London, Jan. 7--(RNS) Speculation that the Rev. George Carey is ready to announce he will retire as archbishop of Canterbury on his 67th birthday in November has been fueled by a report in the yesterday's Sunday Telegraph.

Jonathan Petre, the newspaper's religious affairs correspondent, is renowned for his accuracy and his sources inside Lambeth Palace. Petre said Carey is expected to announce his retirement on Tuesday. The story was picked up by Monday's papers, and the speculation naturally extends to who might be chosen to succeed Carey.

The final choice rests with the prime minister, who is given two names, normally in order of preference, by the 12-member Crown Appointments Commission, whose deliberations are secret. The normal pattern is for the prime minister to forward the first name to the queen for nomination, but he can put forward the second or ask the commission to come up with a different selection--as it is understood Tony Blair did in the case of appointing 53-year-old James Jones as bishop of Liverpool in 1998.

The commission consists of the archbishops of Canterbury and York, six members of the Church of England's general synod (three clergy and three laity), and four representatives of the vacant see. The chair is normally taken by the archbishop of the province in which the vacancy occurs, but in the case of an appointment to Canterbury the retiring archbishop plays no part and a communicant lay member of the Church of England is appointed by the prime minister to act as chairman. This will increase Blair's influence over the appointment of Carey's successor.

Among those being mentioned are the Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Wales, a former professor of theology at Oxford but who may be regarded as too liberal; Bishop Richard Chartres of London, who was chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie but who, as an opponent of women priests, may be regarded as too conservative; and Pakistan-born Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, one of the most intelligent of the Church of England's bishops but whose chances may be diminished by the fear that his appointment would be seen as ethnic tokenism.

Once Carey has announced he is to retire--and he is not obliged to retire until he reaches his 70th birthday in November 2005--intense but discreet lobbying can be expected by supporters of the various bishops. Among the problems Carey's successor will have to tackle will be the probable decision by the church's general synod--within the coming decade--on whether to approve the appointment of women bishops. Such approval would probably lead opponents of women priests to make a final break with the Church of England.

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