will retire in the fall.

Although he could have retained the position until he turned 70 in 2005, Carey said he will retire Oct. 31, two weeks before his 67th birthday.

"By the end of October I shall have served 11 1/2 years in a demanding yet wonderfully absorbing and rewarding post," Carey said in a statement released by his office at Lambeth Palace. "I feel certain this will be the right and proper time to stand down."

The statement said Carey's intentions were "conveyed" to Queen Elizabeth II, who is the supreme governor of the Church of England and who will formally appoint Carey's successor.

But in effect, British Prime Minister Tony Blair wields the crucial vote. He'll select the next archbishop of Canterbury after a 16-member Crown Appointments Commission composed of archbishops, government appointees and other members culls the list of candidates to two.

The well-choreographed announcement about Carey's retirement and the process of picking his successor point to the inseparable ties between church and state in England.

Later this year, Carey will preside over religious aspects during the golden jubilee to mark the queen's 50 years on the throne.

The archbishop's various roles include Primate of All England, "Chaplain to the Nation" and leader of the Anglican Communion. There are 70 million Anglicans in about 160 countries worldwide, including 2.5 million Episcopalians in the United States.

Carey's career is a testament to personal fortitude and faith in a remarkable rise from London's working-class East End section.

In 1990, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made Carey the surprising choice to become archbishop of Canterbury, just as the church was facing a daunting financial crisis as well as impending struggles over female priests and gay clergy. The former bishop of Bath and Wells was enthroned in April 1991.

Carey successfully pushed for the ordination of female priests in 1994. Four years later, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops upheld a ban on the ordination of homosexual priests.

"On some things he pushed for change and on others he was cautious," said the Rev. Michael Roberts, the principal of Westcott House, a Church of England theological college at Cambridge. "He didn't want to split the church and the community."

Roberts praised Carey for his work at reaching out to the 70 million Anglicans worldwide, especially in developing countries. The archbishop maintains the unity of the Anglican Communion.

Under Carey, it was "the first time the Third World was on an equal footing with the First" in church affairs, he said.

Whoever succeeds him will find that only slow change is possible.

"There won't be a lot of changes. The Anglican community is like an oceangoing tanker - it won't go around in seconds like a yacht," said Bishop Stephen Sykes, principal of St. Johns College Durham.

"The person who succeeds [Carey] will have to be a man of great resilience and quality," Sykes said. "You can't sack archbishops. They've got to be the best."

The British news media - and bookmakers - are already focusing on a short-list of supposed candidates to succeed Carey. They include Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, who was born and raised in Pakistan. Bookmaker William Hill rates Nazir-Ali a 3-1 favorite to succeed Carey.

Other potential successors include Archbishop Rowan Williams of Wales, a former Oxford theology professor; Bishop Christopher Herbert of St. Albans, apparently well-liked and moderate; and Bishop Richard Chartres of London, whom the Guardian newspaper of London called "lukewarm on ordaining women priests."

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