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Dr. Rowan Williams is planning to resign as Archbishop of Canterbury by the end of next year – eight years early, London’s Daily Mail newspaper reported Monday.

Rumors have been circulating that the 61-year-old Archbishop, who could remain in office until he is 70, feels the ten years he has served enough in such a demanding job — and is ready to resign. He has presided over a difficult time within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In 1534, the Archbishop of Canterbury became the head of the Church of England when King Henry XIII defied the Pope and pulled England out of the Roman Catholic Church. Over the next five centuries, the church expanded beyond the British Isles and today claims 83 million members worldwide.

However, only 1.7 of those are in England. Another 2.4 million are in the “Episcopal Church in the United States,” which is sharply divided, Large, growing and theologically conservative congregations in California, Texas and Virginia have attempted to withdraw due to the ECUS’ embrace of homosexual causes and the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop in New England, who while serving as a parish priest left his wife and children to live with a same-sex partner.

Rowan has had to juggle the relatively liberal, financially affluent, and influential American and British hierarchies’ priorities with those of the theologically conservative bishops leading large and growing congregations in the Third World. The Church of Nigeria alone eclipses the British church with 18 million members followed by:

Church of Uganda – 8.1 million
Anglican Church of Kenya – 5.0 million
Episcopal Church of the Sudan – 4.5 million
Church of South India – 3.5 million
Anglican Church of Southern Africa – 2.3 million
Anglican Church of Tanzania – 2 million

Williams, who is much more liberal than the African bishops, “is said to have told friends that he wants to return to the relative calm of academia, possibly at Oxford or Cambridge, where he spent many years as a professor of theology,” reported the Daily Mail.

He recently sparked dissent among the African churches when he sought to meet with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.

Williams would likely step down before the next Lambeth Conference, which sees the gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world every ten years. The next one is due in 2018.

“The last one in Canterbury in 2008 nearly saw the collapse of worldwide Anglicanism over the issue of gay priests and bishops, and a number of traditionalists challenged Dr Williams’s authority,” noted the Daily Mail.

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